Medieval Daily Life

As you might guess, the daily life of a man, woman, or child could be very different based on whether he or she lived during the Early, High, or Late Middle Ages and depending on what sort of status in society he or she held. For instance, the life of a noble was very different from the life of a peasant, or even from that of a knight. Let’s take a look at what it would have been like to live during each of the three major periods of the Middle Ages.

peasantDuring the Early Middle Ages (550-1000), nobles lived more comfortable lives than the lower classes (peasants), but this did not mean that they were always easier. Nobles had a lot to think about: governing their lands, keeping the loyalty of their workers, and staying in favor with the king. Remember learning about everyone answering to someone else during the period of feudalism? That put quite a lot of pressure on a noble to make sure that his vassals were loyal to him. Of course, it also meant that a lord had the finest house (aside from his king) and ate foods that the peasant class could not afford—especially meat, and lots of it.

Serfs, the term for the lower classes during the Early Middle Ages, were very busy people, but in different ways. Rather than looking over other people and keeping order, they spent their time planting crops and making clothing for the manor (and everyone who lived there). Keep in mind that making clothing or any sort of cloth was a big chore at this point in history. Yarn had to be spun, and a steady hand for needlework was necessary not only to make designs on clothing, but to make clothing itself.

Monks lived inside monasteries, where (unless invaded) they were safe and had food to eat, though their lives were devoted to religion and education, and they spent long hours reading and writing texts—the same texts to which we owe a lot of our knowledge of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, if a boy wanted to become a knight, he very often had to be of noble birth (born into a noble family), and spend years in training, during which he was given more and more responsibility. Noble boys would begin their training as early as age seven. Can you imagine becoming a page so young?

no games

Aside from all of this training and work, the nobles and peasants were still allowed to have fun. No television and video games, obviously, but there were still some things that people of the medieval period did for fun that we continue to enjoy today. We might not have wandering minstrels to sing to us, but we still enjoy music. We can check our computers for the latest news, but we still enjoy listening to stories being told aloud about many different topics, and obviously, we still like to dance and play games. People of the medieval period enjoyed these things too, and often watched plays to learn about what was going on in the world or to hear stories and legends being passed around.

During the High Middle Ages (1000-1300), education became more widespread, but still, it was far more likely for a male to go to a university to learn than a female, although girls of the noble class were still often taught to be ladies of the household, which meant they learned needlework and account keeping. If they became nuns, reading and writing were also taught. Overall, young noble boys had a lot going on around them during the High Middle Ages. They might feel driven to fight in the Crusades, they might decide to attend universities, train to become priests, or decide to learn a craft and become an apprentice to a guild master. There, they would spend many years learning a profession (or skill), until finally, they gained master craftsman status.

the black death

The Late Middle Ages (1300-1500) saw great losses of life, and so the daily life of anyone living during this period might have been focused on trying to eat as well as possible and avoid catching the plague. On the other hand, toward the end of the Late Middle Ages, after The Great Famine and The Black Death, advances in technology, art, and culture meant that a new world was open to the people.

Adventurers wishing to live the life of a crew member of a ship could sail to discover new lands, trade with new places meant more interesting spices for food and items never seen before, and education was even more important in a world filling with tales, poems, stories, and news from far-away places.

City life could be cramped, but it was filled with many different types of people, each with their own hopes and abilities. The people of the medieval period may have spoken different languages than us (from Old English and French and Latin to Middle English), but at heart, they still wanted what we do: a good dinner, a warm place to sleep, an education, and from time to time, fun and games.