Lord and Lackey
Life during this time was extremely hard. There existed a clear devision between people who were considered noble and people who were considered peasants/serfs. Among the serfs, most would be farmers who would work in the fields owned by the lords. Their role as farmers however would shift as required of them based on the time of the year. During certain seasons, the farmers would instead practice other odd jobs as needed of them. Clearly, peasants were at the bottom of the existing Feudal system.
Each peasant was expected to obey their local lord, an expectation reinforced by an oath of obedience sworn on the Bible which every peasant was raised from childhood to believe. Such an obedience was typically assumed to apply as well to the duke, earl or baron who actually owned the lord's property. While the noble were typically based on blood lineage, other nobles were noble due to their ownership of land and title. It was not uncommon for both kinds to view the other with some level of discrimination.
All peasants were expected to pay out money in taxes or rent. The rent was to be paid to the lord, and the tax was paid to the church as what was known to be a tithe. This tax was 10% of everything that a farmer had produced in a year. If unable to pay with money, a peasant was still expected to pay using whatever he owned, be it seeds, personal belongings and the like.
On church land however, a peasant was expected to work for free. The idea that God literally could see one committing sins and punish them was enough to frighten most to not question this rule.
Peasants lived in cruck houses. These had a wooden frame onto which was plastered wattle and daub. This was a mixture of mud, straw and manure. The straw added insulation to the wall while the manure was considered good for binding the whole mixture together and giving it strength. The mixture was left to dry in the sun and formed what was a strong building material.
Cruck houses were not big but repairs were quite cheap and easy to do. The roofs were thatched. There would be little furniture within the cruck houses and straw would be used for lining the floor. The houses are likely to have been very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Windows were just holes in the walls as glass was very expensive. Doors might be covered with a curtain rather than having a door as good wood could be expensive
At night, any animal you owned would be brought inside for safety. There were a number of reasons for this.
First, wild animals roamed the countryside. England still had wolves and bears in the forests and these could easily have taken a pig, cow or chickens. The loss of any animal could be a disaster but the loss of valuable animals such as an ox would be a calamity.
If left outside at night they could also have been stolen or simply have wandered off. If they were inside your house, none of these would happen and they were safe. However, they must have made the house even more dirty than it usually would have been as none of these animals would have been house-trained. They would have also brought in fleas and flies etc. increasing the unhygienic nature of the house.
The houses would have had none of the things we accept as normal today – no running water, no toilets, no baths and washing basins. Soap was unheard of and as was shampoo. People would have been covered with dirt, fleas and lice. Beds were simply straw stuffed mattresses and these would have attracted lice, fleas and all types of bugs. Your toilet would have been a bucket which would have been emptied into the nearest river at the start of the day.
Water had a number of purposes for peasants – cooking, washing etc. Unfortunately, the water usually came from the same source. A local river, stream or well provided a village with water but this water source was also used as a way of getting rid of your waste at the start of the day. It was usually the job of a wife to collect water first thing in the morning. Water was collected in wooden buckets. Villages that had access to a well could simply wind up their water from the well itself.
Towns needed a larger water supply. Water could be brought into a town using a series of ditches; lead pipes could also be used. Water in a town would come out of conduit which was similar to a modern day fountain.
Bathing was a rarity even for the rich. A rich person might have a bath just several times a year but to make life easier, several people might use the water before it was got rid of!
It was said that a peasant could expect to be fully bathed just twice in their life; once, when they were born and when they had died! Face and hand washing was more common but knowledge of hygiene was non-existent. No-one knew that germs could be spread by dirty hands.
London had a number of public baths near the River Thames. These were called "stews". Several people at one time would bath in them. However, as people had to take off what clothes they wore, the stews also attracted thieves who would steal what they could when the victims were hardly in a position to run after them!
Regardless of how water was acquired, there was a very real potential that it could be contaminated as toilet waste was continuously thrown into rivers which would make its way into a water source somewhere.
Families would have cooked and slept in the same room. Children would have slept in a loft if the cruck house was big enough.
The lives of peasant children would have been very different to today. They would not have attended school for a start. Very many would have died before they were six months old as disease would have been very common. As soon as was possible, children joined their parents working on the land. They could not do any major physical work but they could clear stones off the land – which might damage farming tools – and they could be used to chase birds away during the time when seeds were sown. Peasant children could only look forward to a life of great hardship. For all peasants, life was "nasty, brutish and short.":-)