Feudalism

systemLords and Vassals

For safety and for defense, people in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a central lord or master. Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle, the church, the village, and the surrounding farmland. These manors were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms.

In this “feudal” system, the king owned all of the land in his kingdom. He kept a large portion of the land for his own use, and a great deal of land was also held by the Church. What happened to the rest of the land? The king awarded land grants or “fiefs” to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king’s armies.

The nobles divided their land among the lesser nobility, who became their servants or “vassals.” Many of these vassals became so powerful that the kings had difficulty controlling them. By 1100, certain barons had castles and courts that rivalled the king’s; they could be serious threats if they were not pleased in their dealings with the crown.

In 1215, the English barons formed an alliance that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. While it gave no rights to ordinary people, the Magna Carta did limit the king’s powers of taxation and require trials before punishment. It was the first time that an English monarch came under the control of the law.

The Peasants

At the lowest echelon of society were the peasants, also called “serfs” or “villeins.” In exchange for living and working on his land, known as the “demesne,” the lord offered his peasants protection.

Many peasants remained free, but most became serfs. A serf was bound to the land. He could not leave without buying his freedom, which was a rare occurrence. Life for a serf was not much better than the life of a slave. The only difference was that a serf could not be sold to another manor.

As rent, Serfs would often work the land and produced the goods that the lord and his manor needed three or four days a weeks. This exchange was not without hardship for the serfs. They were heavily taxed and were required to relinquish much of what they harvested. The peasants did not even “belong to” themselves, according to medieval law. The lords, in close association with the church, assumed the roles of judges in carrying out the laws of the manor.

Egyptian Furniture

Wood had to be imported from far away – cedar from the Lebanon, ebony from Africa – so furniture was rare and expensive. The ancient Egyptians did not use very much furniture because of this.

The rich had beds but most ordinary people slept on mud benches covered with mats. Instead of pillows, there were headrests made of ivory, wood or pottery.

In wealthy homes there were chairs to sit on, and three legged stools were also popular. There were no cupboards or wardrobes. Clothes and household goods were kept in wooden chests and boxes, while foodstuffs such as oil and grain were stored in pots and baskets. Trays of food or jars of drink were put on tall stands.

Egyptian Houses

Ancient Egyptian houses were built out of mud-brick then plastered and whitewashed to reflect the sun. The Egyptians built their houses with the walls sloping inwards to make them strong enough to resist floods or earthquakes.

ancienthouseHouses had tiny windows to keep them cool and shady and to keep burglars out. The homes of wealthier families had their inside walls plastered and decorated with brightly-coloured paintings or hangings. Some even had vents on the roof to send cool breezes through the house – an ancient kind of air conditioning!

Houses in towns were built close together, but in the countryside there was room for people to have gardens. There were huge differences between the homes of the rich and the poor.

The enormous villas of the rich were set in great estates. They had many rooms, and separate stables, storerooms, workshops and kitchens, while most houses just had a small yard at the back with a clay oven and a grindstone. Wealthy homes even had bathrooms and toilets, but most people had to wash in the river.

There was very little furniture but most houses had built-in benches to sit and sleep on.

You Want to Write

Why do you want to write? Is it to escape the world in which you live, to entertain other people, because you want to see your name on a shelf in a bookshop or simply because you enjoy the craft. Whatever the reason, if you want to write… write! However, take the time to work out your storyline, to identify with your characters and know the industry, just to name a few very important issues.

I hope the information found on these pages will help you do this and will be a stepping stone to you reaching your goal. Click on “Writing” in the navigation bar at the top of the page to see the list of categories on writing.

Childbirth & Infancy

infancyIn medieval times childbirth could be a time of either great joy or great sorrow. Mortality rates for both mother and baby were high, and many children who lived through the birth died shortly thereafter.

During the delivery, some peasant women received help from female neighbours; others could rely only on their husbands.

A woman of the merchant or noble classes was attended by midwives and female relatives. The chamber would be dimly lit, and a warm bath prepared for the infant. Both measures were designed to ease the transition from the womb into the world.

The expectant father performed the important job of appealing to the saints for the safety of his wife and child.

The infant was wrapped in swaddling cloths – long cloths wrapped around the body and secured with crisscross bands. Swaddling kept the child warm but was also said to force the limbs to grow straight.

Unless work prevented it, peasants and artisans nursed their own babies, but wealthy mothers hired other women to serve as wet nurses. Without the burden of nursing, which can serve as a natural birth control, such women sometimes conceived as frequently as biologically possible, bearing as many as 20 children.

About 50 to 60 percent of children never saw their fifth birthday.

The Egyptian Family

familyThe family was very important to the ancient Egyptians. Paintings in tombs often show the different generations enjoying each other’s company. The Old Kingdom sage Hardjedef advised his readers: “If you would be a worthy man, set up home and marry a sensible woman, so that a son will be born to you.”

People did not expect to live to an old age, so they usually married quite young compared to today and tried to have plenty of children to live after them.

When a boy reached adulthood he left his parents’ house and set up his own home. Girls usually lived with their parents until they married. Marriages were usually arranged for political reasons, especially in the highest levels of society but the more ordinary people generally chose their partners.

In the early times, a couple often moved in together as no religious or legal ceremony was required but in later periods it was usual to have a marraige contract drawn up in case of arguments about children or property.

It was no unusual for people to remarry, either because their partner died or because the couple split up. Divorce was quite common and the marriage contracts would specify how much a man would pay his wife if he divorced her.

An ancient Egyptian household could be quite large. As well as the head of the family, his wife and their children, it was not uncommon for grandparens, unmarried aunts and sisters to live in the family home. The whole family shared one living and sleeping space yet the family members lead quite separate lives.

Boys went to school or work as soon as they were old enough, but girls helped their mothers around the house, learning the skills they would use in their own homes.

Welcome to The Scribe’s New Writing Desk

Welcome to the Writing Desk of The Scribe. This is where I will put my thoughts, share my views on writing, place favourite and/or helpful links and possibly even upload a photo or two.

It is a private desk where you’ll be shown glimpses of a fantasy writer’s hectic life but I’ll also share my research on Medieval Times and Ancient Egypt.