Medieval People

What were medieval people like?

Medieval people had a very different outlook on life to people today. In order to understand this a little better we need to look at both what was important to them and also what they were taught.

First, let us consider what was important to medieval people:

1. Respectability & Family In a feudal society every person had their station and it was vital that they kept or improved their position - health and happiness would largely depend upon it. Who they “belonged to” determined where they could look to for work, protection and advancement. Their family ties provided the stability and ultimately this is where their inheritance would go.

2. Religion Absolutely central to the medieval character was religion and the belief in everlasting life. This is why wealthy people donated so much money to the church and why medieval monarchs actually built churches and cathedrals. William The Conqueror is a good example – he built the Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen and just down the road also built the Abbaye Aux Dames for his wife Mathilda. Whether royal or noble, rich or poor, everyone gave something to the church. The idea was not so much to help people in this life but to pray for their souls when they died or even the souls of their ancestors. Attendance at Church was a prerequisite of everyday life and many people would attend mass every day. Pilgrimages were common and the more warlike often chose to go on crusade as well. In 12th century Europe, few people could read and the local priest was usually the only person most people knew with the ability to read. All these factors meant the Church was very powerful. By the start of the 15th century, as the medieval times gave way to the Renaissance reading became more widespread which in turn sparked about many other changes in everyday life.

Secondly, let us look at how the society in which medieval people grew up influenced their character:

1. Education Education or the lack of it was a key element in everyday life. Children would be schooled in the basics of religion, for example the seven deadly sins, until they reached eight years of age. After this they would tend to be trained for whatever career they were destined for. Education was a practical matter in medieval times.

2. Violence & Death Make no mistake medieval times was a violent period in history. There was no police force to enforce the laws. People enjoyed blood sports such as bear baiting and hunting was strongly favoured by those of wealth and influence. Children were strongly chastised and wife beating was a common occurrence. However, the opposites also flourished. In medieval Europe there evolved the tradition of Troubadours, poets and a social code of knightly conduct. So you could find a knight who might be a famous warrior in battle but he also enjoyed the arts often writing poetry and joining in Troubadour songs of courtly love. Generally speaking, the opportunities for advancement and self-expression in medieval times were considerably fewer than exist today. The social restrictions were stronger, there was considerably more latitude for violence and superstition and lack of education were real problems. To read more on the background to this article follow these links:

Medieval poetry

Medieval worship