The life of medieval people has exercised a fascination for English speakers for two hundred years, since the romantics and antiquarians of the late eighteenth century began to rediscover the medieval past. There is indeed good reason why we should be so interested in the Middle Ages. Childhood plays an enormous role in shaping adult life, and in many respects the Middle Ages were the infancy of the society we know today. Between us and the classical world there lies a real historical break, for the fall of the Roman Empire broke off the development of Greco-Roman culture. Since the Middle Ages, however, there has been more of a historical continuum. The institutions that shape our world evolved during the medieval period: cities, universities, nation-states, and the common law are all inherited from the medieval world. Today, even people from lands unknown to medieval Europe are profoundly influenced by the medieval heritage. The language of the Beatles and of Martin Luther King is the language they inherited from Chaucer--the medieval world shapes our own in ways that are more far-reaching than we can ever fully perceive.
This book focuses on the daily life of people during a particularly fascinating period of the English Middle Ages. By custom, the Middle Ages in England are reckoned to have lasted from the fall of Rome (roughly the fifth century A.D., depending on what historical event one chooses as the moment of Rome's fall), until the end of the Wars of the Roses, with the accession of Henry VII in 1485. Sometimes the term is used in a more limited sense to indicate the period after the Norman Conquest in 1066. In either case, the Middle Ages spanned a number of centuries. In