Living History Living in Medieval Europe

eight centuries ago during the medieval era of history the people of Europe followed a way of life called feudalism that would seem strange to us today the medieval era was a time when the huge castles of powerful Lords dotted the countryside a time of constant warfare when Knights put on suits of metal armor before going into battle a time when most ordinary people lived in humble cottages on large feudal estates and had very few individual rights it was also the time when the world’s largest and most beautiful Christian churches were being built all and all it was one of the most fascinating periods in the history of the world now let us find out what it was like to live in medieval times if we could travel back in time about 800 years to Europe when the medieval era was at its peak the first thing we would notice was how few people there were and we would also notice that it was very quiet because there were no factories cars or large cities back then nearly everyone lived in small isolated country villages scattered among open fields and big forests the villages were connected to one another by roads that to us would look like rutted muddy paths ordinary people rarely traveled beyond the lands where they were born not only because they were poor but also because medieval Europe was a very dangerous place robbers roamed the countryside and war was an almost constant fact of life that was why eight centuries ago the safest place to be was behind the walls of a castle in medieval Europe castles were found almost everywhere the fact that so many castles were built shows how much fear people lived with back then castles were almost always the biggest buildings for miles around they were the fortress homes of the noble Lords some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Europe but a castle was also home to lots of servants and soldiers as well inside their walls wars were planned and important political decisions were made but they also were places where villagers could seek protection in times of danger castles were built in places that were easy to defend and it is interesting to look at the design of a castle to learn the many ways in which it protected the people inside as a first line of defense most castles had a tall outer wall that was often surrounded by a deep water filled moat the outer wall was studded with high towers where soldiers surveyed the surrounding fields for invading troops although medieval soldiers had no guns they did have powerful bows and there were many places in a castle from which arrows could be fired such as through the hundreds of notches built into the tops of the walls or through special windows like this one called arrow slits usually a draw bridge over the moat had to be crossed to get into a castle and it could be raised at any time if

someone was able to cross the drawbridge he could be stopped by heavy wooden doors protected by a thick metal grate and hidden above the castles doors were openings called murder holes through which large rocks and boiling liquids could be dumped on enemies if someone managed to get through the doors he would find himself in an enclosed courtyard where the stables were located and where villagers came for protection in times of war from here invaders could go no further without passing through another well-guarded door on the other side of this door was a second large courtyard were the great stronghold the best fortified part of the castle is located the Lord of the castle usually lived with his family in a tower within the walls of the stronghold inside this tower his servants climbed winding stone staircases to get from floor to floor here within the castles biggest room Great Hall the Lord met with people and also ate his meals the main meal which was served at 10:00 in the morning took several hours to eat and hands were always used since there were no Forks back then to show their important social position medieval Lords and their families dined at a table that was raised above everyone else after eating many Lords enjoyed going upstairs to sit in a window seat like this one so they could gaze out across the lands that gave them their wealth the medieval way of life known as feudalism was based on the ownership of land and feudal social classes reflected how much land people owned royalty like kings and queens were in the highest class after them came the noble Lords such as Dukes and Earls they were followed by the Knights who were followed by skilled craftsmen who were followed by the lowly serfs who worked the land under the feudal system people of lower classes showed their respect to the upper classes by serving them and for their service they received rewards for example the Lord of a great castle might serve his king by supplying him with knights and soldiers for a war to show his appreciation for this service the King might reward the Lord with a gift of land usually in the form of a Manor which was an important unit of territory in feudal society a manor usually came complete with a large house like this one several farms and at least one village along with all the serfs who lived in it the crops grown on these lands supply I’d the Lord with his income and the more manners he had the richer he became the serfs who belong to the manors never got rich they were at the bottom of feudal society because they owned no land serfs were not even allowed to move away from a Manor without the Lord’s permission because his wealth depended on the labor they supplied the Lord rewarded his serfs for the service of their labor by giving them a place to live a share of the crops they raised and protection during dangerous times because serfs owned no land they had nothing to pass down from one generation to the next so their families always remained poor in their Manor villages they were not even allowed to grind their own grain into flour for bread instead they had to pay to have it ground at the Lord’s mill in feudal society even though serfs produced nearly all the food did most of the hard labor and were the largest class of people they had few rights and almost no opportunity for education as a result it was nearly impossible for them to rise

