A Day in the Life of a Medieval Peasant (History)

Topics: A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman, John II of France Pages: 3 (1130 words) Published: March 24, 2007
History has never halted for want of peasants. But crucial as they may have been to Europe's agricultural well-being, they weren't exactly well loved by nobility. Barbara Tuchman, in A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous Fourteenth Century, tells us they were considered

aggressive, insolent, greedy, sullen, suspicious, tricky, unshaved, unwashed, ugly, stupid and credulous... in satiric tales it was said the [peasant's] soul would find no place in Paradise or anywhere else because the demons refused to carry [him] due to the foul smell. Unfortunately for our intrepid subsistence workers, literature of the time is similarly uncharitable. A contemporary author laments

... by what right does a [peasant] eat beef? ...Rather let them eat thistles and briars, thorns and straw and hay on Sunday and peapods on weekdays... they should chew grass on the heath with the horned cattle and go naked on all fours.

The Sacking of Grammont, from the Chronicles
Not a pleasing prospect, but we do note that the peasant actually got his hands on some meat now and again. Tuchman reports he "also had access to eggs, salt fish, cheese, lard, peas, beans, shallots, onions, garlic... etc," which doesn't sound all that bad. What did the fourteenth century peasant do to deserve such a bad reputation? While obviously illiterate [the peasant, not us], we will attempt to bring his daily experiences to life by producing a fictional account of his day: a peasant's diary, if you will. For historical context, editorial comments will appear in brackets. We've also taken the liberty of cramming about thirty years together, so 'today' could be anywhere from 1327 to 1358. Trust us, most peasants wouldn't get this much excitement in a decade.

Dear Diary,

Woke up this morning. Little Jacques lost some more teeth in the evening; so did I. Marie has dysentery, the less said about that, the better. Julianne continues to breast-feed Robert, even though he's four years old [Extended breast feeding...
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