Friday, 15 March 2013

Medieval Manners

More things learned from Ian Mortimer, all useful to me. He's talking about 1300-1400. I'm writing about 1543, a mere hundred and forty years later. Some things seem to have changed very little, especially in regard to manners which is my topic for today.

You followed the protocols, if you knew what was good for you. When visiting, you left your weapons at the gate and did not presume to enter a man's hall without permission. If you were visiting someone of yeoman status or above, a servant would announce you. Grander houses had chamberlains or ushers, who would take you to your host. Remove your cap and keep it in your hand until told you may replace it. You bowed to a person of equal status, and if they were of higher status,you knelt, right knee to the ground.

Before the king, you grovelled! The instructions were: Kneel on entering the chamber, walk to the centre of the room and kneel again. The king will beckon you forward, and you move toward him. The chamberlain will tell you when to stop and at that point, you kneel for the third time and wait until he addresses you. It was considered polite to begin with a greeting, once you have been asked to speak - 'God speed, my lord' for example, and don't forget to bow each time you speak. Do not avert your eyes, but regard him honestly and directly.
Most of all, never turn your back on a social superior.

I wondered exactly what yeoman status might be, and here's the answer: a Yeoman or Franklin owns 30 acres, known as a yardland, and his own team of 8 oxen. He may have servants.
A Reeve oversees a manor.
A Villein was bound to serve his lord. With only one or two acres he found it difficult to feed himself and his family from such a small plot.
The word peasant was not used in the 1400s, but terms like Rustici (meaning "countryman") and Nativi ("born to servitude") were used.

Bondmen, like villeins, were not free men. They worked the land for their lord, and have the use of some land for which they paid rent. Their crops technically belonged to the lord, and he could take whatever he wanted, but usually only a "heriot" was required - a gift on the villein's death. If the land was sold, then the villein and his family were sold with it; the lord controlled who his villeins married. He could demand compensation if a daughter married out of the family, or select a husband for a widow. Refusal could end in prison. To me, it sounds like slavery.

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