Nursery Rhymes

Villein

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Villein
A villein was initially one of a class of feudal serfs who initially held the legal status of freemen in their dealings with all people except their lord. A medieval village or manor usually contained several classes of laborers, consisting of the villein, the serf and peasant. There might be a number of freemen, who paid a fixed rent, either in money or produce, for the use of their land.

Gradually the distinction between the villein and the serf disappeared. Most of the peasants were serfs or villeins. The serf and the villein laboured in the lord's household or at work on his domain. Under feudalism the lords and nobles of the land had certain rights over Medieval Villeins which included the right of jurisdiction, which gave judicial power to the nobles and lords and the right of hunting. For more interesting information about rights in the Middle Ages click the following link:

Feudal System

Definition of the Villein
The Medieval villein was a peasant who worked his lord's land and paid him certain dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not the ownership) of which was heritable. The dues were usually in the form of labor on the lord's land. The Medieval Villein was expected to work for approximately 3 days each week on the lord's land. A villein was one bound to work on a certain manor, and thus attached to the soil, and sold with it into the service of whoever purchased the land.

Daily Life of a Villein
The daily life of a villein was hard. The Medieval villein had to labor on the lord's domain for two or three days each week, and at specially busy seasons, such as ploughing and harvesting the villein had to do extra work. The daily life of a villein was dictated by the requirements of the lord of the manor. A villein also had to make certain payments, either in money or more often in grain, honey, eggs, or other produce. When a villein ground the wheat he was obliged to use the lord's mill, and pay the customary charge. In theory the lord could tax his villeins as heavily and make them work as hard as he pleased, but the fear of losing his tenants  prevented him from imposing too great burdens on the daily life of the villein.

The Villeins and their Common Use of Non-arable Land
Besides the villein holding farm land, which in England averaged about thirty acres, each villein had certain rights over the non-arable land of the manor. A villein could cut a limited amount of hay from the meadow. He could turn so many farm animals such as cattle, geese and swine on the waste. A villein was also given the privilege of taking wood from the forest for fuel and building purposes. The holding of a villein included a house in the village.

The clothes of a Medieval Villein
The clothes of a Medieval villein were basic and practical. The clothing or dress of a villein consisted of:

  • A blouse of cloth or skin fastened by a leather belt round the waist, from his belt there hung a sheath for a knife
  • An overcoat or mantle of thick woollen material, which fell from his shoulders to half-way down his legs
  • Short woollen trousers,
  • A woollen hat
  • Gloves were only worn for their practical clothing value and were padded for use in tasks such as hedging
  • Shoes or large boots were worn on his feet 
Feudalism
Middle Ages Index

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