This four-book series takes a close-up look at life in Europe during the High Middle Ages, roughly 1100-1400.
Click on the covers to purchase through Amazon.com.
"Readers of the impressive Life in the Middle Ages
series will be struck first by the beauty of its design, then by the
intriguing information. Each volume focuses on one facet of medieval
life, and although there is inevitably a little overlap, reading one
after another opens up a panoramic, cohesive view of the period."
". . . report writers will be richly rewarded. The
texts provide clear explanations of the people, places, and cultural
events of this intriguing time. Interesting sidebars feature recipes,
games, and stories. . . . Attractive, information-rich resources."
--School Library Journal (reviewing City and Countryside)
"Two informative and beautifully illustrated titles that demonstrate
that the Middle Ages was a complex, fascinating period of progress and
growth. . . . Both texts are enriched by excerpts from the literature
of this era. Quality period reproductions of paintings and clear, color
photos appear throughout. . . . Solid overviews that contain fascinating
tidbits of information."
--School Library Journal (reviewing Castle and Church)
Jacks (and Jills) of All Trades
Many castle servants had general functions: the same man might wait
at table, deliver messages, make purchases at local markets, and take
care of other matters as needed. Some servants were craftspeople part
of the time, making candles, soap, and the like.
The lord's most trusted servants tended to be his personal attendants.
These were frequently lower-ranking noblemen, and they might do anything
from helping the lord dress to going on diplomatic missions for him.
In fact, a number of the chief servants in a castle could be of noble
birth. In France and Italy, many of the lord's attendants and upper
servants were his own cousins and other relatives.
Even many non-nobles were ranked as gentlemen, the servants who did
the least physical labor. Lower in status were the valets. They often
performed skilled jobs and had a great deal of responsibility. Valets'
duties could include anything from assisting the stable marshal to
making the lord's bed to slaughtering livestock. The lowest-ranking
servants, grooms, had the hardest and dirtiest tasks, such as scrubbing
pots and cleaning out stables. Valets and grooms typically came from
peasant families in the villages near the castle.
In the Middle Ages, nearly all servants were male, and most of them
were unmarried. If a servant was married, his wife and children usually
did not live at the castle with him. An upper servant's wife, however,
might become an attendant or lady-in-waiting to the lord's wife.
--Life in the Middle Ages: The Castle
In much of Europe during the High Middle Ages, women worked in almost
as many fields as men did. Only a few professions were totally closed
to women at this time: They could not be sailors, notaries, lawyers,
or priests. But we have records from around 1300 that tell of women--especially
in France Germany, and England--who were merchants, money changers,
jewelers, goldsmiths, artists, stone masons, entertainers, tavern
keepers, shoemakers, leather workers, shield makers, archers, gatekeepers,
millers, blacksmiths, brewers, wine dealers, food sellers, fishmongers,
bakers, peddlers, dyers, yarn makers, wool weavers, linen workers,
tailors, dress makers, hat makers, furriers, hair dressers, candle
makers, spice dealers, pharmacists, doctors, surgeons, and barbers
(who not only cut hair but also performed minor surgery and set broken
bones). As household servants, laundresses, nurses, wax dealers, silk
spinners, silk weavers, embroiderers, and lace makers, Parisian women
outnumbered men in 1292. Unfortunately, as in so many other times
and places, medieval women routinely earned less money than men, even
for the same work.
Women who didn't work for pay still worked hard, raising children
and keeping house. Even with a servant or two to help, household chores
were time consuming and often demanded a great deal of strength from
the medieval housewife. Only women in very wealthy families avoided
physical labor completely.
--Life in the Middle Ages: The City
Wind and Water
Grain was the basis of the peasant diet. It could be boiled to make
porridge and gruel, or ground into flour to make bread. In northern
Europe before the Middle Ages, grain was usually ground in stone querns,
or hand mills. The ancient Romans generally used large millstones
turned by donkeys or slaves. Yet the Romans knew of a better technology:
the waterwheel, which probably originated in Persia or India. Mysteriously,
the Romans rarely used it.
Toward the end of the twelfth century, a new European invention made
still more progress in the technology of grinding grain. This was
the vertical windmill, probably developed in eastern England. Nothing
like it had ever been seen before, but it was soon in use throughout
western Europe. It caught the force of the wind in its sails, and
their turning ran the gears that turned the millstone, grinding grain
with little human effort.
