Society in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is known to be the historical period of Europe between the 5th and 15th Century. The salient political feature of the initiation of this historical period was the collapse of Western Roman Empire while the medieval period ended with the advent of renaissance which is known to be the beginning of the Modern Era.
The Middle Ages Society can be studied under three sub-groups, the Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, and Late Middle Ages. After the collapse of Roman Empire, the society of The Middle Ages continued to suffer barbarian invasions as they occupied the remains of Roman Empire to start their own kingdoms. Other significant societal changes were the rise of Islamic Empire and the spread of Christianity. While the society was facing great religious movements during The Middle Ages, politically, the society was gradually converting to feudalism.
Social Structure of The Middle Ages:
An emergence of feudalistic society was eminent in The Middle Ages and the major reason behind this was the necessity of security for the society. The society was divided basically in two classes, the upper classes and the peasants or serfs.
The upper class was divided in two segments as the monastic monks and the aristocrats or nobles. The upper class wanted to secure their privilege of maintaining control over their spreading kingdoms. Power was in the hands of barons who owned and controlled large portions of King’s land. In return, barons used to offer fealty or homage to the king. They not only paid taxes whenever the king demanded, but also, they offered full support to the kings in securing their kingdoms by providing troops to fight for their kings whenever required.
The peasants or serfs were those who used to do work or to produce wealth. These serfs used to live in manors controlled by barons or lords. There were independent serfs who used to maintain their own business while offering taxes for their lords. In addition, these independent farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, or bakers were also allowed to own indentured servants. They were given definite portion of land to till and grow food and other necessary things and they had a degree of control over this land as they could pass it on after their death through inheritance. Independent peasants also had some political rights. Peasants accepted the ruling of lords and kings because of their want of security against marauders, looters and barbarians from surrounding lands. Invading armies were also a threat for peasants, but as they were taking care of lords’ lands, lords needed to protect them against threat within the kingdom and abroad.
The Nobility of The middle Ages
Middle Ages society was significantly influenced by the noble class as the nobility had a significant say in all aspects of medieval politics, culture, religion and economics. The members of nobility were those who fight for their barons and kings. They were responsible for the security of the serfs and the clergy. Each member of the nobility was free as a person and he was only responsible for his military duties. The social function of members of nobility was to ensure security of the weak and poor. They were also required to follow the virtues of chivalry, so the clergy created a code of conduct for the members of nobility which they were expected to accept and follow. These barons possessed significant portion of King’s land and they had a right to collect direct and indirect taxes along with rents which was offered by the serfs. The clergy or the monks were held high and were respected by serfs and nobles alike.
Entertainment and Tournaments during The Middle Ages
For serfs and ordinary farmers, most of their day time was spent in working hard and therefore creating wealth; however, there were occasions when the serfs and their lords used to rest, enjoy and entertain themselves. Social activities had their own importance and each of the members of the society was expected to attend these social activities. Local serfs and merchants used to attend fairs, listen to the troubadours and watch and participate in acrobatic games.
While the life of a serf was hard and busy, the members of the nobility were not always as busy as they were during the times of barbarian invasions or wars. During the time of peace, these members of nobility had little to do but to manage their portion of land. Often they had little or nothing to work for. This gave rise for the practice of tournaments. Nobles and knights from nearby area and abroad were invited to take part in these competitive tournaments. These tournaments were held for the purpose of entertainment and engagement of members of nobility. The local peasants and serfs were also enjoying those tournaments as it was a way for them to enjoy their free time.
Marriages and position of women in society of The Middle Ages
One of the important social activities of the society of The Middle Ages was the marriage. Medieval weddings were used to be a reason for celebration for the whole village community. However, the position of women in medieval society wasn’t any good as the medieval society was completely dominated by men. The society used to dictate the jobs that a woman could do. Medieval guilds often barred women from joining them. Women were not allowed to marry without their parent’s consent and they were not allowed to own any business in general. Women were not allowed to divorce and they could own property only if they were widows. Women were not allowed to inherit property unless they had no brothers and even in such cases, the inherited property was transferred to their husbands after their marriage.
Girls had no say in their marriages as the marriages often were considered as political gestures or advantageous act for the family of the girl. Women of serfs were engaged in hard labor and were required to help their husbands.