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Why You Wouldn’t Survive In Medieval time


Chances are slim that you’ll wake up tomorrow
having slipped through a time portal and find yourself now living in a Medieval village. But if that does happen, here are some of
the things you can expect. First off, it’s hard being a peasant. Fortunately, you happen not to be a slave,
because that status doesn’t factor into Medieval society. So you won’t be sold from owner to owner. Unfortunately, you’re not exactly free,
either. Your social rank as villein means that you
don’t own your own land. For the sake of context, we’ll say you arrive
complete with a backstory. Villein is an inherited designation, meaning
your parents were villeins, as well. The word is definitely related to the modern
term “villain,” which tells you something about Medieval prejudices about the lower
rungs on the social ladder. Many more people died in infancy and childhood
in the Middle Ages, leading to a low average life expectancy. But even if you’re in your teens or early
twenties–and not a monk or a nun–you’re probably married. If you’re a woman, by age 20, you’ll likely
have given birth to at least a few children, although they may not all still be with you. The mortality rate for children in the first
year of life is one out of every six. If you’ve given birth four times–not inconceivable,
considering age 14 was fine for marriage–it’s likely that at least one child was either
stillborn or died very young. Both parents would come to know grief as an
integral part of everyday life. But women also faced a strong likelihood of
dying in childbirth. There was a one in ten chance of death every
time a woman went into labor. As a result, among young adults, there are
more men than women. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to
die a violent death. Military service is compulsory if the lord
of the manor for your village calls on you. And, depending on where you live, war is probable
in your lifetime. If you’re in Britain or France, the Hundred
Years War is getting rolling. But even outside formal combat, society is
violent. Every man carries a sword, or at least a knife. Executions are frequent and public, as is
the display of the despatched criminals’ heads and other body parts. Capital crimes could include what we’d consider
petty theft, in addition to more serious offenses. As you might expect, villeins tend to live
in villages. You have a small, thatched-roof house, in
a defined household garden plot. Scattered in a seemingly random pattern within
walking distance are a number of identical-looking structures, maybe just a few, but perhaps
as many as fifty or more. It’s good that they’re not right up against
each other, as they would be in a city or town. Thatched houses, which tend to have a wood
and mud frame, are fire traps, especially since there’s often a fire burning inside,
particularly in the cold months. You keep a barrel of water next to the house
to collect rainwater for drinking, so you might be able to deal with a fire in time. Or maybe not. But at least your neighbors are safe. Historian and novelist Ian Mortimer, in The
Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, provides the source for much of these physical
descriptions, along with Frances and Joseph Gies’ Life in a Medieval Village. Outside the nucleated village, there’s a
field of several hundred acres, divided into strips, each for the use of a different peasant
household. You might be growing barley, or if you can,
wheat. Your kids will help you in the field when
they’re a little more grown up, around age seven. For now its the husband and wife who sow the
soil and reap the grain. Women will divide their time between endless
household tasks like child care, weaving new clothes–basic wool tunics for everybody,
probably with a separate hood–washing, milking the cow, cooking the food, and brewing the
staple beverage. Plowing with a shared ox is generally going
to be male labor, but single peasant women are known to do it. Since your land is leased from the lord of
the manor, they can choose how much of the yield from your land to take in taxes. Another bad deal is that in peak planting
and harvest seasons, you have to put three days a week working your lord’s land, or
demesne. On the plus side, there are plenty of days
off from that, since there are slower seasons, and every religious high holiday is exempted. For some important feasts, the lord hosts
a gathering with all the villeins. That’s at least one benefit over freeholding. On the other hand, religious days of fasting
from meat are no problem, because your diet is meatless most days anyway. You might have salted meat in the wintertime,
because you might slaughter one of your animals before the annual scarcity sets in. In the summer and fall, the peasants’ pigs
can roam the forest, with permission from the lord, who of course owns that land, too. So far, so good. But times are about to get bad, fast. This year, spring comes late, and it’s especially
rainy. Too much rain will ruin the seed. But you can’t do anything about that, so
you hitch up a pair of horses you share with other people in the village, and start plowing. By now, like other farm workers across Europe,
you use a heavy plow that’s very efficient in turning over the soil. But even with beasts of burden, it’s exhausting
labor. When you become parched, remember not to drink
the water. It’s incredibly contaminated. If you slip up and forget, you might not just
get sick–you could die, since you have no immunity to the strains of diseases making
their way through the humans and animals of the village. The flooding from the heavy rain doesn’t
help. And the weather isn’t great in the fall,
either. The grain that did germinate is now being
blasted with heavy rains and hail. The harvest is going to be meager, which is
almost a good thing, because it’s also back breaking toil. Long ago you learned how to use a scythe. But of course, a bad harvest is really the
beginning of disaster. You’re probably starting out life with a
