Chapter 24 Medieval Society Words, Terms and People to Know

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Chapter 24 Medieval Society Words, Terms and People to Know

  • Squire
  • Serf
  • Act of Homage
  • Seneschal
  • Palisades
  • Page
  • Keep
  • Joust
  • Fiefs
  • Dubbing
  • Code of Chivalry
  • Clergy
  • Nobles
  • Portcullis
  • Bailiff

Chapter 24 Feudal Society: Life in the Middle Ages

  • …Or , why I’m glad I’m not them!

Things to Consider

  • “If cats could write history…”
  • 6th thru 14th cen. Princes, monks and clerks-- commoners rarely written about.
  • Average town size 40,000
  • In 1300 AD Paris 200,000
  • During the height of Roman Empire 50% of the population could read and write
    • During the Dark Ages roughly 3% were literate

Oh, to be alive in 1100 A.D.

  • The rich were overfed/poor were underfed
    • People were extraordinarily prone to visions and seeing supernatural phenomena, perhaps due to hunger
  • Emotional societies in which devils and saints intervened
  • Irrational societies—people were at the mercy of “forces” totally beyond their control.
  • Time (as measured today) was irrelevant
    • No clocks, no way to measure accurately
    • Dates—offered complete confusion. Even Christmas was celebrated at different times in different places.
  • The significance of the widespread belief in ghosts, asking who returned, to whom, from where, in what form, and why. Through this vivid study, we can see the ways in which the dead and the living related to each other.This author argues that beliefs and the imaginary depend above all on the structures and functioning of society and culture, and he shows how the Christian culture of the Middle Ages enlarged the notion of ghosts and created many opportunities for the dead to appear. Also points out that the church happily proliferated ghost stories as a way to promote the liturgy of the dead, to develop pious sentiments among parishioners, and to solicit alms on behalf of a relative or friend's salvation.
  • William of Ockham (1280-1349),
  • Medieval woodcut showing unseen forces effecting human life.
  • Youth was a characteristic of most societies during the middle ages
    • Average age was 21
  • Idea of exactness was foreign to medieval world where everything was approximate.
  • Disease was common place and deadly
    • Small pox, plagues and leprosy
      • 5% of the population in 12th and 13th centuries had leprosy.
  • Between 1340-1370 A.D. 1/3 of population in the west died of plagues. In the cities the number was ½ of the population
  • The Black Death
  • 1347 - 1351
  • The Culprits
  • The Disease Cycle
  • Flea drinks rat blood that carries the bacteria.
  • Flea’s gut clogged with bacteria.
  • Bacteria
  • multiply in
  • flea’s gut.
  • Flea bites human and regurgitates blood into human wound.
  • Human is infected!
  • The Famine of 1315-1317
  • By 1300 Europeans were farming almost all the land they could cultivate.
  • A population crisis developed.
  • Climate changes in Europe produced three years of crop failures between 1315-17 because of excessive rain.
  • As many as 15% of the peasants in some English villages died.
  • One consequence of starvation & poverty was susceptibility to disease.
  • The book covers the cataclysms suffered by Europe in the 14th century: the Hundre Years' War, the Black Plague, the papal schism, pillaging mercenaries, and popular revolts.
  • The eruption column of Mount Pinatubo
  • during the 1991 eruption. Mt. Pinatubo
  • Also erupted in 1315. However it is not known
  • For certain that this caused the cooling.
  • The Symptoms
  • Bulbous
  • Septicemic Form: almost 100% mortality rate.
  • The disease appeared in three forms: bubonic [infection of the lymph system -- 60% fatal] pneumonic [respiratory infection -- about 100% fatal], and septicaemic [infection of the blood and probably 100% fatal]
  • Pneumonic Form -95-100% Fatal
  • From the Toggenburg Bible, 1411
  • Medieval Art & the Plague
  • Bring out your dead!
  • Attempts to Stop the Plague
  • A Doctor’s Robe
  • “Leeching”
  • Attempts to Stop the Plague
  • Flagellanti: Self-inflicted “penance” for our sins!
  • A Little Macabre Ditty
  • “A sickly season,” the merchant said, “The town I left was filled with dead, and everywhere these queer red flies crawled upon the corpses’ eyes, eating them away.” “Fair make you sick,” the merchant said, “They crawled upon the wine and bread. Pale priests with oil and books, bulging eyes and crazy looks, dropping like the flies.”
  • A Little Macabre Ditty cont.
  • “I had to laugh,” the merchant said, “The doctors purged, and dosed, and bled; “And proved through solemn disputation “The cause lay in some constellation. “Then they began to die.” “First they sneezed,” the merchant said, “And then they turned the brightest red, Begged for water, then fell back. With bulging eyes and face turned black, they waited for the flies.”
  • A Little Macabre Ditty cont.
  • “I came away,” the merchant said, “You can’t do business with the dead. “So I’ve come here to ply my trade. “You’ll find this to be a fine brocade…”
  • And then he sneezed……….!
  • The effects of that plague and its successors on the men and women of medieval Europe were profound: new attitudes toward death, the value of life, and of one's self. It kindled a growth of class conflict, a loss of respect for the Church, and the emergence of a new pietism (personal spirituality) that profoundly altered European attitudes toward religion.
  • The plague lasted in each area only about a year, but a third of a district's population would die during that period.
  • Mortality Rate
  • 35% - 70%
  • 25,000,000 dead !!!
  • The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut

