Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday 3 February 2024

Medieval English Peasant Life

The Collector has an article which is both readable and useful about the lives of the medieval English peasantry which seeks to dispel not a few modern misconceptions and prejudices. Certainly it should be of interest to the non-specialist enquirer. It can be seen at What Was a Peasant’s Life in Medieval England Like?

In a short article covering several centuries and  varying economic circumstances it is inevitable that there are many generalisations. There are occasional errors - London was not a member of the Hanseatic League but did have, along with several other English ports, a kontor as the place where the Hanse traded with local exporters and importers.

Nevertheless this is a useful correction to a lot of modern prejudices and “Presentism” about life in the past.

Medieval peasant life could certainly be hard - but that is the nature of winning a living from the land, and has been the fate of the bulk of humanity for most of human history. The writer of Genesis knew that. Pre-industrial society anywhere had its compensations, linked as it was to the rhythms of the seasons and to the rhythms of religious obligations. To understand it we need to enter in to its realities and not impose modern dogmas - academic work on the topic has in the past century too often reflected the Marxist or neo-Marxist ideas of many historians - or modern ideas of the necessity of every contemporary convenience.

Ideas in academic circles have, I think, become more open and much more evidence based in a range of local studies. What applied in one area was by no means necessarily replicated the other side of the county, let alone in the next county.

Although it is about France and looks at the tenth to twelfth centuries I realised when reading Constance Brittain Bouchard’s Negotiation and Resistance: Peasant Agency in High Medieval France ( Cornell UP. Available on kindle ) that much of what she says could be seen as analagous to English peasant life, with all the appropriate allowances and caveats.


Zephyrinus said...

Another riveting Read, John.

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Seconded, John is a one-man army. I simply don't know how he finds the time to root out all these interesting articles each day and knowledgeably expand on them!


Another John (Ramsden)