An Ordinary Peasant in Medieval Times
November 12, 2012
Cecilia Penifader lived on the English manor of Brigstock in the early fourteenth century. She was not a princess nor was she of noble blood. She was, in fact, a peasant. While many people today would consider her poor and lowly just because of that title, she was actually rather successful in life and was one of the wealthier peasants of her time. Cecilia did not leave behind any personal writings, as most medieval peasants were illiterate, but her life has since been pieced together through the use of the archives of Brigstock. These archives reveal many aspects of Cecilia’s life. They tell us that she functioned as the head of a household, that she faced gender bias because she was only a woman, and that she led a family-oriented lifestyle.
Cecilia went through life as a singlewoman, the term used by medieval peoples to describe women who never got married (Bennett 143). Because she never married, she was considered to be the head of her own household. She held many of the same rights that men had as heads of their households. She certainly had more freedom than her married sisters; a wife was completely dependent on her husband, who functioned as the head of the household (Bennett 115). As the head of her household, Cecilia could hold the title of an independent tenant of the manor. She was able to accumulate several acres of land throughout her lifetime, and she could buy and sell it as she pleased. By the time of her death, she had acquired an extensive amount of land and other possessions. Cecilia also had the ability to manage her household as she saw fit. This meant that it was necessary for her to organize her household and lands effectively in order to survive a less than favorable economy, especially during the periods of the Great Famine and the Black Death. Though Cecilia lacked a family to provide supportive labor to the household, she could usually...