Dance Macabre 1 : a medieval dance or procession in which a skeleton representing death leads other skeletons or living persons to the grave -- called also dance of death

  • In the Middle Ages, death, and its universal embrace, was constantly on peoples’ minds. In fact, life was uncertain for the young, the old, and everyone in-between. People alive in the Middle Ages were made aware of their mortality every day by the real possibility of dying from any number of diseases for which there were no effective cures (other diseases); the difficult quality (medieval hygiene) of their lives, or the violent nature of medieval society. Consequently, what becomes known as the ‘dance of death’ was an especially ubiquitous motif in medieval European art and literature.
  • This intimate awareness of the presence of death hovering over even the most joyous of occasions translated itself into a visual and literary type known as the “dances of death”, or the “dance macabre”. Visual representations of this are to be found on the outside walls of cloisters, cemeteries, in mortuary chapels, ossuaries and even in churches. These frescoes (paintings made in wet plaster) usually include an emaciated corpse or a skeleton coupled with a living representative of a certain social class. The number of characters and the composition of the dance may vary according to time, place and purpose of the artist, 24 being a popular figure.
  • The dance of death often takes the form of a farandole. There are words exchanged between death and its victims which are painted as verses below the corresponding pictures. The death speech is threatening , cynical, or sarcastic while the man cries for mercy in a last attempt to save his life. Everyone gets into the dance: from the whole clerical hierarchy (pope, cardinals, bishops, abbots, canons, priests), to every single representative of the laic world (emperors, kings, dukes, counts, knights, doctors, merchants, usurers, robbers, peasants, and even innocent children). Death does not care for the social position, nor for the richness, sex, or age of the people it brings into its dance.
  • Death is often represented with a musical instrument. Music has always been associated with the various death and life rituals. Music provides an enchantment, the passage from Earth to the unknown. The Sirens were great musicians, Orpheus delivered Eurydice from Hades thanks to his beautiful songs.
  • Origin: The dance of death of the Innocents in Paris, painted in 1424, is considered the starting point of this pictorial tradition. The theme of Death seizing all men from emperors to peasants became popular during all the 15th century and there were numerous dances of death painted across Europe. Unfortunately, few have survived the centuries. There are also traces of theatrical plays that were played in the same fashion. Different traditions converge in the origin of these Dances: beliefs, popular legends and pious or scholar sources.
  • The dance of death was preceded and prepared by a literary genre called Vado Mori (I prepare myself to die) in vogue during the 13th century. They include short sentences (like haiku) of people from various strolls of life who are going to die. The most popular were the king, the pope, the bishop, the knight, the physicist, the logician, the young man, the old man, the rich, the poor and the insane.
  • Those alive in the middle ages were unable to postpone death with medical technology. They were unable to use the distractions modern life offers to sublimate its impact. Consequently, although it may seem morbid to those alive today, people of the Middle Ages had little choice but to embrace the thought of death and make the most of their lives while they were among the living. The Dance Macabre reflects this understanding.
  • The Holy Trinity, with the Virgin and Saint John and donors is a fresco by the Early Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio. Florence.
  • Paintings such as this served as models of religious devotion for viewers but, because they are located closer to the sacred figures than the viewers are, they also lay claim to special status. The tomb consists of a sarcophagus on which lies a skeleton. "Carved" in the wall above the skeleton is an inscription: "I once was what you are and what I am you also will be”. This memento mori underlines that the painting was intended to serve as a lesson to the viewers--since they all would die, only their faith in the Trinity and Christ's sacrifice would allow them to overcome their transitory existences.