The waterwheel and the windmill are examples of medieval Europe's search for new forms of nonhuman power and new ways to use it. Such technological advances pointed the way to even greater progress in the future.
--Life in the Middle Ages: The Countryside
Boys who entered monasteries had a difficult period of adjustment
and training. They were constantly supervised by a senior monk, their
teacher. They were never left by themselves or in groups of only children.
They could not signal or speak to one another without the teacher's
permission. In many places they were allowed to play for only one
hour once a week or once a month. In some monasteries they were not
allowed to play at all.
Girls being raised and educated in monasteries seem to have been allowed a little more playtime. (One reason for this may be that girls usually entered monasteries when they were five or six years old, much younger than most boys did.) Otherwise they had the same restrictions as boys. They did not always receive the same education, though. They did learn to read and write, and of course they were thoroughly instructed in religion. But few girls had the opportunity to master Latin or to study such things as science and law. On the other hand, many received training as scribes and artists, and there were women's monasteries that were well known for the books they produced.
--Life in the Middle Ages: The Church
As a special feature, this Web page offers some bonus material for readers who would like to add more to their medieval experience.
A Monkish Meal
According to the Rule of Saint Benedict, monastery meals were supposed to be very simple: "Let two kinds of cooked food, therefore, be sufficient for all the brethren. And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day." In addition to these instructions, no one was supposed to eat "the flesh of four-footed animals" unless they were weak or sick and in the infirmary. At the abbot's table, however, more elaborate meals that included meat could be served, for guests of the monastery often ate with the abbot (or abbess), usually in a dining room separate from the refectory. On special occasions, common monks and nuns received dishes of eggs and fish in addition to their usual fare.
To experience a little of what life was like in a medieval
monastery, try having a meal like nuns and monks did. You can serve
one or two kinds of plainly cooked vegetable. Peas, green beans, carrots,
onions, or leeks would be good choices; but potatoes, tomatoes, corn
(maize), peppers, and squash all came from the Americas and so were
unknown in medieval Europe. You could serve fruit, too. In the Middle
Ages, fruit was rarely eaten raw, so try baking an apple or pear;
you could drizzle a little honey over it if you wish. Another good
cooked dish would be a grain, such as barley or even oatmeal. But
remember, no more than three cooked foods! The meal will be complete
with cheese and some whole wheat bread with a little bit of butter
or honey. You can have grape juice to drink, since people in monasteries,
like other medieval Europeans, usually drank wine or ale (often watered
down) at every meal. To make your meal truly monastic, eat in complete
silence while one of your family members reads aloud from a serious
A Special Christmas
At Christmastime today in a number of countries, many homes and churches set up crèches or nativity scenes, which show the newborn Jesus in the stable with his parents, animals, shepherds, and other figures. Some churches even have living crèches, where church members play the human roles and farm animals complete the scene. This tradition was begun by Saint Francis of Assisi in the early thirteenth century.
According to Thomas of Celano, a Franciscan friar who wrote the first
biography of the saint, Francis wanted to remember the words and actions
of Jesus at all times, and he wanted to share this experience with other
Christians. So one year in the town of Greccio, Italy, he decided to
help people think of the birthday of Jesus in a new way. "I want
to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born
in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy,
how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by," Francis
told his friend Giovanni.
Giovanni saw to it that a manger was set up in a cave in a nearby forest.
When Christmas arrived, Francis's friars and many townspeople of Greccio
went to the cave, lighting the way with candles and torches. Francis
rejoiced to see how things had been prepared. The manger was filled
with hay, and an ox and a donkey were brought in as the brothers began
to sing. Then a priest performed Mass over the manger. Francis himself
sang the Gospel in a sweet, clear voice, and he gave a sermon to the
gathered people. As he told them about the birth of Jesus, a certain
man had a marvelous vision. He saw a little child lying lifeless in
the manger, then saw Francis wake the child as if from a deep sleep.
Thomas of Celano wrote that this was a fitting vision, "for in
the hearts of many the child Jesus really had been forgotten, but now,
by his grace and through his servant Francis, he had been brought back
excerpts copyright © 2001 by Marshall Cavendish Corporation
extras copyright © 2006-2011 by Kathryn Hinds