Life in a Medieval Village by Francis Gies and Joseph Gies

The Gies brothers’ prolific body of work on medieval life continues with Life in a Medieval Village. After the great book that was Life in a Medieval Castle I expected more from this book. Perhaps the brothers put all their interesting research into that book. Or perhaps they were just getting bored of medieval history by the time they got around to writing this book. Either way, it was a waste of time.

I read the entire book and only marked 34 quotes as being possibly useful for my paper or interesting to remember. That’s less than 1 interesting thing for every 10 pages of reading, and indeed, I often went 10 pages without marking anything for the future.

Amongst the 34 things I found interesting was the fact that the overwhelming majority of people lived in a village, which was not a place for commerce, but rather farmers who united as a sort of form of common defense. The most interesting thing about this is that it is still true in most developing nations (6).

The section on crime contains an interesting tidbit, which is that breaking into a house was literal, and there are abundant examples of criminals breaking down walls to get into a house using a plowshare (33).

The Gies brothers claim that one of the most interesting things about the relationship between the lord and villagers was the extent to which the lord left them alone (49). He claims that they had relative autonomy within their village, but then goes on to describe the court system and the taxes and all the other ways in which they were not autonomous.

They claim that there were three factors that described how villagers interacted with each other: their standing as free or villain, their relative wealth, and their (related but not the same) social status. They claim this has recently gotten attention from historians, but fail to flesh it out at all. I’d like to see some of that research. Alas, the book is lacking in footnotes, though there are some sources listed in the back of the book without directly saying what they are sourcing. He also claims that a few families gathered enough land to be an elite peasant class (83).

The medieval diet wasn’t a very good one with deficiencies in Vitamins A, C, D, Calcium, lipids, and protein as well as not providing enough calories (97). One might wonder why they needed high levels of Vitamin D if they were out in the sun all day, but that’s the claim. This, they claim, made drinking ale healthy for medieval people. Personally, when I’ve tried to drink alcohol without eating enough calories, I’ve gotten drunk faster, and had worse hangovers. But what do I know, I just went to college?

Probably the most interesting thing in this book is a description of many of the games that were played by children and adults alike. Many of them have endured into the current era, such as backgammon, chess, blind man’s bluff, soccer, wrestling, swimming, fishing, bowling, archery, and a form of tennis (103). Of course, the most popular past time was drinking (103).

The legal statute requiring witnesses to a marriage stems from the 13th century when many men would whisper promises to get women into bed, and then claim they had made no such promise. Many marriages were performed for love, and there were sermons warning against marriages for money (114). This did not hold true for the upper classes, but did for peasants.

In short, I read a 300 page book, and these were all of the passages that still struck me as interesting when I looked back through my notes. So you’re welcome; I have saved you the time and money. I’d suggest finding something else to read.

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