Hey!!! What happened to my heliocentric solar system?

  • The distinction between what makes up matter (the primary elements) and its form became a medieval Christian preoccupation, with the sinfulness of the material world opposed to the holiness of the heavenly realm (which is interesting since modern cosmology is heavily consumed with the issue of dark matter). The medieval Christian cosmology placed the heavens in a realm of perfection, derived from Plato's Theory of Forms
  • A heliocentric Universe was impossible for the Church to adopt. In the end, medieval cosmology centers on the balance of angelic sphere and the earthy realm. One such cosmology is found in Dante's `The Divine Comedy'
  • Once again proving the point that the world isn’t what the world actually is—it’s what you think it is (or what others can make you think it is)!

Cosmology of the Middle Ages

  • Aries
  • Avoid incisions in the head and face and cut no vein in the head.
  • Taurus
  • Avoid incisions in the neck and throat and cut no veins there.
  • Gemini
  • Avoid incisions in the shoulders, arms or hands and cut no vein.
  • Cancer
  • Avoid incisions in the breasts, sides, stomach and lungs and cut no vein that goes to the spleen.
  • Leo
  • Avoid incisions of the nerves, lesions of the sides and bones, and do not cut the back either by opening and bleeding.
  • Virgo
  • Avoid opening a wound in the belly and in the internal parts.
  • Libra
  • Avoid opening wounds in the umbellicus and parts of the belly and do not open a vein in the back or do cupping.
  • Scorpio
  • Censored by your teacher!
  • Sagittarius
  • Avoid incisions in the thighs and fingers and do not cut blemishes and growths.
  • Capricorn
  • Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and sinews in these places.
  • Aquarius
  • Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and veins in these places.
  • Pisces
  • Avoid cutting the feet.
  • Diagnosis was also influenced by astrology. Medical charts informed physicians what not to do for people born under a certain start sign. There were people in the time of the plague (the Black Death) who believed that they had sinned. They believed that the only way to show their true repentance was to inflict pain on themselves. These were the so-called flaggellants who whipped themselves to show their love of God and their true sorry at being a sinner. Diagnose and treat a medieval patient yourself!
  • Italian researchers believe they have found the remains of a female "vampire" from 16th-century Venice, buried with a brick in her mouth to prevent her from feasting on plague victims. Matteo Borrini, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Florence, said the discovery was the first confirmation of a Medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of epidemics, such as the Black Death. Read more: "Archeological wonders" -
  • Yikes! The Things People Believe!
  • Death Triumphant !: A Major Artistic Theme

Three Classes of People

  • In relationship and theory, the feudal system was simple—but relationships were not clear-cut.
  • 1. Those Who fought—”Bellatores”
  • Those who prayed—”Oratores”
  • Those who worked—peasants “Laborares”


  • Feudalism and
  • Transitions
    • 3. Describe the conditions that gave rise to feudalism, as well as political, economic and social characteristics of feudalism, in Asia and Europe.
    • 4. Explain the lasting effects of military conquests during the
  • Middle Ages including:
    • a. Muslim conquests;
    • b. The Crusades;
    • c. The Mongol invasions.
  • Bamburgh Castle
  • Dramatically situated on a crag jutting out over the North Sea, Bamburgh is one of Britain's
  • most photogenic castles. Henry II built a massive keep on the site of what had been the capital of the
  • Anglian kingdom of Bernicia in the 7th century. The main highlight indoors is a superb collection of 17th
  • century arms and armour from the Tower of London.

