Ninety per cent of the medieval population lived in the countryside in small villages. These peasants or ‘serfs’ were owned and controlled by the lord on whose land they worked. The serfs farmed the lord’s land and raised livestock, dividing the produce between the lord and themselves.
At the centre of a village were a church and a village green, which was an open, grassy space for meetings or games.
The lord lived in a large manor house, whilst the serfs lived in small wooden cottages with thatched roofs.
Each village usually had two or three large fields for the serfs to farm on. The crops grown were rotated each year, alternating between: wheat, barley and being left fallow (unplanted) to make the soil more fertile for the year after. All the serfs could also use the common – an area of land shared by everybody. They could graze their animals and gather wood and berries here.
All villages needed to have a mill, where the corn could be ground to make flour for bread. Bigger villages might have also had their own: blacksmiths, carpenters, brewers and perhaps even their own shoe makers.
Occasionally, villages would hold a fair for travelling merchants to come from far and wide to buy and sell things. Jugglers, acrobats, musicians and even dancing bears might come to perform too.
In the summer of 1348 a terrible disease known as the Plague or Black Death arrived it England. It spread quickly because people knew nothing about medicine or the need to be clean. About one person in every three died from it, animals died as no one was alive to look after them and many villages became deserted. Life expectancy dropped to just over 17 years.
When the serfs were: hungry, felt over-taxed or felt their rulers needed to be challenged they could: group together, refuse to do as they were told, arm themselves and take to the streets. This is called a rebellion or a revolt. According to legend, a rebel named Robin Hood lived in Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham who liked to steal from the cruel lords and rich priests. A famous revolt by peasants took place in June 1381 when thousands of serfs marched to London, burning many manor houses on their way, to protest to King Richard II against the raising of a Poll Tax to pay for an expensive, unnecessary war with France.