Life on a manor was extremely hard for a peasant. It consisted of
work and family life. Approximately ninety percent of the
people in the middle ages were considered to be peasants. There was a division of the
peasants into free and a type of
indentured servants. The free peasants worked in their own independent businesses,
usually as carpenters, blacksmiths,
weavers, or bakers. They paid the lord a type of rent for using their small plots of
land. The other, unfree peasants lived on
the land without paying any money, but worked for the lord, earning their stay.
The large amount of land surrounding the castle provided a means
for peasants to acquire enough money and food to live by
farming. In fact, this is another extension of the fief idea. The average farmer was
given a plot of land on which he could farm.
He also got a sense of security by living near a castle and potential protection from
danger. They also had the privilege of
passing their land on through inheritance after their deaths. They had grazing and
field rights around their village. They also had
right to building materials in the area. They did not have right to hunt most wild
game, however. The peasants also had some
local political rights. They often formed their own manorial courts,
called halimotes. There,
they made the bylaws that governed the villagers'
actions. For example, one such bylaw was "Noone shall enter the fields to carry grain
after sunset" This law was made to
prevent grain from being stolen surreptitiously. The peasants also enforced these
laws. Claims against one another were
settled by a village court, usually of twelve village representatives. The court was
overseen by a representative of the lord,
usually his steward. However, he was an equal member of the court, not its head. In
return for these rights, the peasant had to
fulfill his end of the bargain. He was required to work a certain number of days a
week on the lord's land.
The lord also had a great deal of control over his peasants, known as serfs. In fact,
the serfs were almost like slaves to the
feudal lord. He had the right to grant marriages, tax anytime or anything, and to
force them to use mills or ovens that he owned.
He most often made his serfs work his own land. He could charge them for his mill
services, make them use his mill, and thus
create a monopoly. He also could force everyone to attend court when in session. He
held absolute power in establishing
punishments for various offenses such as thievery or murder, matters not appropriate
for a village court. The people were
bound to their land plots and when the land was sold, they were sold along with it.
If the land they lived on changed ownership,
then they came under a new lord's jurisdiction.
The feudal society was constructed for one reason: security. The
nobles wanted the security of maintaining control over their
far-reaching kingdoms, so they were forced to delegate power to local control. The
peasants wanted security from marauders
and barbarians from neighboring lands. They also wanted security from invading
armies. And thus the development of the feudal
system and the fief structure was almost inevitable. However, all this came at the
great expense of the common man. He gave
up many freedoms for his security. The question we ask you is: Was it worth it?