Village life

Most villages in England were not further than a day’s walk from a large church and castle. The king and the church dominated people’s lives, especially if they were one of the eight in ten people that were tied to the land and could not even get married without their lord’s permission.

The difference of lifestyles between Lords and Villeins during the Norman era

What was life like for a villein?

Illustration depicting the costume of a villein
A villein

The life of a villein was connected to the land and the different seasons. Winter was the most difficult time of year and they relied on food stored from the harvest. Villeins worked hardest during the harvest, as they would have to work on their own small pieces of land as well as working on their lord’s. Both men and women worked in the fields during this time of year.

Women were responsible for looking after the animals and preparing and preserving food. The typical diet was bread and ale for breakfast followed by bread, cheese and ale for lunch followed by bread and milk for supper. Most villeins could not afford to eat meat.

What was life like for a wealthy lord?

The lord of a demesne could expect to collect taxes from his wealthier tenants and get their poorer tenants to work on their land for a certain number of days.

Because they did not work on the land, they spent most of their time either learning to rule by reading Latin manuscripts or learning to fight. Archery, sword fighting and riding, on giant destrier warhorses, were common sights around a lord’s manor.

Hunting was the most favoured past-time of any wealthy lord. The more land a lord had, the longer a hunt could go on for. This was a source of meat for the household but it was also a status symbol. King William evicted hundreds of families from villages around Winchester to establish a Royal Forest nearly 30 miles long. If anyone was caught hunting in these private forests the punishment was always brutal - the offender was usually blinded.

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