The Life of the Serf – Harshness of Manor Life

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The Life of the Serf – Harshness of Manor Life

  • For the privilege of living on the lord’s land, peasants paid a high price.

  • They not only had to play in labour but also a tax on all the grain ground in the lord’s mill.

  • Peasants also paid a tax on marriage and were forced to pay a tax to the church as well known as a TITHE, or church tax.

  • Serfs lived in crowded cottages, close to their neighbours and usually possessed only one or two rooms.

  • Main room was used for cooking, eating and other household activities, second room used for the family bedroom.

  • Peasants warmed their dirt-floor by bringing pigs inside and at night, the family huddled on a pile of straw that often crawled with insects.

  • Peasants diet consisted mainly of vegetables, coarse brown bread, grain, cheese and soup.

  • For most serfs, both men and women, life was work, work and more work.

  • Many children did not survive to adulthood b/c of illness and malnutrition with avg. life expectancy being only about 35 years.

A normal day of a regular peasant would generally start--and end like this:

6:00 AM - Roosters would wake most villagers up. At this time, most peasants started they daily activities normally by dressing and eating breakfast. A peasant's breakfast consisted of mostly vegetables, water, fruits and bread.

7:00 AM - The castle's bells would ring (if any) and serfs were required to start work at this time.In winter, peasants were most likely to wake up until 8 AM.

8:00 AM - Work continued, There were not many interludes for serfs; in the other hand, free peasants; could have many breaks.

9:00 AM - Work for serfs continued; they were not allowed to drink or eat anything in the farms, but nevertheless; most of them managed to contraband goods such as water. Peasants would farm a lot as well, but serfs were the true workers.

10:00 AM - The first interlude for serfs. When a noble was generous, he'd let the serfs rest for up to half an hour at this time. Draconian nobles would impose rules against resting.

11:00 AM - Labor was at its peak. Peasants were required to work and work at this time. In the interim, nobles were usually riding their horses or taking care of business. Most nobles would live out of the work of their serfs.

12:00 AM - Serfs continued working.

1:00 PM - Serfs would be normally given a time-off at this time since the sun would burn them otherwise. Farms were very hot places in which the sun was strong enough to make very painful burns. Serfs usually died at an early age--we can deduce that cancer had a lot to do with that (but we can't be sure).

2:00 PM - Work at farms continued. Children were usually playing in the gardens or farming as well. Their mothers spent a great amount of time at home--preparing food, teaching their kids new knowledge and doing house-work. Nevertheless, a women could also be a serf; thus some of them worked many hours at the farms.

3:00 PM - Work continued.

4:00 PM - This was the official resting time. Nobles would normally have glorious feasts with more food than a serf would see in a month. Serfs usually ate bread, vegetables and water. Under good circumstances, they had meat (usually in holidays).

5:00 PM - Serfs were required to return to work.

6:00 PM - Work continued.

7:00 PM - Work for serfs continued.

8:00 PM - Labor usually finished for the day. Serfs were paid a very small amount of money; from which, they were required to pay a lot of taxes.

9:00 PM - Serf's dinner.

10:00 PM - Serfs would often go to sleep at this time. In the meantime, at the castle, nobles would be having another feast. Dinner was their favorite meal and castles were full of servants to provide nobles with whatever they wanted.

The Middle Ages was a period of glory for some--and misery for others.
Comprehension Questions

  1. Why would an individual subject themselves to this type of servitude?

  2. What was the greatest fear of the common serf/peasant?

  3. How was order maintained?

  4. What was the role of the Catholic Church in the Serf’s life?

  5. Why didn’t the serf venture far from the manor?

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