Medieval Monday: The Labors of March

plowingWarmer March weather meant it was time to finally put most indoor tasks aside and get out into the fields. There weren’t a great variety of tasks associated with March, mainly because preparing the fields for plowing and planting was such an onerous chore that began at dawn and ended at dusk.  Getting the spring grain into the ground was one of the most important tasks of the season.

Medieval farmers generally had a three field system, where each season one of the fields was left unplanted. But leaving it fallow didn’t mean there wasn’t any work involved. The fallow field would have to be plowed several times during the year to keep the weeds under control and at the same time enrich the earth with organic matter. Every time the field was plowed, new weeds would grow, and livestock would be sent out to graze on it, with the added benefit that they would fertilize it with manure as they went.

plowing-and-pruning-in-marchPruning vines and trees continued in March, as did calving. By the end of March, some of the calves were ready to be weaned, which meant milk became available once again. Cows whose calves had been weaned were milked twice per day. The same was true of sheep. Another important food source which returned to the medieval diet in March was eggs. Hens require at least 12 hours of daylight to produce, which meant they began laying around the spring equinox at the end of March, and ceased production around the autumn equinox at the end of September.

This week you can also enjoy another episode of “Tales from the Green Valley” which focuses on what daily life would have been like during the month of March. As I watched, I was reminded that even though certain jobs took priority in specific seasons, many of them happened to some degree all year round. In this video, you will see in action some of the tasks that have been mentioned in past Medieval Monday posts, such as threshing and winnowing, milling wheat into flour, sending pigs out to forage, playing games, and brewing ale and beer for every day drinking. You’ll get to see some period recipes being made as well (like what they did with all that dried, salted fish saved up for winter). Again, it’s worth setting aside half an hour to watch this BBC production. It makes for excellent research and really sends you back in time!



Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: The Role of Knights

I recently happened upon a wealth of fascinating information about the medieval world that I’ll be sharing with all of you in my Medieval Monday posts. They are very short, yet informative and allow you to experience history, not just through text, but through sight and sound as well. I am really enjoying this series and I hope you will too!

The first video is an introduction to knights and the role they played in medieval society. Next week will continue that theme, giving you a deeper glimpse into how they lived.

Welcome to Modern History! In this first episode, Jason introduces us to the concept behind Modern History and in particular our first series, “The Knight”. Jason has been fascinated by history his whole life, in particular the medieval period and the life of knights. But how much of what we see and hear on TV and in film is accurate? Reading history books can only tell us so much. In Modern History, join Jason as he explores the myths and legends and attempts to discover what the life of a knight might actually have been like.


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover other topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: The Green Valley in February

Today’s post is actually a video that I really think you’re going to enjoy! It’s half an hour long, but well worth the time to watch! A small group of historians and archaeologists restored and brought back to life an abandoned village in Wales, re-creating over an entire year what life was like in the early 1600’s. This would be considered the Renaissance period, but the humble agricultural lifestyle really hadn’t changed a whole lot. Much of this would be applicable to the medieval period as well.

This episode is not the start of the series, but it is the video from February, so you can see what would have been happening at this time of year hundreds of years ago. Really, really fascinating stuff. I encourage you to take the time to watch. I will include one episode each month going forward until the year’s worth of videos run out. Aside from doing this type of thing yourself, I can think of no better way to really put yourself back in time, to see and vicariously experience life from another era. Hope you enjoy it!



Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: Labors of January

winter-snowball-fightWinter had tightened its grip, and the most important labor of January was staying warm! With only hearth fires for heat, the cold was a very real danger for everyone, but especially the young, the elderly, and the poor. There were still several feasting days to be celebrated, which continued to be a blessing for those who needed help getting through winter. January 6th, the day after Epiphany, was the Feast of the Three Kings. Christian tradition was often blended with agricultural ceremonies rooted in pagan tradition, even though the Church frowned on these practices. The plow and distaff, symbols of male and female societal roles, were both honored. There might be plow races, or processions though villages. The plows might also be pulled around a bonfire to bring good luck for the new year. Actual plowing could not begin until after Candlemas (February 2nd) which was the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. At that point, the winter respite from the fields was officially over, and they were tilled in preparation for spring planting.

harvestingclayThere were other things to do during the month of January. On the coldest days, medieval people completed any type of work that could be done indoors. Spinning thread, weaving, repairing hunting and fishing nets, making utensils, and repairing or sharpening tools were among them. With spring not so far into the future, all the necessary farming equipment would need to be in working order. On milder days, people could do some outdoor work, such as gathering firewood, mending fences, pruning vines, or using a hoe to harvest clay from riverbanks.


 

Enjoy one last “Tales from the Green Valley” episode. We’ve now followed this team of experts through an entire year on a medieval farm, and the information given has been amazing. Lots of really fascinating details in this one, including tending cattle, harvesting timber supplies, repairing tools, building work, hedge laying, breaking ice, mucking the cow shed, harvesting oak apples (for dye or ink), making ink, repairing shoes, preparing and using medicines, distilling water, preparing the field for spring, harvesting kale, winter foods and recipes.

Though I won’t be posting these at the start of each month anymore, you can still watch the videos anytime,  or read my labors of the months posts, by using the Medieval Monday Index.

Mystery, Magic, and Faith

Are you signed up yet to get my bi-monthly newsletter? It features insights into my writing, author updates, giveaways, lots of FREE book promotions and more. When you subscribe, you also get the second book in the Wind Rider Chronicles free. Below I’ve shared a section from my first January newsletter–check it out! Click to see the entire newsletter and browse this month’s free and discounted books.

