LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by Frances & Joseph Gies Gies


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A precisely drawn study of the vigorous character of a 13th-century English village and its survival, bent peasants, by experienced historians (Life in a Medieval Castle, 1974; The Ingenious Yankees 1976; Women in the Middle Ages, 1978, etc.). Here, the Gieses zero in on Elton, an ""open field"" village in the East Midlands. Like thousands of other wattle-and-daub settlements surrounded by fields where 90 percent of Europe's population then lived and worked, Elton was, in the authors' view, a ""distinctive"" and relatively ""advanced"" if often hungry community. Notably, these villages worked out a cooperative system of plowing, harvesting, and grazing their individually held land. From period records, and recent archaeology and scholarship, the Gieses glean facts and figures about work and play, marriage and family, the church, and the justice system. The traditional stereotype of the peasant as a ""dullwitted clod,"" they remind us, doesn't hold up. Villagers, both free men and villeins (serfs), were entangled in complicated legal, social, and economic relationships. They bought and sold real estate, sued each other, and played games (including chess and a form of tennis). And villeins, despite innumerable obligations to the lord (in this case, the Ramsey Abbot), were not slaves: ""a rich villein was a bigger man in the village than a poor free man."" The most memory-searing glimpses here of village life emerge from fragmentary quotes from coroners' rolls. In one example from the Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls, a father finding his child in a ditch ""lifted him from the water, could not save him, and he died."" Measured popular history, with 56 illustrations (many from medieval manuscripts), detailing the face of Europe's ancestral ""everyman.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1989
ISBN: 0060920467
Publisher: Harper & Row