Middle Ages

Daily Life of a Serf

Come sit by the fire and visit while I prepare my family's meal. I am Meg, wife of Thomas, an honest, hardworking serf of the manor. Much of our hard work must be done for the manor lord, but for this we receive his protection.

I am fixing soup made with vegetables and meat. I cook outside when I can because of the danger of the thatched roof catching fire. We cook and heat the hut in the winter with a fire made on stones set in the middle of the dirt floor. The smoke escapes through a small hole cut in the roof, and I worry that a spark could ignite the straw thatch.

Our hut is dark and damp, and it is more pleasant to be outside on sunny days like today. There is only one window, and even with the shutters open, it stays rather gloomy. You wouldn't believe how smelly it can get in the winter! Of course, we keep the shutters and the door closed to keep out the cold, and our animals stay in the hut with us, also. I must admit that the extra bodies help keep the room warmer, but I welcome springtime and warm days.

Basic Needs

We grow or raise all of the food that we eat. Our garden next to the hut provides fresh vegetables all summer. By the end of the winter, we are so hungry for vegetables, and that first meal of tender green peas is the most delicious! By then the meat we preserved in the fall is getting old and rancid, and even lots of seasoning can't cover the bad taste.

There are times when there just isn't enough food. Not enough rain, too much rain, epidemics, or a late frost are just a few of the problems that can create a food shortage. Having enough food to feed my family is a constant worry.

Clothing

It is so much work to get new clothes that our old ones are quite in tatters before we make something new. It starts with shearing the sheep, which is done every spring. Then we clean and card the wool and spin it into thread. Next, I weave the thread into cloth and then make the clothes.

Our Hut

Our hut is made of rough timbers, and the cracks are chinked with mud or straw. The roof is made from thatched straw or rushes. The floor is covered with straw, leaves, and rushes. We cannot afford glass for windows, so we use wooden shutters.

Serf Family

I've told you a little about the work that I do. Let me tell you about the rest of my family. My husband Thomas spends most of his time in the fields plowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Each week he must work three days for the lord of the manor, and three days he can work for us. Sunday, of course, is God's day, and all of the people in the village and the manor go to church. How we welcome that day of rest!

In addition to the work we do for the manor, much of what we produce for ourselves is paid to the lord for services that we need. We must pay to have the wheat ground into flour, pay to use the manor plow, and pay to use the manor oven to bake our bread. A fee must be paid to get married and even a fee when someone dies! In the years when our land does not produce well, we still must pay these fees.

For most of us, the village is our entire world. We were born here and will live here our entire lives, hardly venturing more than a few miles beyond. We need not go anywhere else because we have almost everything we need right here. Village craftsmen make shoes, tools, building materials, and furniture, and we grow our food. The only things we must bring in are salt and a few iron tools and utensils.

When there is a break from the fieldwork, there is always plenty of other work to be done. Fences must be mended, bridges fixed, lumber cut and hauled, firewood gathered, and various other chores accomplished to keep the manor in good working order. I always worry that Thomas will get hurt. Just last week a load of logs fell from a wagon and crushed the leg of our good neighbor. Of course, not much can be done for him except pray and hope that it heals enough so he is able to work again.

Children

I also have three sweet children. My sons are a great help to us. My daughter is four years old, but she is able to help, too. Children are expected to help with the work of their parents. Today my children are helping in the fields picking up rocks while my husband plows. All of the family rise with the sun to start the day's work.

Like all mothers, I worry about my children. There's not a family in the village, including the lord and lady of the manor, that hasn't lost at least one child. My youngest two died last winter when an epidemic took many of our young and old. It was a hard winter, and there wasn't enough food to keep us healthy and strong. The poor things just didn't have a chance.

The sun is setting, so my family soon will be home. They will be very hungry after working so hard. You are welcome to eat with us. Today there will be enough food for all.

A fun writing exercise: Pretend that you are the teacher

A fun computer game: Now, play the Click and Learn game to see how much you remember from the story.