Peasant Farmers in Medieval Times

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    Social Status

    • Peasants were the ground support of the feudal social structure of medieval Europe. Peasants, or serfs, lived on feudal manors where a lord owned the land and lent out portions of it to be farmed for a fee. In England, for example, the size of a standard manor was about 600 acres. In return for farming and supplying food, the lord protected his peasants from raiders, bandits and other dangers.

    Housing

    • Part of a peasant's holding included farmable land, non-arable land that could not be farmed and a house in the manor's village. Possessions in the home were few and included tools, pots, benches and eating utensils. Often there was no bed and peasants slept on straw mattresses covered with animal skins. Small gardens near the house were also common, where plants were raised for personal consumption.

    Land Ownership

    • While farmers did not own the land they farmed, they were allotted a few half-acre strips of land separated by unplowed soil. It was the responsibility of the serf farmer to cultivate this land, giving a large portion of his yield to the lord. Peasants were also able to use a portion of the non-arable "common land" to either cut wild grains or keep animals such as cows, geese or pigs.

    Farming Methods

    • Many of the manor lords granted peasant families a half-acre share of good soil and a half-acre share of poor soil to maintain equality between families. Only two thirds of the manor's land was used in any given year, leaving a third uncultivated to allow nutrients to reenter the soil. The remaining two fields were separated into summer and winter crops so that plants could be cultivated year-round.

    Tools

    • Medieval farming tools were often hand tools, which included wooden ploughs and furrowing rakes for preparing rows and planting. Harvesting was also done by hand with a sickle and a scythe. Planting and harvest was slow work with these tools. It could take a man five days to harvest and gather two acres of grain. Often a small group of men worked on each acre at a time to ensure the harvest was collected on time.

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