The Middle Ages: The Reality

The Middle Ages:
Myth and Reality
The Middle Ages: The Myth
We think of knights in
shining armor, lavish
banquets, wandering
minstrels, kings, queens,
bishops, monks, pilgrims,
and glorious pageantry.
In film and in literature,
medieval life seems
heroic, entertaining, and
The Middle Ages: The Reality
In reality, life in the
Middle Ages, a period
that extended from
approximately the 5th
century to the 15th
century in Western
Europe, could also be
harsh, uncertain, and
The Feudal System
Under the feudal
system, the king
awarded land grants or
fiefs to his most
important nobles,
barons, and bishops, in
return for their
contribution of soldiers
for the king's armies.
The Lord of the Manor
Lord – nobility who
owns the land given
by the King.
For safety and
defense, people in the
Middle Ages formed
small communities
around a central lord
or master.
Nobles and Vassals
Lords would give land to lesser nobility
called Vassals under a contract.
Vassal – A recipient of a fief (land grant).
Homage was the cermony by which a man became a
Ceremony took place in the lord’s court with many
The Vassal knelt before the lord, and placed his hands
between the lord’s hands. He professed to be “the
lord’s man”, and with a ceremonial kiss, the lord
recognized him as his vassal.
After homage, the vassal took an oath of fidelity, and
the lord handed the vassal a small stick, or lance. This
act known as investiture, was symbolic of the lord
giving the vassal the right to use a fief.
Early in the Middle
Ages, anyone who was
brave and strong
enough, could become a
knight. Later, only the
Nobility were given this
3 Stages of Knighthood
Stages of Knighthood
1st Stage: Page
At 7 years of age, a boy’s parents placed him in the
care of a knight for special training. For the next
several years he developed mind & body.
Studied academic subjects such as science, history,
and religion.
Learned how to fight with a sword, ride a horse,
and how to with falcons and dogs.
Stages of Knighthood (Cont)
2nd Stage: Squire
Midteens, the page became the personal servant of
the knight.
His training became more intense as he cared for
the knight’s armor, weapons, and horse.
He dressed the knight each morning and waited on
him, his family, and his guests as they ate.
Stages of Knighthood (Cont)
3rd Stage: Knighthood
21 years of age eligible for knighthood.
Knighted in a special religious ceremony
The night before the ceremony, the squire prayed before his
armor which laid on the altar of the church.
During the ceremony, the squire knelt before an elder
knight and was dubbed on the shoulders with the flat side
of a sword’s blade.
The ceremony usually ended with a display of the young
knight’s skills.
Code of Chivalry
Knights lived by a strict code of behavior known as
Knights were expected to be brave in battle, skillful
with weapons, and loyal to their lord.
Never attack an unarmed knight, but allow him the
opportunity to pu ton their armor before engaging
him in battle.
Improper for an entire company of knights to attack
of a single knight; they were to fight him one at a
Chivalry and the Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church influenced Chivalry as
knights were to “Defend the Church, venerate the
priesthood, etc.)
Peace of God – The church forbade the pillage of her
property and extended protection to all
noncombatants in society
Truce of God – Fighting was forbidden from
Wednesday evening to Monday morning.
The church wasn’t always effective in enforcing these
rules, but they helped improve the harsh and brutal
conditions of the feudal period.
Tournaments and Jousting
During peaceful times at home, knights competed in a mock
war called a tournament.
Two types of contests: Jousting and Melee
Jousting was a competition between two knights on horseback
who charged at each other carrying lances to try to unseat their
Melee – Hand-to-hand combat with weapons, usually blunted.
Resulted in injuries and death.
One historian claimed the tournaments, “satisfied the craving
of both fighters and spectators for redblooded excitement.”
From your knowledge of World History, can you think of
other games similar to this?
The Manor
Most people lived on a
manor, which consisted of
the castle (or manor
house), the church, the
village, and the
surrounding farm land.
The castle was the center
of life for the nobility.
It also served as the jail,
treasury, armory, court,
and seat of government.
It was the lord’s
responsibility to protect all
the inhabitants on the
Cultivating Land
1/6th to 1/3rd of land was set aside as the lord’s
demesne. (Land reserved for the lord)
The rest of the land was allotted to the villagers. The
peasants worked together to plow the land, sow the
seed, and harvest the crops.
Open fields were divided into narrow strips. Many
times the lord’s demesne were the most fertile strips
in each open field. The peasants had to work the
lord’s demesne.
Two-field vs. Three-field Systems
Two-field System
During the early middle ages, peasants planted crops on only half of the
cultivated land, leaving the other half to lie fallow (uncultivated) to
recover its fertility.
The following year they would switch.
Three-field System
More common in Europe during the later Middle Ages.
A system of rotating planting among three fields. In the spring, the
peasants planted one field with barley, oats or beans, and in the fall they
planted a second field with rye or wheat.
The third field was left fallow.
Increased productivity of the land, because one crop put the nutrients
back into the soil that was taken out by another crop.
