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The Everyday Folk

Find out how often peasants had a bath in this quiz!

The Everyday Folk

Everyday folk looks at the life of a typical Medieval peasant.

The life of a Medieval peasant is often considered to be one of disease and drudgery, filled with work and hardships. But was it really so bad? By the latter Middle Ages, in the 15th century, life had improved somewhat for the lower classes, but it was still no bed of roses.

1.
Despite the failure of the Peasants' Revolt, serfdom died out during the 15th century and peasants won their freedom. By what means did the majority achieve this?
They refused to work for their lords
They escaped from their lords' lands
They voted their lords out of office
They bought their freedom for cash
The nobility feared any possible future uprisings and also labour was still in short supply. The wages paid to serfs continued to rise and over time the majority were able to pay for their freedom. Other lords began to rent their land to the peasants rather than to hold them in serfdom. By the end of the 15th century people were free to work for whoever they wished
2.
Peasants had to pay taxes to their king and rent to their lord, but they also had to pay a charge to the church. What was this charge called?
A Godly Gift
A Tithe
A Crusades Coin
An Alms
A tithe was a tax on the yearly produce of a farm. Peasants had to give one tenth of what they had earned which may not sound much but, with all the other financial burdens on a serf, it mounted up. The peasants struggled to get by, whilst the churches grew wealthy from their work
3.
Peasants in the Middle Ages lived hand-to-mouth and their livelihoods were always at risk. What was the main threat to their income?
Greedy lords
Disease
Raiding armies
The weather
In many years the peasants' crops failed due to frosts, droughts or floods. These caused famines and quite often people died from starvation. Greedy lords, disease and raiding armies were indeed a threat to the peasants' income, but the biggest threat of all was the weather
4.
The wages and conditions of Medieval serfs improved between the 14th and 15th centuries because of what?
The Black Death
The beginning of democratic government
The Hundred Years War
The abolition of slavery
Ironically it was the plague that improved the lot of peasants. Up to a third of the English population was killed in the epidemic and this left a shortage of labour. Crops stood unharvested in fields and livestock was left untended. This led to higher wages being offered by different lords to attract workers to their lands. Movement of labourers was still illegal but the practice went on nonetheless
5.
Medieval serfs lived in small houses made from timber frames covered in wattle and daub. What, amongst other things, is daub made from?
Animal dung
Cement
Grass turfs
Plaster
Wattle was made from thin branches, threaded between wooden frames to fill in the panels. This was then covered in daub, a mixture of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw. Wattle and daub houses were popular because they were cheap and easy to repair. They had been in use since 4,000 BC and are coming back into fashion today, due to their environmental sustainability
6.
At what age did peasant children begin school?
They went to school aged four
They went to school aged six
They went to school aged eight
They never went to school
Education in the Middle Ages was the preserve of the wealthy. A child born to peasant parents could expect to start work aged three or four and could only look forward to a short life of hard labour for scant reward
7.
High taxes to support overseas wars and laws restricting the movement of peasants led to an uprising in 1381 which we know as The Peasants' Revolt. Who was the leader of this rebellion?
Nat Thatcher
Pat Butcher
Wat Tyler
Mat Baker
The Revolt culminated in a meeting between Tyler and the king, Richard II. Richard promised that if the protesters went home peacefully they would be pardoned. What happened next is unsure but we do know that Tyler was stabbed by one of the king's retinue. He tried to get away but was caught and decapitated. His head was mounted on a pole and displayed on London Bridge. Richard II revoked all his promises to Tyler and the Revolt was brought to an end
8.
What did an average Medieval peasant sleep on at night?
A feather bed
A straw mattress
A pile of animal skins
A stone floor
Crude mattresses, stuffed with straw were the most common type of bed. These lay directly on the floor and were home to fleas, lice and other kinds of creepy-crawlies. It would have been cold and uncomfortable but most peasants knew no different
9.
How many days holiday did peasants get from work in a typical year?
One hundred and five days a year
Seventy five days a year
Twenty five days a year
Five days a year
Work was not allowed on Sundays or religious holidays, so peasants got quite a few days off, however, they received no pay for them. By comparison, modern workers get two days off per week and five weeks paid holiday a year. That's a total of around 129 days off per year - 24 more than a medieval peasant
10.
How often was the average peasant said to have had their whole body washed?
Twice a month
Twice a year
Twice ever
Never
Most peasants were cleaned fully when they were born and again when they died. Hands were washed before every meal but the water used usually came from the local river, where bodily waste was thrown away, so it was not very clean. Water was too dangerous to drink because of the threat of disease so peasants drank beer instead!

 

Author:  Graeme Haw

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