HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2015 – Week 2)

Week 2: Tuesday


two medieval bagpipe pieces performed by Cornucopia: tant es gaia (0:00-2:30 min.), and trotto (2:30-5:00 min.)


Plowing with oxen at Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, 2009 (1:24 min.):

How to mow with a scythe (Wilson, Wisconsin, 2009; 3:36 min.):

Reaping wheat with a sickle (2011; 6:16 min.):

Threshing with flails (0:21 min.):

Threshing and winnowing mustard seed by hand in Nepal (7:31 min.):

c. 1000-1300 Rise in crop yields, caused by:

  • End of external attacks and drop in internal violence
  • Better weather > longer growing season
  • Spread of 3-field crop rotation (first introduced in 700s), including planting of legumes (peas, beans, lentils)
  • Increase in land under cultivation
  • Spread of heavy plow (first introduced in 8th cent.), with wheel or without wheel
  • Spread of watermills (click here for diagram); introduction of windmill (12th cent.): freed women from labor of grinding grain with handmills to work at other tasks

Rise in crop yields, better diet, and drop in violence > rise in population

Surplus crops > rise in markets and fairs > revival of trade
Surplus population + revival in long-distance trade > revival of towns

Principal food crops:
  • S. Europe: olives and grapes
  • N. Europe: grain, sheep, and cattle

Click here to see a plan of a medieval manor.


Manor: estate owned by a lord (a lord could be a man, woman, child, or institution)
Village: small community, usually of peasant farmers, both free peasants and semi-free serfs (also called villeins).

Click to see:
  • photograph of the village of Midlem in the Scottish Borders
  • plan of the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy in Yorkshire
Parish: area served by a single church and priest; the smallest unit in a diocese headed by a bishop
Tithes: annual tax owed by all parishioners to support their church and priest
Demesne: manorial lands retained for the direct use of the lord (i.e., not rented out)
Open fields:

fields divided into multiple holdings consisting of unfenced strips

(Click here to see the fields of the deserted medieval village of Southdean in the Scottish Borders.)

Manual labor services: (or labor-rent) owed by serfs as all or part of their annual rent to their lord
Field: land used for growing crops (arable farming)
Pasture: land used for grazing animals (pastoral farming)
Fallow: field left uncultivated for a season, to recover its fertility
Meadow: land used for growing grass, to make hay for winter fodder
3-field crop rotation: One-third of fields planted with winter crops (wheat, rye)
One-third of fields planted with spring crops (barley, oats, peas, beans, lentils)
One-third of fields left fallow

Online readings:

Aelfric, Colloquy (c. 1000): excerpt from a Latin teacher’s dialogue book, describing peasant work

Pierce the Plowman’s Crede (late 1300s): excerpt from a moral poem, describing peasant life

Photograph of cottage from Hangleton, Sussex (1200s): peasant housing




Lord: (can be man, woman, child, or institution) holder of one or more fiefs
Fief: (or “fee;” Latin “feudum“) a valuable seigneurial property (usually land), held by service, and often inheritable
Vassal: one who holds one or more fiefs from one or more lords
Homage: ceremony by which a vassal swears fealty (loyalty) and acknowledges other obligations (such as military service) to a lord in return for a fief
Liege lord: the lord to whom a vassal owes primary allegiance

On the manor:

steward: (French seneschal) the lord’s most senior officer, responsible for administering all the lord’s estates and manor courts
bailiff: a mid-level local estate officer, in charge of one or more estates
reeve: a low-level officer, often chosen by the local villagers, who was in charge of day-to-day operations on a single estate
hayward: local low-level officer, in charge of boon-workers (serfs who owed manual labor services to the lord) and harvest-workers
tally: notched stick used as receipt for paying or collecting bills or estate accounting
tenement: a land-holding (usually a building-plot, with or without buildings on it)
corn: British-English for “grain”

“Tripartite” society: those who pray (clergy), those who fight (aristocracy), and those who work

(peasants and artisans)

Beginning in the 1100s, the revival of towns > revival of cash economy

Among the landowning aristocracy, the increasing circulation of cash led to:

  • gradual replacement of military service with money rents owed by vassals to lords
  • rising aristocratic standards of living (e.g., more imported luxury goods)
  • rise in aristocratic debt

Justification for aristocratic wealth and power = protection of non-combatants (clergy, peasants, artisans, women, children, etc.)

Knights were professional warriors; hunting and tournaments served to burnish and display their skills

A lady’s main duty was to marry and bear heirs for her lord, but she also took charge in his absence

Aristocratic marriages were usually arranged by parents or guardians; aristocratic children often were sent to other aristocratic households for training

Money denominations (very important!):

£1 = one pound (Latin libra, French livre, Italian lira, German pfund)
= 20s. = twenty shillings (Latin solidi, French sols or sous, Italian soldi, German schilling)
= 240d. = 240 pence or pennies (Latin denarii, French deniers, Italian denari, German pfennig)

12d. = 1 s.
20s. = £1
thus: £1 = 20s. = 240d.

The silver penny (here, an English penny of 1305-10) was the most common coin in circulation. Half-pennies and quarter-pennies were also used:

1/2d. = 1 ob. (Latin obolus) = one ha’penny or halfpenny (plural: ha’pence or ha’pennies)
1/4d. = 1 q. (Latin quadrans) = one farthing

Other standard divisions of a pound were:

1 m. = mark (= 2/3 pound) = 13s. 4d.
1/2 mark (= 1/3 pound) = 6s. 8d.

Online readings:

The feudal compact: homages paid by the counts of Champagne, 1143-1226:

Note the reciprocal obligations of lords and their vassals, and the subjection of aristocratic
widows and under-age heirs to the control of their liege lords (often the king)

John of Toul’s Homage to the Count of Champagne, 13th cent.:

Note how a vassal to multiple lords sorts out potentially conflicting obligations

Four English treatises on household and estate administration, later 13th cent.:

Glossary of technical terms used in the above four treatises:

Christine de Pisan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies (1405): A lady’s duties