English Life in the Middle Ages

By L. F. Salzman | Go to book overview

IV
HOME LIFE

IN dealing with the dwellings of our ancestors the threefold division of society becomes evident; we have to consider the cottages of the labourers, the houses of the middle class, and the castles or palaces of the nobles. The cottages need not detain us long; in construction they represent the least that men must have to protect them from wet and cold--four walls and a roof. The walls were of mud or of 'wattle-and-daub', that is to say a framework of upright stakes interwoven with osiers or other pliable strips of wood in the manner of a wattled hurdle, coated with clay rammed well into the spaces between the wattles. In one wall a space would be left for entrance, which might or might not be fitted with a door, and there would usually be one or two small openings, windows, to admit light. A roof of thatch and a floor of trodden earth complete the picture. Within this single room, blackened by smoke from the wood fire lit in the middle of the floor in winter or when the weather was too wet to do their cooking outside, lived the cottager's family: their furniture a table and a few rough stools, a chest, an iron cauldron and a few bowls, mugs and pitchers of earthenware; their beds heaps of straw or bracken covered with coarse woollen rugs. Yet we need not waste much pity on them; one's idea of comfort or discomfort is determined mainly by what one is used to, and partly by how much worse or better off one's neighbours are. 'The curse of sorrow is comparison'--and comparison especially with what the sufferer might reasonably expect. The lot of a working-man of the present day who has to bring up his family in a single room of a dreary tenement-building or in a squalid hovel in some mining village is embittered by the knowledge that other men of his own class have comparatively luxurious homes; but the medieval peasant was little worse off than the small farmer for whom he worked, and often not very far removed from the lord of the manor himself. William Harrison, writing in the reign of Elizabeth, after the Middle Ages were over, says that old men in his village talked of

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English Life in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 7
  • To Nancy 9
  • Preface 11
  • Contents 13
  • List of Illustrations 15
  • I - Introduction 21
  • II - Country Life 36
  • III - Town Life 63
  • IV - Home Life 88
  • V - The Church and Religion 109
  • VI - Education 134
  • VII - Literature 150
  • VIII - Art and Science 171
  • IX - Warfare 186
  • X - Law and Order 215
  • XI - Industry, Trade, and Finance 233
  • XII - Women 249
  • XIII - Wayfaring 266
  • Bibliography 283
  • Index 285
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