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This post breaks down the basic structures of medieval society. Enjoy!
- Medieval Society during this time (The High Middle Ages: 1000 to 1400) is mostly agrarian (based on agriculture).
- People didn’t really stray from where they were born.
- Developments in agriculture such as better plows, better harnesses and the invention of the windmill and crop rotation, made things even more efficient.
- Medieval society used feudalism as a way of political and social organization. People were dived into three classifications:
- At the top are Lords or Counts. They control large areas of land and offer protection to less wealthy individuals.
- Vassals (less wealthy individuals) served in the Lords’ militaries, consulted with them and paid fees, in exchange for protection.
- Serfs were attached to the lord’s land and required to work it, and received a small amount of protection and a smaller pay. Serfs were still considered higher status than slaves.
- Around the time of TSSP, towns began to reemerge, as opposed to extremely small farms jettisoned together, due to the expansion of commerce and trade.
- They were self-governing units, separate from feudalism, and are viewed now as an important step in the dismantling of the feudal system.
- With the emergence of the town, came separate new social hierarchies.
- Village upper classes
- Determined by land ownership, quality of home and amount of property
- Village Elders: Membership in this group might be formalized by outside authority such as a king. The elders might also be responsible for selecting jury members, helping with taxes or the raising of troops, and in general with answering for the village to the outside authority.
- Blacksmith, Shoemaker, Bakers, etc.
- Peasants: People who lost their land for whatever reasons and were more transient. They would work as harvesters or on construction.
- Shepherds: Literally on the fringe of village society were the shepherds and woodcutters. A shepherd was someone who tended flocks for a living, watching sheep for a rich landowner or for some consortium. The shepherd might have a shack in or near the village, but he also had one or more pitiful dwellings in the hills, sometimes hardly more than a cave. These groups had the double disadvantage of living out in the wild and of being poor. Anyone who lived in the wild—that is to say, beyond the boundaries of village and town and castle—was deeply suspect. In folk tales, the shepherd and the woodcutter were the very symbols not only of poverty but also of a dangerous association with the wild
- Bandits: Bandits were fair game for any sort of indignity or outrage. The largest group were the itinerant poor—the wandering beggar. In times of famine, their numbers swelled suddenly and hundreds or even thousands might be seen on the roads. Normally, though, they moved as individuals or small groups, and this did include families. If their numbers were few enough, a villager might give them a bit of food and a place to sleep. Outlaws, on the other hand, were another matter. They rarely came around to a village, except to loot it, for an outlaw could be captured and even killed by anyone.