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Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Medieval Serfs and Peasants
A medieval village or manor usually contained several classes of laborers, consisting of serfs and peasants. There might be a number of freemen, who paid a fixed rent, either in money or produce, for the use of their land. Then there were serfs who laboured in the lord's household or at work on his domain. Most of the peasants were serfs or villeins. The other labourers were called Cottagers or small holders.

Under feudalism the lords and nobles of the land had certain rights over Medieval Serfs and Peasants 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 Serfs
Medieval Serfs were peasants 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. Medieval Serfs were expected to work for approximately 3 days each week on the lord's land. A serf was one bound to work on a certain estate, and thus attached to the soil, and sold with it into the service of whoever purchases the land.

Daily Life of a Serf
The daily life of a serf was hard. The Medieval serfs did not receive their land as a free gift; for the use of it they owed certain duties to their master. These took chiefly the form of personal services. Medieval Serfs 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, Serfs had to do do extra work. The daily life of a serf was dictated by the requirements of the lord of the manor. At least half his time was usually demanded by the lord. Serfs also had to make certain payments, either in money or more often in grain, honey, eggs, or other produce. When Serfs ground the wheat he was obliged to use the lord's mill, and pay the customary charge. In theory the lord could tax his serfs as heavily and make them work as hard as he pleased, but the fear of losing his tenants doubtless in most cases prevented him from imposing too great burdens on the daily life of the serf.

The Serfs Common Use of Non-arable Land
Besides the serfs holding of farm land, which in England averaged about thirty acres, each peasant had certain rights over the non-arable land of the manor. He 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. Serfs also enjoyed the privilege of taking so much wood from the forest for fuel and building purposes. A serfs's holding, which also included a house in the village, thus formed a complete outfit.

Medieval Serfs ClothingThe Medieval serfs clothing was basic and practical. A Medieval Serfs clothing or dress consisted of:

  • A blouse of cloth or skin fastened by a leather belt round the waist
  • An overcoat or mantle of thick woollen material, which fell from his shoulders to half-way down his legs
  • Shoes or large boots
  • Short woollen trousers,
  • From his belt there hung a sheath for his knife
  • Medieval serfs generally went bareheaded, but in cold weather or in rain he wore a woollen hat
  • Gloves were only worn for their practical clothing value and were padded for use in tasks such as hedging 

Origin of the Serfs and Serfdom
Serfdom developed during the later centuries of the Roman Empire and in the early Middle Ages. Most serfs seem to have been the successors, of Roman slaves, whose condition had gradually improved. Serfs were also recruited from the ranks of freemen who, because of the desire to gain the protection of a lord, became subject to him.

The Oppression of Serfs
Serfdom represented a stage between slavery and freedom and therefore the oppression of serfs. A slave belonged to his master; he was bought and sold like other chattels. Medieval Serfs had a higher position, for they could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. Medieval Serfs were fixed to the soil. On the other hand serfs ranked lower than a freeman, because he could not change his abode, nor marry outside the manor, nor bequeath his goods, without the permission of his lord.

The Emancipation of Serfs
Serfdom was destined to be a transitory condition. The emancipation of the Medieval serfs occurred over many years. The most important events which led to the emancipation of the Medieval serf in the England of the Middle Ages was the Black Death which was followed by the Peasants revolt. The Black Death claimed nearly a third of the English population. With fewer people the value of laborers increased which led to the Peasants Revolt. By the close of medieval times of the Middle Ages, the serfs in most parts of western Europe had secured their freedom form the shackles of serfdom.

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