Each manor was largely selfsufficient, growing or producing
all of the basic items needed for
food, clothing, and shelter.
To meet these needs, the manor
had buildings devoted to special
purposes, such as:
The mill for grinding grain
The bake house for making bread
The blacksmith shop for creating
metal goods.
These manors were
isolated, with
occasional visits
from peddlers,
pilgrims on their way
to the Crusades, or
soldiers from other
The Peasants
At the lowest level of
society were the
peasants, also called
The lord offered his
peasants protection in
exchange for living and
working on his land.
Hard Work & High Taxes
Peasants worked hard to cultivate the
land and produce the goods that the lord
and his manor needed.
They were heavily taxed and were
required to relinquish much of what they
They were not allowed to leave the
manor under any circumstances.
Worked sunrise to sunset and suffered
from both poverty and misery.
The little money he made off the land
went to the lord in rent/fees or to the
church in tithes.
Famines ruined the land, and constant
feudal wars killed livestock and ruined
The average peasant had a very short
Bound by law and custom…
It is the custom in England, as with other
countries, for the nobility to have great power
over the common people, who are serfs. This
means that they are bound by law and custom
to plough the field of their masters, harvest
the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and
winnow the grain; they must also mow and
carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and
perform all manner of tasks of this kind.
-- Jean Froissart, 1395
Cooperation and Mutual
Fief and Peasants
 Decentralized, local
 Dependent upon the
relationship between
members of the nobility
 Lord and his vassals
administered justice
and were the highest
authority in their land
 Agriculture the basis for
 Lands divided up into
self-sufficient manors
 Peasants (serfs) worked
the land and paid rent In
exchange for protection
 Barter the usual form of
Military Aid
Military Service
Farm the
A small percentage of those on
the manor were more
privileged peasants who held
skilled labor positions.
They were blacksmiths,
merchants, apothecaries,
carpenters, etc.
Freemen did not have the same
obligations as the average
peasant. They were exempt
from working in the fields, and
they had the freedom to leave
the manor.
However living conditions
were the same as an average
Women: Household Chores
Whether they were
nobles or peasants,
women held a difficult
position in society.
They were largely
confined to household
tasks such as cooking,
baking bread, sewing,
weaving, and spinning.
Hunting & Fighting
However, they also
hunted for food and
fought in battles,
learning to use
weapons to defend
their homes and
The Role of the Church in
Medieval Europe
Center of religious and social life
All Christians belonged to one church
– Roman Catholic Church
Provided leadership in an unstable
The church was as important, if not
more important, than many
Clergy – the
people who
functions of
a church
(ex: priest)
Power of the church
Owned 1/3 of all land in Europe –
largest landholder in Europe
Collected a tithe – 1/10 of income or 1
penny from peasants
Generally, the clergy were the only
people who could read; often kept
records for kings
Power struggles were common
between Pope and King (ex: Pope
Gregory VII and Henry IV)
Gregory I
Commonly recognized as the first true pope, a title which he
would disclaim
A man of deep devotion and piety.
Promoted mass, transubstantiation, penance, equality of
tradition & scripture, and purgatory. Roman Catholic Church
would later adopt and embrace these sacraments.
Purgatory – a place of temporary punishment where souls
bound for heaven must go after death to atone for their
“minor” unconfessed sins or for sins which they have not done
enough penance.
Sacraments and Salvation
The church taught that receiving the 7
sacraments were an essential part of
1. baptism
2. Confirmation – formal
declaration of belief in God
and the church
3. Eucharist – like the Lord’s Supper (bread
and wine)
During Mass, the priest transforms the
bread and wine of Christ into the actually
body and blood of Christ. This process is
known as Transubstantiation.
4. Marriage
5. Holy Orders – when a man becomes a
6. Penance – confession of sins to priest
7. Extreme Unction – blessing when sick
or dying
Christians tried to make a pilgrimage
to Jerusalem and Rome at least once
Visited churches that supposedly
housed relics (holy items)
Sold for $430.000
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a popular
book about pilgrims called the
Canterbury Tales
Art & Architecture
Most art was for religious
Most people couldn’t
read, art helped tell
Christ’s story
Towns spent 50 – 100 years building
Gothic style was popular
Monasticism (life devoted to
St. Benedict - Benedictine rule of
poverty, chastity, and obedience
Monasteries in the Middle
Ages were based on the
rules set down by St.
Benedict in the sixth
century. The monks
became known as
Benedictines and took
vows of poverty, chastity,
and obedience to their
Monks were required to
perform manual labor
and were forbidden to
own property, leave the
monastery, or become
entangled in the concerns
of society.
Daily tasks were often
carried out in silence.
Monks and their female
counterparts, nuns, who
lived in convents,
provided for the lessfortunate members of
the community.
Monasteries and
nunneries were safe
havens for pilgrims and
other travelers.
Monastic Life
Monks and nuns went
to the monastery
church eight times a
day in a routine of
worship that involved
singing, chanting, and
reciting prayers from
the divine offices and
from the service for