Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why You Wouldn't Survive In Medieval time

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Chances are slim that youll wake up tomorrow having slipped through a time portal and find

yourself now living in a Medieval village.

But if that does happen, here are some of the things you can expect.

First off, its hard being a peasant.

Fortunately, you happen not to be a slave, because that status doesnt factor into

Medieval society.

So you wont be sold from owner to owner.

Unfortunately, youre not exactly free, either.

Your social rank as villein means that you dont own your own land.

For the sake of context, well say you arrive complete with a backstory.

Villein is an inherited designation, meaning your parents were villeins, as well.

The word is definitely related to the modern termvillain,” which tells you something

about Medieval prejudices about the lower rungs on the social ladder.

Many more people died in infancy and childhood in the Middle Ages, leading to a low average

life expectancy.

But even if youre in your teens or early twenties--and not a monk or a nun--youre

probably married.

If youre a woman, by age 20, youll likely have given birth to at least a few children,

although they may not all still be with you.

The mortality rate for children in the first year of life is one out of every six.

If youve given birth four times--not inconceivable, considering age 14 was fine for marriage--its

likely that at least one child was either stillborn or died very young.

Both parents would come to know grief as an integral part of everyday life.

But women also faced a strong likelihood of dying in childbirth.

There was a one in ten chance of death every time a woman went into labor.

As a result, among young adults, there are more men than women.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to die a violent death.

Military service is compulsory if the lord of the manor for your village calls on you.

And, depending on where you live, war is probable in your lifetime.

If youre in Britain or France, the Hundred Years War is getting rolling.

But even outside formal combat, society is violent.

Every man carries a sword, or at least a knife.

Executions are frequent and public, as is the display of the despatched criminals

heads and other body parts.

Capital crimes could include what wed consider petty theft, in addition to more serious offenses.

As you might expect, villeins tend to live in villages.

You have a small, thatched-roof house, in a defined household garden plot.

Scattered in a seemingly random pattern within walking distance are a number of identical-looking

structures, maybe just a few, but perhaps as many as fifty or more.

Its good that theyre not right up against each other, as they would be in a city or


Thatched houses, which tend to have a wood and mud frame, are fire traps, especially

since theres often a fire burning inside, particularly in the cold months.

You keep a barrel of water next to the house to collect rainwater for drinking, so you

might be able to deal with a fire in time.

Or maybe not.

But at least your neighbors are safe.

Historian and novelist Ian Mortimer, in The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England,

provides the source for much of these physical descriptions, along with Frances and Joseph

GiesLife in a Medieval Village.

Outside the nucleated village, theres a field of several hundred acres, divided into

strips, each for the use of a different peasant household.

You might be growing barley, or if you can, wheat.

Your kids will help you in the field when theyre a little more grown up, around age


For now its the husband and wife who sow the soil and reap the grain.

Women will divide their time between endless household tasks like child care, weaving new

clothes--basic wool tunics for everybody, probably with a separate hood--washing, milking

the cow, cooking the food, and brewing the staple beverage.

Plowing with a shared ox is generally going to be male labor, but single peasant women

are known to do it.

Since your land is leased from the lord of the manor, they can choose how much of the

yield from your land to take in taxes.

Another bad deal is that in peak planting and harvest seasons, you have to put three

days a week working your lords land, or demesne.

On the plus side, there are plenty of days off from that, since there are slower seasons,

and every religious high holiday is exempted.

For some important feasts, the lord hosts a gathering with all the villeins.

Thats at least one benefit over freeholding.

On the other hand, religious days of fasting from meat are no problem, because your diet

is meatless most days anyway.

You might have salted meat in the wintertime, because you might slaughter one of your animals

before the annual scarcity sets in.

In the summer and fall, the peasantspigs can roam the forest, with permission from

the lord, who of course owns that land, too.

So far, so good.

But times are about to get bad, fast.

This year, spring comes late, and its especially rainy.

Too much rain will ruin the seed.

But you cant do anything about that, so you hitch up a pair of horses you share with

other people in the village, and start plowing.

By now, like other farm workers across Europe, you use a heavy plow thats very efficient

in turning over the soil.

But even with beasts of burden, its exhausting labor.

When you become parched, remember not to drink the water.

Its incredibly contaminated.

If you slip up and forget, you might not just get sick--you could die, since you have no

immunity to the strains of diseases making their way through the humans and animals of

the village.

The flooding from the heavy rain doesnt help.

And the weather isnt great in the fall, either.

The grain that did germinate is now being blasted with heavy rains and hail.

The harvest is going to be meager, which is almost a good thing, because its also back

breaking toil.

Long ago you learned how to use a scythe.

But of course, a bad harvest is really the beginning of disaster.

Youre probably starting out life with a diet far superior to the other people in the

village, so as the lean days of winter drag on, and your neighbors become dangerously

thin, youre not in the same immediate danger.

But thats about to change.

Because the next years weather is also terrible.

Its a repeat of last year, only worse.

Your rent comes due, and it doesnt matter that your harvest is again meagre.

So now theres almost nothing left for winter.

Along with everyone in your family--somehow you ended up with a family when you slipped

through the time portal--you live in a single-room house with a dirt floor and a fire pit.

Theres a hole in the thatched roof for smoke ventilation, but its still pretty

rough breathing.

Your livestock lives in the house with you, although not for long.

Youve got a couple of goats, and theyre worth more alive than dead, since theyre

an endless source of dairy products, especially valuable for the children.

Even though the goats arent picky eaters, theres less of everything to feed them.

And theres less for your family to eat as the winter wears on.

Doing the math, you realize youll have to slaughter one of them.

That will provide good food for awhile, since you can salt the meat.

By early spring, some of the children and elderly people in the village start starving

to death.

Your youngest contracts a disease you cant name, much less treat, and wont stop coughing.

Until she does.

Youre not feeling so good, either, although youre not as far gone.

You certainly dont have a lot of motivation to get to plowing, and theres no seed to

sow, anyway.

Youve had to eat the reserve.

Maybe its time to consider a career change?

Like some of the other peasants, you pack up what you can cart away and hit the rough,

muddy highway toward the town a few miles over.

Its an illegal act for a villein to move away from the manor, but you know that if

you can last a year in the town, youll be considered free

Unfortunately, youre an easy target for highwaymen, who relieve you of your worldly


Theyre skilled fighters, perhaps returned Crusaders, and you can draw your sword, but

youll be lucky if they even let you run.

You and your family arrive in town, now literally paupers.

And youre not alone.

The bad harvests have reduced many of the poor to destitution.

Food is expensive at the marketplace, and you have nothing to trade.

Stealing would be a bad move.

Its punishable by death, delivered the same day youre caught.

So, like the other poor, you beg, as does the rest of your family.

And, moved by the spirit of charity, some of the middle class merchants and craftspeople

give all of you a little to eat.

Eventually you can get work doing manual labor.

Even if you knew one of the skilled crafts, like blacksmithing, baking, or carpentry,

you cant afford to pay to join their guilds.

But for very low wages, and a little bit to eat, you can do heavy lifting, moving blocks

for the masons who are working on the town cathedral, or unloading and carrying freight

for the merchants.

But the town has another downside: the sanitation here is even worse than in the village.

There are supposed to be laws for the disposal of waste, but in practice the side streets

are like open sewers, not to mention the prolific animal droppings.

As hunger creeps into the town, disease follows along with it.

Theres a fair amount of long distance trade, and along with spices and silks, germs hop

along for the ride.

An epidemic breaks out, and theres little anyone can do but shut themselves up in their


You dont have a house.

Youre starving, and youre sick.

Life in the town isnt really working for you.

Your family, also suffering from the coughing sickness that killed your youngest daughter,

can find care in a hospital run by a monastery and nunnery.

But youre determined to find a way to provide.

Before another winter hits, you wander back toward your old village, now largely abandoned.

You keep walking, up to the castle where your lord lives.

When he greets you, you fall to your knees and beg for his help.

As it turns out, he can use you.

War is coming, and every able bodied man is needed.

Given the circumstances, you can make the cut.

The morning before dawn, you march out with the other recruits.

There are no uniforms, let alone armor.

When you get to the camp where the knights and their attendants await the order to battle,

you do get a kind of spear with an axe attached, and a shield--a wicker shield, which seems

like a joke.

On a better note, you get fed.

Its a simple stew, porridge with some vegetables, and--is it?

Some pieces of chicken meat, the best meal youve had in months.

Theres more the following day, and the day after that.

Maybe army life wont be so bad.

Then the battle comes.

You line up with the other light infantry before dawn.

Behind you are rows of archers, and behind them, the armored cavalry.

Maybe a thousand soldiers all told?

The enemy is almost a mirror image of your side, although they seem to have better armor.

And there may be more of them.

Upon the order to fire, volleys of arrows start flying, first from your side.

And then the enemy returns fire.

Its hard to tell, but it looks like their bows are considerably larger.

Like your comrades, you shield yourself and crouch.

You dont look, but you can tell from the screams that plenty of people have just been


When the arrows stop, you rise to your feet and tighten ranks to make up for the gaps

in the line.

Upon command, you begin charging at the enemy, who is charging right back at you.

You scream, and hold your weapon as tight as you can.

You want to hold onto the hope that youll survive the day, but even as you collide with

the opposing line, you know you wont.

Do you think youd want to try your hand on the Medieval battlefield?

Is there another time in history youd be more up for visiting?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Also, be sure to check out our other videoWhy Life During The Dark Ages Sucked.”

Thanks for watching, and, as always, dont forget to like, share, and subscribe.

See you next time!

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