As bad as things were, people did find a way to survive, as all people do in a harsh environment. This blog is a sample of what I included in my upcoming book.
Many People back during that time had specific professions. A young person was trained at this profession early one, and it was his profession until he died. Some tradesman got together and formed guilds; this allowed them to maintain a hold on their profession, not allowing others to perform it.
An example of this in my book is the use of a plane. A plane is a tool for shaping wood, particularly using it to join wood. In the middle ages, only Joiners could use a plane. It was forbidden for other types of woodworkers to use a plane. In some countries, fines or imprisonment was imposed on people who would use a woodworking plane without permission from the guild.
Guilds were not just a form of restriction; they performed important service to their members. Sometimes an injured guild member was assisted financially by other members. The guild could also pay the burial expenses for a deceased member.
Many people think technology was nonexistent in the middle ages. We think of farmers using a rock attached to a stick for a hoe, or a bench made of a plank on two boards for a table. This misconception about the middle ages could be far from the truth.
One of my favorite descriptions of mediaeval life in the book is how a carpenter used a 13 knot rope. The 13 knot rope or arithmetic rope was an important tool in the middle ages. It was a rope with thirteen equally placed knots in it. With it, a person could perform by counting the knots, mathematical problems. A carpenter could use the rope to obtain geometric shapes to measure and mark the wood before it was cut.
Life in the Middle Ages was not always hard work, sometimes there was also time for fun and games. When a faire was put on it allowed everyone time to relax and enjoy themselves.
These festivals were put on for different reasons. Some were established for economic reasons; these fairs allowed merchants to sell their goods, while exchanging information about products or trading practices. There are some decedents of this kind of fair today, look at the sporting good, home improvement or trade shows that are held in spots around the world. Even conventions can look to their heritage to these types of fairs.
We are more familiar with the festival which deals with games, feasts and partying. Some of these celebrations were revolved around specific dates or holidays, while others were a form to commemorate a special occurrence such as a military victory.
Whatever the reason for the fair, they were an important event in medieval times. The fair was a time for citizens of a community to come together and reform friendships. It was also time for merriment and feasting. In a hard world full of disease and death, the fair was a bright flame for hope for the future.
Fairs were not only a place of enjoyment, for it could also be a place for rewards. Merchants could spend most of the year preparing to sell products at a fair. Townspeople could trade and sell their own products.
Another financial gain which was available to people was contests. Knights would perform in jousting, or hand to hand competition. These knights would be rewarded sometimes with gold. Being crowned a champion was also the reward by itself, as this reputation could follow a knight for his entire career.
Archery competitions were very popular during these festivals, in rare instances some of which were open to all contestants. This type of competition could allow anyone to train all year for the contest, and if they won, it could substantially increase their income. It also allowed the royalty the opportunity to find individuals who were proficient with the bow, and hire them as archers in their army.
As with any time period, we must look back at it and place ourselves there. We cannot judge people in the middle ages with harshness. Life during that time was complicated. People then lived a life that was adjusted to the time they were in, just as we do today. I hope people in the future will look back at us and not judge us harshly.
Next Time: More Medieval Life