Monday, May 1, 2017

Springtime in Medieval Europe

We are heading back to in time to discuss springtime in Medieval Europe. This was a time when nature was recouping from a long winter, and those who lived in it began their work for the upcoming year.

When speaking of springtime, you must discuss the work of the farmers, their lives and activities correspond with the changing of the seasons. This was the time of year where they began working the land to plant their crops for the harvest in the summer and fall. As with farming in almost any society, this was hard back breaking work.

Beginning in April, the farmers would begin toiling the soil.  Breaking it up and turning it over getting ready for planting.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the land was worked by hand with hoes or a plow pulled by oxen. This made the work tedious for the oxen were slow and tired easy.  It was not until the horse collar came from Asia, which revolutionized farming in Europe.

It was often customary for the famers to plants two or three fields.  These fields were seeded at different times.  If there was a late frost or ice, snow storm, this might destroy the earlier planted one, the later planted fields would still keep a crop still growing.  The disadvantage in this, is because of a shorter growing season in the later planted fields, they would reap fewer crops.

The farmer’s children often would protect the seed from birds.  All day long they would scare the birds or shoot at them with a slingshot.  This was used for all the birds which might eat the seed or nest in the field, with one exception; the dove.

Royalty kept doves and built Dovecote’s for them.  The dove was a symbol of power in Europe.  A dove represented Jesus and since the royalty were given power to rule by God, it would become a symbol for them also.  Royalty would build buildings for these doves to live, called a dovecote.

Doves however, did not stay in their dovecotes, they roamed for food.  They would steal the seeds from the farmer’s fields or build nests in them.  This was a major problem for the farmers, however, the farmers could do nothing about it.  To disturb or injure one of the royal doves meant a severe punishment.  The farmers merely had to adjust to the destruction left by these doves.

Besides the fields the farmers also kept gardens near their home.  This was certainly no flower garden consisting of ornamental flowers; it was additional plants to help sustain the farmer’s family over the year.  This garden might have variations of onions or cabbage.  The farmer might also grow certain types of plants that were used in dyes for clothes.

Of course you cannot grow a good crop without fertilizing it.  Dung from the farm animals had been gathered throughout the winter.  It would not be spread over the fields and gardens.  The necessity for human refuse became so vast a new trade arose; Gong farmers would go out and retrieve the waste throughout the kingdom for use in the fields.

It was not always back breaking work for the peasants, they also celebrated several holidays in spring.

Jesters, or Lords of Misrule, would go around playing practical jokes on people during April Fool’s Day. It would be his job to both entertain the royals, and also to bring some merriment to the local villages.  In some countries New Years was celebrated in the Spring.  France for instance, had a whole week at the beginning of April to commemorate New Years.  It is believed that April Fools was originated to poke fun at those who did not celebrate it on January 1st.  It there was one consistence between countries, it would be the celebration of April Fool’s Day.  This holiday has a history in almost every country in Europe.
Maypole circa 1909

Another holiday is “May Day” celebrated usually on the first. A large tree would be cut down, its bark removed and then brought into the village.  In some instances, villages had permanent maypoles erected.  Bright colored strings or ribbons would be tired to the top of these poles and hung to the ground.  The pole would then be decorated with bright spring flowers.

A girl would be declared the Queen of the May, and she would lead others in a dance around the maypole.  The dancers would hold the colored ribbons and move around the pole pashing under and over the other dancers, intertwining the ribbon around the pole in the process.

The celebration of the maypole came from ancient pagan rituals.  The maypole is basically a phallic symbol, moving around this pole was basically a fertility dance. Roman’s themselves celebrated in May the goddess Flora, who was the goddess of flowers.  When the Roman incursion moved into central Europe, these two celebrations were combines and resulted into the Medieval Maypole celebration.

I hope you have enjoyed our trip to a Medieval Spring, as always leave a comment or contact me via my email or website.

W.A.Rusho is a professional wrestler, historian and author. You can contact him at his website or by email.


  1. Thx for this interesting post about May Day and spring in Medieval Europe, William. Fascinating!

  2. I love everything about spring--even the intense rain and storms we've had lately. This post is a good glimpse into springs in the past!

  3. Spring brings a newness which is perhaps where the name "spring cleaning" derived from. Out with the old and in with the new.

  4. Great piece of history. I love gardening myself and spring and May are my favourite times of year! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Learning about May Day and how it was essentially a fertility dance was so interesting. I wonder how they chose which girl was to be declared as Queen of the May.

  6. A facinating look at Spring and the history of our spring-time rituals. Thanks!

  7. So interesting William, from the doves to the festivals. Like others here I'm enjoying spring. It's nice to shed my sweatshirt and get outside to enjoy some warm weather for a change!

  8. In Sweden we have Maypole celebrations on Midsummer and will, this year, be celebrated on June 23rd.

  9. Thanks William, wasn't aware of how is May day celebrated out of India :)

  10. I agree 100%, great shows, cool people and lots of fun. If you are not sure if you should go watch these two videos from last year and go: