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People of the Middle Ages


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Title: People of the Middle Ages

People of the Middle Ages
Background Information
The Middle Ages occurred after the Classical Age
of ancient Greece and Rome and before the
Renaissance. This time is also known as the
Medieval Period (coming from the Latin medium
aevum which means "the middle ages." Life in the
Middle Ages was very different from life today. 
The Middle Ages was a time of chivalry, quests,
feudalism, and often war.  The Middle Ages found
some people living very prosperous lives while
others only survived from day to day.
The Kings
A king (or lord) ruled large areas of land. To
protect his land from invasion, the king gave
parts of it to local lords, who were called
vassals. In return, his vassals promised to fight
to defend the king's land.
The Knights
Knights were warriors who fought on horseback. In
return for land, they pledged themselves as
vassals to the king. Only the sons of lords could
become knights. Candidates for knighthood began
training as pages at the age of 7, learning
social graces and skills such as fencing and
hunting. At 13 or 14 they became squires and
began to practice fighting on horseback. Squires
served as assistants to knights both in the
castle and on the battlefield. At 21 a squire
could become a knight himself, kneeling before
the lord of the manor to be "dubbed" on the
shoulder with a sword. Kings, local lords, and
knights were all part-of a ruling class that
called itself noblemen.
The Noblewomen
Noblewomen were the wives and daughters of
noblemen. They were in charge of the household
servants and supervised the upbringing of
children. They also helped take care of the sick
and the poor. In certain cases, noblewomen
themselves could own land. They could inherit it
from their parents or from their husbands. When a
nobleman was away, his wife ruled the manor. This
meant that the noblewoman, if called upon by her
lord, could send knights into battle, just as a
man would.
People of the Church
Bishops were the leaders of the church, serving
under the pope, the bishop of Rome. Most bishops
were noblemen. Bishops supervised the church's
priests, monks and nuns and administered its
business. In many parts of Europe the church
owned vast areas of land and commanded a large
number of knights. In the early Middle Ages, it
was not unusual for a bishop to lead his own
knights into battle.
Priests provided spiritual instruction and
conducted religious ceremonies in local, or
parish, churches. Monks and nuns were men and
women who gave up their possessions and left
ordinary life to live in monasteries and
convents. They lived very simply, could not marry
and devoted themselves to prayer, study, and
helping the poor. They also served as doctors.
Friars were traveling preachers who lived by
begging and spread the teachings of St. Francis
of Assisi .
The Merchants
Merchants set up businesses in the towns that
began to grow in the later Middle Ages. The most
commonly traded items were salt, iron, and
textiles. There were also rarer items, such as
silk and spices, that came from the trade with
China and the Middle East. As trade grew, a new
class of highly skilled crafts- people developed.
These artisans produced cloth, shoes, beer, glass
and other goods that required more expertise than
was available on many manor farms. Other artisans
cut and shaped the stones for the cathedrals.
Women plied several of these crafts, and in some,
like weaving and brewing, they played the leading
role. Traveling merchants brought much-desired
items to small towns and villages far from the
major trade routes.
The Commoners
The commoners had a hard life. They were the
lowest class of people and had to pay the highest
amount of taxes. Also they had to work the most.
The reason they didn't leave was because there
was nowhere else to go. The other land was owned
by another king.
The commoners belonged to neither the nobility
nor the church. They were divided into many
groups. These groups are the bailiff, the
craftsman, the servants, and the peasants.
The duties of the bailiff were collecting taxes
and managing the fiefdom. The duties of the
craftsman are making candles and shoes and other
things for higher class people. The duties of the
servants were preparing beds and other things.
The peasants had to farm on the little space they
had, and also sold the crops. The dress of the
peasants consisted of a hat made of straw, a
leather smock, a long sleeved white shirt, pants,
and leather shoes. The hat weighed 2-3 lbs. and
the shirt was made of cotton.
The Minstrels
Minstrels were entertainers who traveled from
town to town, often in groups. Most minstrels
were singers or musicians, but some had other
skills as well. They juggled, did acrobatics, or
danced. Minstrels were known by different names
in different parts of Europe. In Germany
minstrels were called minnesingers, in France
jongleurs, in Ireland bards. The most famous
minstrels were those of southern France. They
were called troubadours, from the Latin word that
means "to compose." Many of the love poems they
composed in the local language, Provencal, are
still read and admired today. The troubadours
were so famous that we know 500 of them by name.
Stories and Myths
The biggest part of Medieval folklore was
dragons. Medieval people liked to scare each
other with dragons.
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Perhaps it was a knight in shining armor,
thundering up on a magnificent horse, wielding a
blazing sword. Or maybe it was a great king in a
mighty castle with banners snapping in the wind.
Could it have been the image of a lady in a
flowing gown and pointy hat, trailing veils
behind her? Was it the jester in motley, the monk
in his scriptorium, the peasant behind his plow?
It may even have been a tale of King Arthur that
makes the Middle Ages such an interesting period
in history to study.