Section One: describes the origins of feudalism

  • Terms to Learn: Fiefs
  • Terms to Learn: Vassal
  • Terms to Learn: Act of Homage
  • Terms to Learn: Knight
  • Terms to Learn: Feudalism
  • Term to Learn: Catholicism
  • I. Land and Government
  • A. power based on ownership of land
  • B. Charles Martel gives fiefs to his soldiers as reward for service
  • C. After 800, the kings of Europe followed Martel’s example establishing ties of loyalty among the nobles
  • Feudalism
  • A political, economic, and social system based on loyalty and military service.
  • In theory the feudal system of vassalage would seem to be clear-cut. However, due to overlapping vassalage claims-- and time-- the system became very complicated and often produced strange alliances and betrayals. The movie Braveheart recounts the history (sort of, the film is filled with inaccuracies) of Scotland’s William Wallace (1272-1305) and how he was betrayed by Scottish lords who also owned lands in England and therefore had allegiances to the English king.
    • (Read Feudalism and Medieval Life-- Word Document)

I. Cont.

  • D. The Rise of Feudal Territories
      • 1. after 814 Europe had no central government
      • 2. nobles become more powerful than the king becoming independent rulers
        • (a.) many nobles maintain their own army and coin their own money
      • 3. around 900 nobles protect their lands from Vikings
        • (a.) peasants work for their noble in exchange for protection.
        • (b.) Peasants lose their land and their freedom
        • (c.) 1000 western Europe divided into thousands of small territories
        • (d.) noble who owned land had political and military power
        • (e.) peasants had no say in government
        • (f.) church and noble dominated society with little to no societal mobility for the lower classes

I. Cont.

  • E. Lord an Vassal
    • 1. Vassal was a noble who served a lord of higher rank and gave him loyalty act of homage—vassal promised to serve in battle, lord gave vassal a fief
        • (a.) a glove, a stick or stone was the sign a lord’s word could be trusted
        • (b.) failure to provide protection negated need for loyalty
        • (c.) vassals required to bring knights to battle with them and take part in military service 40-60 days a year.
        • (d.) Vassals required to ransom lord if captured in battle
          • 1. failure to pay homage would cause the lord to pull the vassal’s fief
  • Single plates of metal armour were again used from the late 13th century on, to protect joints and shins, and these were worn over a full mail haubergeon. By the end of the 14th century, larger and complete full plates of armour had been developed. Full plate armor was expensive to produce and remained therefore restricted to the upper strata of society; lavishly decorated suits of armour remained the fashion with 18th century nobles and generals long after they had ceased to be militarily useful on the battlefield due to the advent of powerful muskets.
  • The Oath and the Form of Homage : "I become your liege man of life and limb and truth and earthly honors, bearing to you against all men that love, move or die, so help me God and the Holy Dame. "

Section Two: discusses the feudal social hierarchy

  • Terms to Learn: Castles
  • Terms to Learn: Keep
  • Terms to learn: Ladies
  • Terms to Learn: Clergy
  • II. The Nobility
    • A. 800-1000 lived in wooden houses surrounded by palisades
    • B. The Castle
      • (1.) 1100 nobles living in stone castles
      • (2.) the keep was located in the middle and could be defended even if the rest of the castle fell and was the noble’s household quarters
      • (3.) servants and officials were responsible for castle’s care and defense
      • (4.) castle’s could hold out for as long as 6 months
    • C. Castle Life
      • (1.) nobles hunted, fished and held court
      • (2.) wandering minstrels came to entertain

Be careful who you give a castle to—they’re hard to take!

