Medieval Castle Life: Children

Based on existing historical accounts, the children of medieval times were regarded in two vastly differing ways. One viewpoint was that they counted for little or nothing and the other that they should be nurtured and had separate rights.

The concept of a child as we know it today, however, did not exist in medieval times. There was no uniformity of view or law concerning children. A person was deemed either a helpless infant or an adult - nothing in between. Children from poor families unfortunately suffered the most - their fate was usually to be sold or apprenticed to learn a trade from an early age. By contrast, it was common for wealthy people of the medieval era to send their children away to be brought up by other people - this usually happened from around the age of seven. Some people did indeed recognize children in their own right and it appears there were even laws to protect the rights of orphans.

It is also worth stopping and considering how children were brought into the medieval world.

Although childbirth was a cause of great joy it was also a time of great danger. Even if everything went well there were no effective anaesthetics to eradicate the pain.

The first important date in a child's life was centered upon their baptism. This was designed to wash away original sin and drive all evil from the child. Although the Catholic Church was generally opposed to women undertaking any official roles, this had to be changed to allow the midwife to baptize in extreme circumstances.

A baby could not be allowed to die without being baptized.

Baptism usually occurred immediately after birth. It gave the opportunity for the child to carry a name as well as to appoint godparents. It is interesting to note that the relationship formed by godparents was considered to be as strong as the blood relationship. The church limited the number of godparents to three per child.

During its early years the concept of swaddling would be introduced. This involved wrapping the child in linen strips with its legs together and arms close to the body. This immobilized the baby and made it much easier to control. It is believed that one of the benefits expected from this was the straight growth of the arms and legs.

During a child's early years the chances of survival were not good. A mortality rate of around 30% is probably realistic but there have been estimates putting this as high as 50%.