In Journey to Aviad, Elowyn carries a little satchel with her initial on it that Morganne had made for her—it’s full of herbs meant to ward off evil. This was a common thing to do in the Middle Ages, as certain plants were thought to fend off everything from demons and witches, to just plain bad luck. Medieval people lived in a world full of danger and mystery, which was very often explained with superstitions.

The pervasive thought was that there were two kinds of magic. Black magic was demonic, and therefore harmful. Magic of this sort was feared and avoided, and was used to explain accidents, unknown illnesses, and other tragedies. White magic was supposedly based on the power of nature (God’s Creation). Using charms, talismans, and spells, performing sunrise rituals while sowing crops, or reciting incantations while weaving fabric, are just a few examples of white magic. The study of astrology and alchemy fell into this category as well.

The Church disapproved of them all, but pre-Christian paganism was still very much embedded in Medieval culture and had intertwined itself with Christianity. Folk-beliefs, like the belief in fairies for example, was everyday common sense in places like the British Isles—and had been for hundreds of years. Local priests could not convince people otherwise and eventually gave up trying, despite sharp pressure from the Catholic Church.

It’s easy to see how the medieval period lends itself so well to fantasy literature, which often relies on various forms of magic to add intrigue and to move the story. I have included some of these elements in my series for the sake of flavor and authenticity, like Elowyn’s little bag of herbs and the superstitions held by the people of Minhaven. But since I am writing Christian fiction, I have been very careful about the way I handle magic so that there is a true distinction between what is demonic, what is divine, and what is merely misguided belief. Hopefully my readers noticed that when Elowyn gave away her little bag of herbs, she did not seek to replace it with another. It was a small milestone on her journey to spiritual maturity, as she replaced her belief in the empty “magic” it contained, with a much stronger faith in Aviad and His ability to protect her.

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Elowyn was convinced that by removing the coin so soon after the man’s brutal death, she had somehow interfered with his ascension into the afterlife, causing his spirit to appear before her in the night. How else could she explain it? He had sought her out from beyond the dead, and pointed directly at the pouch that held the coin. It was quite obviously an object not meant for her to keep, and it had to be returned at the proper time of day.

Elowyn knew very little about the workings of magic, but it was common knowledge that the rites of good magic were most effective at sunrise. That was usually when cures were tried, when newly planted crops were blessed, and when pilgrims to the shrines petitioned their most desperate prayers. Nearly any ritual of importance, even the harvesting of garden herbs, was best performed at sunrise. If she did not make it before then, she would have to wait another day, and perhaps risk another terrifying vision in the night.

~ from Chapter 2, Journey to Aviad

Medieval Monday: The Labors of December

winter-scene-2In the cold days of December, the fields were finally quiet, with the ground too frozen to work. Animals were taken care of, to ensure they would not only survive the harsh months to come, but that they would be healthy on spring’s arrival. After all, they would be needed to work. In bad weather, animals would need to be brought indoors and fed straw mixed with other nutrients such as corn stubble, or pea pods.  Other outdoor work consisted of mostly repair and reconstruction. Timber was cut, and fences and walls mended. If autumn rains had eroded the banks of the mill pond, they would need to be fixed as well.

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Most work had to be done indoors. Carving wood became a common winter activity–people made useful items like bowls, spoons, and cups. They repaired farming tools and household equipment. Baskets, nets, and harnesses were woven out of rushes or reeds. Women spent a good amount of time spinning thread, weaving, and sewing–making new garments and mending torn ones.

Women would also be carefully managing supplies of food; doing their best to feed hungry families even though the fresh foods gathered or harvested in autumn were now beginning to run out. Most peasant families were surviving on bread and pottage. The kettle was kept going over the fire day after day, the culinary monotony broken up by subtle changes to what was thrown into the pot. Common ingredients would have been beans, leeks, lentils, peas, onions, and herbs like parsley. Meat stock might be used for added nutrition, and possibly salted meat or dried fish on occasion. Eggs, cheese, and butter rounded out the winter diet on days when fasting wasn’t required.


Below I have two videos to share. One is very short and shows how bowls were carved using traditional medieval tools. He makes this look so easy, but I’m sure it takes a lot of practice to learn this skill. The other is December’s Tales from the Green Valley in which the team covers the topics of making preparations for Christmas, building a wood storage hovel, sewing, clothing, threshing peas, making mince pies and other Christmas foods, and decorating for Christmas. Some of the Christmas traditions (like the Yule log) are from a bit beyond the medieval period, but many of the other things they describe would have been the same. Enjoy!

 

Medieval Monday: Executioner

What Was It Like to Be an Executioner in the Middle Ages?

by: Emma Bryce

Forget the image of the hooded executioner swinging an ax; much of what we think we know about these medieval figures isn’t true.

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One afternoon in May 1573, a 19-year-old man named Frantz Schmidt stood in the backyard of his father’s house in the German state of Bavaria, preparing to behead a stray dog with a sword. He’d recently graduated from “decapitating” inanimate pumpkins to practicing on live animals. If he passed this final stage, Schmidt would be considered ready to start his job, as an executioner of people.

We know the details of this morbid scene because Schmidt meticulously chronicled his life as an executioner, writing a series of diaries that painted a rich picture of this profession during the sixteenth century. His words provided a rare glimpse of the humanity behind the violence, revealing a man who took his work seriously and often felt empathy for his victims. But what’s more, Schmidt wasn’t necessarily all that unusual; historical anecdotes reveal that the prevailing stereotype of the hooded, blood-spattered, brutish executioner falls far short of the truth.

So then, what was it like to do this work hundreds of years ago in Europe? And how did “executioner” become a legitimate job title in the first place?

Continue reading…


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover other topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.