Work in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
True to our understanding of the Middle Ages it is a time recognized by castles, princes, princesses, knights and peasants all co-inhabiting a kingdom. Each of these individuals where characterized by their trades and for each person there was a part to be played in the community.
To understand the types of work in the Middle Ages we have to understand the structure of the kingdom.
The king and his family are centered in the kingdom and every type was either directly or indirectly linked to the king.
Work types can therefore be categorized into noblemen jobs and peasant jobs.
Types of work for noblemen
The main jobs of noblemen were to either serve the king directly, or to control their peasants to make sure that the money and goods owed to the king were collected.
Most famous of the nobleman trades is the knights. Knights were responsible for feudalism, consisting of the safety of the king and fighting for the king, therefore also making them responsible for the safety of the village. It was considered an honor to be a knight for the king and demanded utmost loyalty to the king.
Priest and other religious persons assigned to the church was also a noble occupation as the church played a dominant role in the Middle Ages. Assisting the priests were monks and nuns residing in monasteries and convents.
They were responsible for the spiritual welfare of the king. They were also his religious advisors. Religious crusades were on the forefront in the middle ages and being a crusader ensured you the rank of a nobleman. Peter the Hermit was such a religious crusader.
As a dowry needed to be paid to a church into which children entered to become monks or nuns, this was mostly reserved for the noble families.
Noblemen were the business class people. Nobleman work in the Middle Ages included financial advising and they would see to all financial aspects of the kingdom, such as taxes and rent that needed to be collected from the peasants.
Legal advisors to the king and for the people were an important trade also. They had to tend to legal matters between different kings, between the king and his people and also between peasants. This can include negotiations between kingdoms for land, trade, militia and then feuds between peasants regarding land and property.
Many feuds originated from land and property. One such law was used in Scotland until recently that the person who owned the land had rights over even the person who built their own house on the mentioned land.
Many famous people, like Marco Polo, the great explorer and Joan de Arc who led France to victory during war, were noble people who lived in the Middle Ages.
By naming the famous people, the list of noble roles and occupations grows significantly.
Included in the list comes inventors, Johann Gutenberg, William Wallace, a war hero from Scotland and Roger Bacon the scientist, inventor and philosopher.
Interesting is that many of these famous nobles were many times first seen as peasants and later honored as noblemen.
Entertainers and artists played a big role in the middle ages jobs. Donatello was a sculpture who later had a great influence on sculpting in the end of the middle ages and early Renaissance era.
Peasant jobs in the middle ages
Being a peasant unfortunately was not such an envious role to portray and peasant jobs were mostly not such gratuitous occupation.
It was however a very humbling occupation as they sustained their own little communities within the kingdoms as well as contribute to riches and welfare of the king and the noblemen.
Peasants mostly lived on land owned by noblemen and therefore many of them were land workers. Servants of nobleman were also almost bound to work and serve the owners of the land on which they stayed. The farmers on the land owned a piece of land on that plot which they maintained and cultivated. A percentage of the produce of that land could be kept for them, and a percentage could be given to the owner of the land for rent. This secured them a right to stay on that land and not be expelled from the land.
Peasants in the villages were mostly craftsmen. Craftsmen were goldsmiths and blacksmiths, the carpenters and also the millers who grew the corn and milled it for the village.
The towns again, also had many trades which were handled by the peasants.
Blacksmiths, goldsmiths, potters, weavers, shoemakers, bakers, armoires, fletchers (arrow-makers), book-binders, carpenters and masons.
Peasants in the Middle Ages did not commute to their jobs as they worked where they lived. Trades were therefore passed on from generation to generation and remained a family business.
Children could also be made apprentices at the different traders to learn the skills of the trade.
Family life integrated with business life and men and woman each had their own jobs to fulfill in the village.
Drinking ale was part of the community and recreation and brewing the ale was traditionally left into the hands of the woman, making the “brewer’s wife” a prestigious figure. Women were prominent in the traditional woman type of trades such as weavers, spinners and sewing, but were not limited to these trades.
Women also passed on their skills of their trade to their daughters as would fathers pass on the skills of the mainly men trades to their sons.
As mentioned previously, mostly the children of noblemen entered into the monasteries or nunnery, there were 'lay sisters' in convents and they came from the lower classes and tended to perform the more menial work of the convents.
The peasant class also contained the merchants who were actually in a class of their own. They were not really peasant, but also not noblemen.
Merchants had the capability of becoming very rich due to using the import and export trade and could therefore acquire their own wealth and land and did not depend on the inheritance of land or the family business.