above the poverty that ruled their lives while serfs provided the labor on great feudal estates Knights were highly valued for their military skills so there were always quite a few of them on hand at a castle Knights were professional warriors who usually fought on horseback they were very different from the ordinary soldiers at that time because they came from wealthy families and they were much better trained training for knighthood began at eight years of age when a boy was sent to a castle to become a page a student and servant of an experienced knight his training went on for many years and it wasn’t just in how to fight it was also in such things as horsemanship reading singing chess and the art of falconry special contests called tournaments were often held so that knights and those learning to be Knights could practice the skills they needed for combat tournaments were popular forms of entertainment in medieval times but they were dangerous and Knights were often severely injured participating in them because Knights came for all to do families and were so valued for their fighting skills they held a very high position in feudal society just below the noble Lords that was why to show them respect Knights were always addressed as Sir a noble Lord would often reward a knight for his courage with the gift of Manor lands and the income they provided so out of Lords great estate it was not uncommon to find Knights living in many of the manor houses in medieval times nearly everyone in Western Europe belonged to the Roman Catholic faith and although that every person was a sincere believer this was a time when most people held deep religious beliefs in fact about one out of ten medieval people became monks or nuns devoting their entire adult lives to the service of God locked away behind the walls of monasteries 800 years ago lords and ladies supported the church with income from Manor lands and often paid the wages of priests as well noble families helped to maintain parish churches in the villages on their estates in part because they believed that such acts of generosity would help them reach heaven wealthy Nobles also paid to have beautiful funeral monuments made and to have prayers and masses said for the souls of their family members after death even the poor serfs were expected to give 1/10 of their crops to support their village church even though it was a great hardship for them and although travel was dangerous in medieval times some people made long pilgrimages to holy shrines as acts of religious devotion but what medieval people are really the most famous for are the huge cathedrals they built all across Europe these cathedrals with their soaring towers and delicate stonework are not only great monuments to faith they are equally great monuments to the skill of medieval architects artists and builders it took hundreds of years to construct most medieval cathedrals but when they were done they were truly magnificent places in which to worship places that filled people’s hearts with the mystery and glory of God their towering walls held brilliantly colored stained glass windows depicting sacred images and stories from the Bible these windows served to instruct churchgoers in religion because back then most people could not read or write sculptors were kept very busy carving stone for new churches and their incredible designs give us a glimpse into the medieval imagination directly over the doorway of

this French Cathedral is a stone carving with a powerful reminder about the consequences of sin it shows the day of judgment here God is depicted as the large figure in the centre at his left hand those who led lives of sin are being condemned to an eternity of suffering in hell while on his right hand those who led good lives are being rewarded with an eternity of happiness in heaven it is interesting that unlike ordinary people most members of the clergy could read and write and in a time before the invention of the printing press it was the clergy who copied books by hand it was also during the medieval era that the Catholic Church founded nearly all of the great European universities in medieval society a cathedral like this one was the special Church of a bishop bishops held a high position in the church and belong to the same feudal class as the noble Lords they also possessed great political power because in medieval Europe the Catholic Church was more powerful than any feudal state as we have just learned the medieval era was a time when people’s lives were strongly affected by both their deep religious beliefs and their fear of war it was a time of Knights of feudal manners and enormous class differences when most people owned no land were poor and were ruled by a few wealthy Lords who lived behind the walls of huge castles but the medieval era also created great centers of learning and countless rich treasures of architecture and art that continued to inspire people to this very day true or false nights were famous for their skill on horseback true or false most medieval people lived in cities true or false stained-glass windows were used for religious instruction true or false medieval lords owned whole villages true or false training for knighthood began at the age of 16 true or false serfs were considered to be a part of a manner true or false a cathedral is the Church of a bishop true or false manners were important units of land in medieval times true or false medieval bishops could not read or write true or false medieval castles had

powerful guns you