Medieval peasants lived their lives by feudal services and feudalism, which were at the centre of England’s social structure during this time. Under this system, lords would receive great rewards for managing land on behalf of landowners - such as a king - but nothing was given back to the peasants who lived by their rule. In fact, feudal services and feudalism were the reason peasants remained poor.
While all peasants were considered poor, some were labelled as ‘free’ and were able to own small business such as a bakery or blacksmith. However, the majority simply had to pledge themselves to the local lord. This often meant working long days and long weeks, and receiving very little food in return.
One of the biggest problems with feudal services and feudalism was that it encouraged unrest. This is mainly due to many of the noblemen trusted with land choosing to make their own private arrangements and act on their own interests. However, it also caused unrest among peasants. In 1381, the desire of the nobility to reintroduce feudalism back into society lead to the Peasants' Revolt, which saw a peasant army take the Tower of London captive.
The most common types of feudal services were:
|Labour Service||The work expected of a peasant on his lord’s land.|
|Heriot||Peasants would give their best animal to the lord of the manor as an exchange for the right to have land.|
|Merchet||This was a fine paid by a peasant to his lord for a marriage.|
|Tallage||This was a tax paid each year to the lord of the manor by the serfs.|
|Toll Tax||The lord of the manor received a toll tax once an animal had been sold by its owner.|
|Boon-work||Villagers had to work for the lord on extra days at an especially busy time of year such as harvests and ploughing.|
|Week-work||Days during the week when peasants were required to work for their lord.|
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