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Medieval Europe: Daily life in Medieval Europe

Life in the Middle Ages was very different depending upon whether you were born into a rich family or a poor one. Most people led exactly the same lives as their parents had before them. Very few people were able to significantly change their lives through education or other opportunities.

Life in the castle

If you are asked about the life of the lords and knights in the Middle Ages, here are ten things you could mention:

  • Many nobles lived in castles. The great hall was the centre of a castle. The walls were decorated with tapestries. Everyone except the lord sat on benches. There was a minstrel gallery for musicians and singers. At night, the servants slept on the floor.
  • The great hall would have at least one fireplace with a chimney. This was a Norman invention and stopped the room filling with smoke.
  • The lord had his own room, called the solar, and his own four-poster bed, with curtains for privacy.
  • At the top of the castle, the lady would have a day-room for herself and her maids-in-waiting. This had the largest windows and the best views. After 1200, castles had panes of glass in the windows.
  • The toilet was called the 'garderobe' was usually a chute straight into the moat. One way to capture a castle was to climb up the chute. Read more...

Life in the village

If you are asked about the life of a peasant in the Middle Ages, here are ten things you could mention:

  • In the early Middle Ages, under the feudal system, the life of a serf was hard.
  • Even in the later Middle Ages, the medieval peasant's life was hard and the work back-breaking. It followed the seasons – ploughing in autumn, sowing in spring, harvesting in August. Work began at dawn, preparing the animals, and it finished at dusk, cleaning them down and putting them back into the stalls.
  • A peasant's hut was made of wattle and daub, with a thatch roof but no windows.
  • Inside the hut, a third of the area was penned off for the animals, which lived in the hut with the family. A fire burned in a hearth in the centre of the hut, so the air was permanently eye-wateringly smoky. Furniture was maybe a couple of stools, a trunk for bedding, and a few cooking pots. Read more...

City life in the middle ages

Life in the Town

If you are asked about the life in a town in the Middle Ages, here are ten things you could mention:

  • A medieval town would seek a charter giving it the right to become a borough. The rich merchants would then be allowed to choose a mayor and hold a market.

  • Houses were made of a wooden frame, with the gaps filled with woven strips of wood, known as 'wattle', and covered, or 'daubed', with clay and horse-dung. Most roofs were thatch.

  • Medieval shops were workshops, open to the street for customers, with the craftsman's house above. Because few people could read, shops signs were a huge model showing the craftsman's trade. People of the same trade often worked in the same street.

  • The streets of a medieval town were narrow and busy. They were noisy, with the town crier, church bells, and traders calling out their wares. There were many fast food sellers, selling such things as hot sheep's feet and beef-ribs. Read more...

Hygiene, food and fashion

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives series - 8 episodes

Life in Medieval Europe

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