diet far superior to the other people in the village, so as the lean days of winter drag
on, and your neighbors become dangerously thin, you’re not in the same immediate danger. But that’s about to change. Because the next year’s weather is also
terrible. It’s a repeat of last year, only worse. Your rent comes due, and it doesn’t matter
that your harvest is again meagre. So now there’s almost nothing left for winter. Along with everyone in your family–somehow
you ended up with a family when you slipped through the time portal–you live in a single-room
house with a dirt floor and a fire pit. There’s a hole in the thatched roof for
smoke ventilation, but it’s still pretty rough breathing. Your livestock lives in the house with you,
although not for long. You’ve got a couple of goats, and they’re
worth more alive than dead, since they’re an endless source of dairy products, especially
valuable for the children. Even though the goats aren’t picky eaters,
there’s less of everything to feed them. And there’s less for your family to eat
as the winter wears on. Doing the math, you realize you’ll have
to slaughter one of them. That will provide good food for awhile, since
you can salt the meat. By early spring, some of the children and
elderly people in the village start starving to death. Your youngest contracts a disease you can’t
name, much less treat, and won’t stop coughing. Until she does. You’re not feeling so good, either, although
you’re not as far gone. You certainly don’t have a lot of motivation
to get to plowing, and there’s no seed to sow, anyway. You’ve had to eat the reserve. Maybe it’s time to consider a career change? Like some of the other peasants, you pack
up what you can cart away and hit the rough, muddy highway toward the town a few miles
over. It’s an illegal act for a villein to move
away from the manor, but you know that if you can last a year in the town, you’ll
be considered free Unfortunately, you’re an easy target for
highwaymen, who relieve you of your worldly goods. They’re skilled fighters, perhaps returned
Crusaders, and you can draw your sword, but you’ll be lucky if they even let you run. You and your family arrive in town, now literally
paupers. And you’re not alone. The bad harvests have reduced many of the
poor to destitution. Food is expensive at the marketplace, and
you have nothing to trade. Stealing would be a bad move. It’s punishable by death, delivered the
same day you’re caught. So, like the other poor, you beg, as does
the rest of your family. And, moved by the spirit of charity, some
of the middle class merchants and craftspeople give all of you a little to eat. Eventually you can get work doing manual labor. Even if you knew one of the skilled crafts,
like blacksmithing, baking, or carpentry, you can’t afford to pay to join their guilds. But for very low wages, and a little bit to
eat, you can do heavy lifting, moving blocks for the masons who are working on the town
cathedral, or unloading and carrying freight for the merchants. But the town has another downside: the sanitation
here is even worse than in the village. There are supposed to be laws for the disposal
of waste, but in practice the side streets are like open sewers, not to mention the prolific
animal droppings. As hunger creeps into the town, disease follows
along with it. There’s a fair amount of long distance trade,
and along with spices and silks, germs hop along for the ride. An epidemic breaks out, and there’s little
anyone can do but shut themselves up in their houses. You don’t have a house. You’re starving, and you’re sick. Life in the town isn’t really working for
you. Your family, also suffering from the coughing
sickness that killed your youngest daughter, can find care in a hospital run by a monastery
and nunnery. But you’re determined to find a way to provide. Before another winter hits, you wander back
toward your old village, now largely abandoned. You keep walking, up to the castle where your
lord lives. When he greets you, you fall to your knees
and beg for his help. As it turns out, he can use you. War is coming, and every able bodied man is
needed. Given the circumstances, you can make the
cut. The morning before dawn, you march out with
the other recruits. There are no uniforms, let alone armor. When you get to the camp where the knights
and their attendants await the order to battle, you do get a kind of spear with an axe attached,
and a shield–a wicker shield, which seems like a joke. On a better note, you get fed. It’s a simple stew, porridge with some vegetables,
and–is it? Some pieces of chicken meat, the best meal
you’ve had in months. There’s more the following day, and the
day after that. Maybe army life won’t be so bad. Then the battle comes. You line up with the other light infantry
before dawn. Behind you are rows of archers, and behind
them, the armored cavalry. Maybe a thousand soldiers all told? The enemy is almost a mirror image of your
side, although they seem to have better armor. And there may be more of them. Upon the order to fire, volleys of arrows
start flying, first from your side. And then the enemy returns fire. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like their
bows are considerably larger. Like your comrades, you shield yourself and
crouch. You don’t look, but you can tell from the
screams that plenty of people have just been hit. When the arrows stop, you rise to your feet
and tighten ranks to make up for the gaps in the line. Upon command, you begin charging at the enemy,
who is charging right back at you. You scream, and hold your weapon as tight
as you can. You want to hold onto the hope that you’ll
survive the day, but even as you collide with the opposing line, you know you won’t. Do you think you’d want to try your hand
on the Medieval battlefield? Is there another time in history you’d be
more up for visiting? Let us know what you think in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
“Why Life During The Dark Ages Sucked.” Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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