People of the Time
Finally, after discussing what the lives for the people in the 14th century was like, we should discuss some of the people, such as knights. A knight was a term that would refer to a warrior or nobleman in former times. Today though a knight refers to a person who has been given royal recognition. The female form of a knight today is known as a Dame. Although the roots of the word knight are connected to the Old English cniht, meaning a page boy, or simply boy, or German knecht, or sercant, the ideas of knighthood are arguably more closely tied to Roman equities.
During the middle ages, the term would refer to a mounted and armored soldier. Originally knights were warriors on horse-back. The title became increasingly connected to the nobility and social status, most likely because of the cost of equipping oneself in the cavalry. Eventually the term became a formal title that was bestowed on noblemen that were trained for active war duty. In theory, knighthood could be bestowed on a man by any knight, but it was generally considered an honor to be dubbed a knight by the hand of the monarch.
By the late 13th century, partially in conjunction with the focus on courtly behavior a code of conduct and uniformity of dress for knights began to evolve. Knights were eligible to wear a white belt and golden spurs as a sign of their status. They were often required to swear an allegiance to a liege lord and was to follow a strict set of rules of conduct. There were known as knightly virtues. Originally a knight had few of these qualities. When the church had deemed knights too bloodthirsty and unruly they intervened and began to stress the importance of virtues until the church became an integrated part of knighthood and chivalry. These virtues would include: Mercy, towards the poor and oppressed, and they were supposed to be harsh with evil-doers, humility, honor, fear of God, faithfulness, courage, and utmost graciousness and courtesy to ladies. These became more idealized as time would go on. Changes in military tactics, such as the successful use of the longbow against French cavalry in battles of Crecy and Agincourt had lessened the importance of cavalry. However, the true end of the knight was brought about by the use of gunpowder and guns.
Knights would also hold land, of which they would receive after pledging themselves as vassals to the king. Only the sons of lords could become knights and candidates for knighthood would begin their training as pages at the age of seven. They would learn social graces and skills, such as fencing and hunting. At the age of thirteen or fourteen these pages would become squires. They then started to practice fighting on horseback and would also serve as assistants to knights both in the castle and on the battlefield. At the age of twenty-one a squire could become a knight himself. He would kneel before the lord of the manor to be “dubbed” on the shoulder with a sword. Kings, local lords, and knights were all part of the ruling class that would be called noblemen.
In times of peace through the late Middle Ages and as late as the end of the 16th century the role of the knight was promoted and extolled through highly stylized tournaments that would bare little resemblance to bloody warfare in which the “typical knight” had once participated. Early tournaments were actually very similar to war as well. Originally they would include participants that would battle one another at once in a chaotic mock war. Later these would evolve to a popular one-on-one jousting that we are more familiar with. When these went out of fashion, knighthood became less and less tied to warfare and increasingly would indicate status.
Knighthoods are still issued today in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries including the Netherlands, where the Dutch equivalent word is ridder, Denmark where they are known as Dannebrogordenen, Malaysia, known as Datuk, and the Holy See. Presumably there are other monarchies that also follow the practice. Modern knighthoods are typically awarded in recognition for services that they have rendered to society.
A king or a lord would rule over large areas of land and protect it from invasion. The king would give parts of his land to a local lord, which was also known as a vassal. In return, his vassals would promise to fight to defend the king’s land.
Vassals would rule the lands that he was granted to him by the king. These lands were called fiefs. Within these fiefs, a vassal would act as a local lord and give portions of it to vassals of his own. Someone may be a vassal over one person, but the lord of another.
There were also noblewomen. These were the wives and daughters of noblemen. They were in charge of the household servants and would supervise the upbringing of children as well as lending a helping hand with taking care of sick and poor people. In some cases, they also could own land. They could have inherited their land from their parents or could have inherited it from their husband. When a nobleman was away, his wife would rule the manor, which meant if she was called upon by her lord, she could send knights into battle, just as a man would have been able to do.
Bishops at the time were church leaders and had served under the pope, the bishop of Rome. Most bishops were also noblemen. They would be in a supervisory position over church priests, monks and nuns, and would also administer the church’s business. In many parts of Europe the church would own a vast amount of land and commanded large numbers of knights. In the early Middle Ages, it was not unusual for a bishop to also lead his own knights into battle. Priests would provide spiritual instruction. They would also conduct religious ceremonies in local, parish, or churches.
Monks and nuns were men and women who would give their possessions and left ordinary life in order to live in monasteries and convents. These people would live very simply and could also not marry. They would devote themselves to praying, studying, and helping the poor and also served as doctors to the sick. A friar was a traveling preacher who would live their life begging and spreading teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.
Another group of people in the 14th century were serfs. These people lived in small communities known as manors and were ruled by the local lord of vassal. I’ve discussed these people a lot throughout this post. Most peasants were also serfs and were bound to the manor and couldn’t leave it or marry without their manor lord’s permission. They would do all of the work on the manor farm including working on the fields, caring for the livestock, building and maintaining buildings, making clothing and cutting firewood. Men, women and children would work side by side one another. They also had small plots of land that they would work for themselves. At times a serf would save enough money to buy their freedom and could then become a freeman. Servants, like serfs, were also peasants, who worked in the lord’s manor house. They would do the cooking, cleaning, laundry and other household chores.
Merchants were people that would set up businesses in town and most commonly traded items like salt, iron and textiles and some rarer items like silk and spices that had come from China and the Middle East. As trade had grown a new class of highly skilled crafts had developed. Again I covered a lot about these people as well. These merchants, or artisans, would produce cloth, shoes, beer, glass and other goods as well. Other artisans would cut and shape stones, women also plied several of these crafts in somethings like weaving and brewing. They too played a leading role during this time. A traveling merchant would bring a lot of much desired items to small towns and villages far from the major trading routes.
Minstrels were entertainers who had traveled from town to town, often in groups. Most of these people were singers or musicians. Some of them would have other skills as well. They were able to juggle, did acrobatics and danced. Through other parts of Europe they were known by other names besides minstrels, such as the German minnesingers, in France jongleurs, and in Ireland they were known as bards. The most famous of these minstrels were in the southern part of France, and they were called the Troubadours. This name comes from the Latin word meaning “to compose”, and they were so famous that we actually know the names of at least five hundred of them.
This blog post took me so long to get through, just because of the vast amount of information that is available to look through. There is so much covered in this post I have debated on posting it in one blog or in numerous posts. Hence the reason that some of them have no conclusions because I had typed them all up together and then changed my mind. Anyhow, I have learned so much about the people of this time and it was truly exciting to learn so much about the people then. I feel that I learned a lot about people of this time and it helped to better understand some of today’s world as well. It’s kind of funny too how some things that we do today are still things that they did so many years, even centuries ago. In some ways we have come so far, but in others we are still the people from long ago. I hope that you will enjoy reading these posts as much as I have writing them and that you too can learn some previously unknown information too.