II. Continued

      • 3. noblewomen, once married were under the authority of their husbands
      • 4. dowry very important
      • 5. most women married by 12-13 (if not by 21 usually never married)
      • 6. expected to train young girls in household duties and run the castle household and care for the poor and sick.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1 April 1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. One of her many children was son, Richard the Lionheart.

Section Three: describes the duties of feudal knights

  • Terms to Learn: Page
  • Terms to Learn: Code of Chivalry
  • Terms to Learn: Squire
  • Terms to Learn: Dubbing
  • Terms to Learn: Tournaments
  • Terms to Learn: Joust
  • III. Knighthood
    • A. must follow the code of chivalry
    • B. Training
      • 1. training begins at 7 when he learns to be a page
      • 2. at 14 could handle a lance and sword while on horseback
      • 3. at 15 becomes a squire
        • (a.) expected to rescue the knight if wounded of falls off horse
        • (b.) squires become knights in a ceremony known as dubbing
    • C. Tournaments
      • 1. special contests to train for war
      • (everything you could possible want to know about medieval tournaments)
      • 2. jousts
  • A Squire's Training
  • And as lordes sonnes bene sette, at four yere age, To scole to lerne the doctryne of letture, And after at sex to have thaym in language, And sitte at mete semely in all nurture; At ten and twelve to revelle in thair cure, To daunse and synge, and speke of gentelnesse; At fourtene yere they shalle to felde I sure, At hunte the dere, and catch an hardynesse.
  • For dere to hunte and slea, and se them blede, Ane hardyment gyfffith to his corage, And also in his wytte to takyth hede Ymagyninge to take thaym at avauntage. At sextene yere to werray and to wage, To juste and ryde, and castels to assayle, To scarmyse als, and make sykur courage, And sette his wache for perile nocturnayle;
  • And every day his armure to assay In fete of armes with some of his meyne, His might to preve, and what that he do may Iff that we were in such a jupertee Of werre by falle, that by necessite He might algates with wapyns hym defende: Thus should he lerne in his priorite His wapyns alle in armes to dispende.
  • The text for this poem is found on p. 17 THE BLACK PRINCE, R.P. Dunn-Pattison, 1910.
  • The Statutes of Arms were concerned with checking the excesses of mass tournaments that often ended in the pillage, rape, and slaughter of local villagers and townspeople (See: Noël Denholm-Young, "The Tournament in the Thirteenth-Century," in Studies in Medieval History Presented to Frederick Maurice Powicke, pp. 260-261, 264).
  • Here begin the Statutes of Arms.
  • “At the request of the Earls and Barons and of the Chivalry of England, it is ordained and by our Lord the King commanded, that from henceforth none be so hardy, whether Earl, Baron, or other Knight, who shall go to the Tournament, to have more than three Esquires in Arms to serve him at the Tournament; and that every Esquire do bear a Cap of the Arms of his Lord, whom he shall serve that day, for Ensign.
  • And no Knight or Esquire serving at the Tournament, shall bear a sword pointed, or Dagger pointed, or Staff or Mace, but only a broad sword for tourneying. And all that bear Banners shall be armed with Mufflers and Cuishes, and Shoulder-Plates, and a Skull-cap, without more.
  • And if it happen that any Earl or Baron or other knight, do go against this statute, that such knight, by assent of all the Baronage, shall lose Horse and Harness, and abide in prison at the pleasure of our Lord Sir Edward the King's son, and Sir Edmund his brother, and the Earl of Gloucester, and the Earl of Lincoln. And the Esquire who shall be found offending against the statute here devised, in any point, shall lose Horse and Harness, and be imprisoned three years. And if any man shall cast a knight to the ground, except they who are armed for their Lord's service, the knight shall have his horse, and the offender shall be punished as the Esquires aforesaid.”

