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A Peasant’s Life Essay

1189 words - 5 pages

A Peasant’s Life

The peasant has always been looked upon as an object of pity, an underclass citizen who worked to provide for the higher classes. A passage from Pierce the Ploughman’s Creed gives the perfect description of a day in the life of a peasant: As I went by the way, weeping for sorrow, I saw a poor man hanging on to the plough. His coat was of a coarse stuff which was called cary; his hood was full of holes and his hair stuck out of it. As he trod the soil his toes stuck out of his worn shoes with their thick soles; his hocks on all sides and he was all bedaubed with muck as he followed the plough. He had two mittens, scantily made of rough stuff, with worn-out fingers and ...view middle of the document...

3 All landholders were linked together in a societal chain stretching from the king all the way to the lowliest peasant and feudalism was the system of dependent relationships which connected everyone in society who owned land.4 “The manor was the web within which the peasant lives, moves and has his being.”5 The manor was the basis of organization of the peasant economy administered for the lord by his officials: steward, bailiff, reeve, hayward and beadle. Manorial affairs were settled manor court which all officials were required to attend regularly. The majority of peasants held their land in return for their service of labor. Every week, they were required to work a certain number of days on the lord’s land and at sowing and harvest times, extra work was expected from them. These peasants were, in a sense, legally bound to the soil and were often not allowed to leave the manor.6

The simplicity of the manor and open-field system flourished in the agricultural areas of Europe.7 Every village needed specific kinds of workers: blacksmiths, carpenters and millers. Most peasants were able to carry out small repairs and minor building jobs in order to keep things running smoothly. Spinning and weaving were traditional crafts learned at home. Specialized crafts, however, were required for certain types of work and increased the number of jobs within the community. Some specialist workers were often migratory, living on the edge of the village and moving around from job to job, still remaining part of the economy.8 Although most peasants farmed, they did not normally consume what they grew but rather used it for payment of rent and taxes. The lord and Church took a considerable portion of the peasant’s produce in rent and services, sometimes as high as fifty percent. Most peasant communities burdened with payments grew both a cash crop for special purposes and inferior grains with which to feed themselves and their animals.9

The type and size of peasant families is closely related to their economic role. Most peasant families were large and extended, consisting of two or three generations living under the same roof as opposed to the small modern nuclear family made up of only parents and unmarried children.10 Peasants lived in small houses, grouped together in a nucleated village. Behind each house was a garden or small plot of land. The common fields surrounding the...

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