The Middle Ages: The Myth • We think of knights in shining armor, lavish banquets, wandering minstrels, kings, queens, bishops, monks, pilgrims, and glorious pageantry. • In film and in literature, medieval life seems heroic, entertaining, and romantic.
The Middle Ages: The Reality • In reality, life in the Middle Ages, a period that extended from approximately the 5th century to the 15th century in Western Europe, could also be harsh, uncertain, and dangerous.
The Lord of the Manor • For safety and defense, people in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a central lord or master.
The Manor • Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle (or manor house), the church, the village, and the surrounding farm land.
Self-Sufficiency • Each manor was largely self-sufficient, growing or producing all of the basic items needed for food, clothing, and shelter. • To meet these needs, the manor had buildings devoted to special purposes, such as: • The mill for grinding grain • The bake house for making bread • The blacksmith shop for creating metal goods.
Isolation • These manors were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms.
The Feudal System • Under the feudal system, the king awarded land grants or fiefs to his most important nobles, barons, and bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies.
Nobles and Vassals • Nobles divided their land among the lesser nobility, who became their vassals. Many of these vassals became so powerful that the kings had difficulty controlling them.