Section Four: explains the lifestyles of the people in feudal society and the organization of the manors

  • Terms to Learn: Manor
  • Terms to Learn: Seneschal
  • Terms to Learn: Bailiff
  • Terms to Learn: Freeman
  • IV. The Manor
  • The 14th century great hall at Penshurst Place Kent, mid 14th century, showing the screens passage. The Great Hall was of central importance to every manor, being the place where the lord expressed his position of dominance

The Manor

  • Manors usually had four parts to them: arable land, meadow land, waste land, and the village. Each part had a specific purpose and none could be dispensed with if the manor was to survive.
  • The arable land was utilized by the three-field rotation system which prevailed in most of Europe. This meant that one third of the arable land always remained fallow in order not to exhaust the soil. There was plowing the year round, except when the ground was frozen or at harvest time. This made maximum use of the most important tool the serfs had, the moldboard plow. The value of a manor was determined for the most part by the number of plows and teams of oxen it possessed.
  • Each individual peasant strip was about one acre in size. It took about one day to plow a single strip. Crops and peasant field assignment were scattered in 3 fields throughout the manor. Plowing and planting was fixed by custom. There was also uniform cropping. Thus no innovation was possible. It kept things the way they were for almost one thousand years.
  • Meadow land was as important as arable land. It was necessary to feed the draught animals. The idea of sowing and harvesting hay to feed the animals had not yet occurred to them. There was thus a chronic shortage of winter fodder. This meant that there was a constant danger of losing the cattle and sheep. It was never successfully overcome.
  • The waste land was used for summer pasture for animals of the whole manor, watched by children or lowly attendants. So-called wasteland also provided wood for fuel and building materials for peasant huts. In addition it provided an important part of the food supply: nuts, berries, honey, rabbits. So, it should be obvious that the manors were relatively small clearings among large stretches of forest (forest laws) and wastelands. The vast expanse of the fertile European plain was never fully exploited and helps to account for the backwardness of medieval economic life. Most of central and northern Europe was blanketed with a vast forest of tall trees or unhealthy swamps.
  • Most English forests were owned by the king. The monarch’s workers managed the forest and were expected to keep poachers away. The penalties for trespass could be severe. Even the ‘underwood’, the fallen branches, grass and fruits which grew at ground level was protected.
  • The village itself was usually located in the center of the arable land, somewhere near the most convenient water supply: rivers, natural lakes or drained swamps. Although it should be remembered that there was precious little draining of swamps until well into modern times. The cottages where the serfs lived were made of mud brick reinforced with straw and had earthen floors and thatched roof. Usually they consisted of single rooms not very large in floor space or height. There were usually small adjoining gardens where some vegetables and fruits were grown. Little time and ground was wasted on flowers or decorative shrubs. Chickens, dogs, and ducks maintained a precarious existence in the streets.
  • What a cruck house may have
  • looked like - minus the wattle and daub

IV. Continued

  • A. Daily Life
    • 1. seneschal looked after the noble’s fiefs
    • 2. bailiff made sure the peasants worked hard in the fields
    • 3. manors were self sufficient
  • B. Freemen and Serfs
    • 1. Freeman—peasant who paid the noble for the right to farm land
      • (a.) worked their own land and had rights under the law—noble had right to throw off land without warning
      • (b.) serfs—were a noble’s property
        • (1.) could not move to another area and could not own land
        • (2.) could not marry without the noble’s permission
        • (3.) could not be driven off land and did not have to serve in military
        • (4.) a serf who ran away to a city and was not caught for a year gained his freedom
        • (5.) Toward the end of the Middle Ages, farming became more productive because of heavy iron plows coming into use and other innovations like the three field system of rotation.

Essay Questions

  • The feudal system was based upon the often times complex lord vassal relationship. What were the advantages of being a vassal rather than a lord? What were the disadvantages of being a lord’s vassal?
  • Explain how medieval tournaments were similar to the Olympic games in Ancient Greece? How were they different?
  • Why do you think the lives of noblewomen were so restricted? What advantages and disadvantages did their limited roles have for the society?

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