Europe in the Middle Ages: A Day in the Life – Christine’s Chronicles

If You Think Life’s Difficult Now, Check Out What People Endured in Medieval Times

by Christine Lorraine
Sept. 19, 2011

The way European life evolved in the Middle Ages depended primarily upon which of the three classes a person was born into: Peasant, nobility or clergy.Wealth played a major role in how one dealt with day-to-day issues in the medieval period between 600 and 1500 A.D. To illustrate this point, here are three brief samplings based on class, of European life in the Middle Ages. One thing to bear in mind is that about 90% of the people during this formidable historic period were peasants.

Peasant Life

Awoken by the crowing rooster outside of his shuttered window, Charles the blacksmith jumps out of his lumpy sleeping space, fully dressed in woolen stockings and thick tunic. He tries to shake off the cold that crept in overnight, grabs his crudely-made ceramic pitcher, and pours a small handful of icy wetness over his face to rinse the crusted sleep drool out of his scraggly salt-and-pepper beard.

He then tilts his head back and pours a trickle of water down his throat to moisten it, an act which will enable him to get through his morning’s work without thirst.

The sleeping area he just left is comprised mainly of straw on a mud floor, covered by a wafer-thin blanket to try to keep sharp ends from poking him during slumber. On winter nights, he and his family cover themselves with thick animal hides to avoid freezing to death.

His eyes bloodshot and his belly empty, Charles lets everyone know that he is open for business by unlatching and opening the two sets of shutters in front of his wattle and daub three-room dwelling. He considers himself fortunate to be a tradesman who works from his home as opposed to a farming peasant, who often trudges miles to take up the daily grind in the fields.

It will be several hours before Charles devours his first of two daily meals, which will most likely be comprised of barley and rye bread, cabbage, leeks and a minute portion of salt pork. In the evening, the same menu selections would be repeated, but a small cup of barley ale would round out his second meal of the day.

Charles was accustomed to starting his wordays on an empty stomach, even though there were other people who indulged in the third daily meal known as breakfast. He didn’t approve of such societal softness, and figured that if midday and evening meals were good enough for his long line of blacksmith ancestors, then eating two meals a day was good enough for him, his wife and his son.

As he tiptoes through the mud puddles behind his abode to fire up his blacksmith tools, he scratches his head and wishes that someone would figure out a way to eradicate lice. His wife often wrapped a sheath of fabric covered with grease and quicksilver around her head beneath her wimple, but it didn’t appear to do any good because like him, she always seemed to be suffering from infestation.

He sees his devoted wife, Lyra, is outside with their five-year-old son. Her morning duties include helping little Charles scatter absorbing ashes after urinating, teaching him to wipe his bottom clean with hay balls after his morning bowel movement, and preparing the fire indoors to enable her to prepare their midday meal.

Nobility Lifestyle

Lord Richard Churchton’s personal valet, Hodges, pulls the plush velvet curtains open in the elaborately decorated master chambers to rouse his lordship in his preferred manner of waking up. Ironically, the incessant chirping from the hundreds of finches outside of the floor-to-ceiling windows had already roused Churchton from his restful sleep in his comfortable canopy bed.

His mattress, like those owned by most nobles, was stuffed with feather down, and it laid upon an ornate oak frame laden with detailed artistic carvings.

Hodges assists Churchton in removing his slippery silk sleeping gown, then helps him don his dapper outfit of trousers and tunic, covered with a fine wool cloak edged with fur.

Churchton instructs Hodges to order the cook to serve breakfast in his room today. This morning’s meal would include smoked salmon, cheese, bread and butter, with fruit nectar to drink. His lovely wife and two young daughters were out riding, so he opted to take his morning meal alone.

He wondered if Charles the smith had repaired the broken iron shoe on his favorite horse, Thunder. He was contemplating riding down the main trail to join his family for a picnic later, and wanted to feel Thunder’s hooves pounding beneath him.

“Hodges, tell Eric the footman to run along and see if the smith has completed work on Thunder’s shoe,” he barked. “And tell the cook to get my food up here right now!”

“Yes, my Lord,” Hodges agreed before silently exiting the sunlit room. He walked briskly because it was Friday, which was the day he inspected his master’s closet to ascertain it was free of rodents and bugs. Lord Churchton would expect this time-consuming task to be completed before he left the manor.

Churchton felt the urge to relieve himself, so he pulled the cord to summon a servant to hold his chamber pot.

Clergy Living

The unified voices of hundreds of peasants praying during Sunday morning worship woke Bishop Thaddeus Stone shortly after sunrise. He tried to sink back into a sleepy dream atop his luxurious down mattress, but his appetite got the better of him.

It was only two short years ago that he had been the morning priest, celebrating Mass as Father Reed was doing at that moment. Stone felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to dedicate his life to the powerful Catholic church, an all-encompassing entity which offered spiritual leadership to everyone, from peasant to nobility.

After all, he had devoutly served his parish for 32 years before his well-deserved appointment as bishop. It was understood that once this level of religious stature was achieved it was socially acceptable for the bishop to live the carefree lifestyle of an affluent older gentleman.

As he pulled a freshly laundered wool tunic over his head, he contemplated his next trip to court. Would the king be in a festive mood and serve a fat roast pig, or would he be feeling more conservative and offer glazed pheasant?

Slipping his arms into the warm sleeves of his lavish velvet and silk robe, Stone smiled at the notion of eating his morning meal. His mouth started to water in anticipation of the venison and bread that was waiting for him down the hall.

He knew that his midsection had expanded noticeably as of late, but stoutness was considered a sign of good health and success, he rationalized. The drawback of his immense size was that he had become prone to frequent and pungent bowel movements, a phenomenon which kept his chamber pot full and his servants busy.

Walking in his soft silk shoes toward the dining room, Stone marveled at the delicious aromas beckoning him to hurry.



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