Throughout the medieval time period intellectual life suffered greatly, and it is visible in how the people lived. During what was once “The dark ages” (now medieval times) there was much despair and poverty, and money was unevenly balanced between lower classes and higher classes. Due to this, life of the lower classes were incredibly different from those of a higher class. Reading William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire portrayed the differences in life between these classes through the food, the homes they lived in, and health. One of the major way the two classes were seperated was the food that they ate and even how they ate it at times. Throughout history food has always been a key to wealth and the higher class, and the medieval times were no exception.
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The peasants, the lowest class harvested the fields and ate some of what they collected while some of it went to those they harvested for. But during the worst of seasons Manchester wrote the peasants were “forced to sell all they owned, including their pitifully inadequate clothing, and be reduced to nudity in all seasons.”(Manchester 54). But in the times when they had no more to sell they would eat “Bark, roots, grass; even white clay” and Manchester goes on to say “Cannibalism was not unknown. Strangers and travelers were waylaid and killed to be eaten, and there are tales of gallows being torn down — as many as twenty bodies would hang from a single scaffold — by men frantic to eat the warm flesh raw.”(Manchester 54). Manchester tells of a story of a peasant revived by the smell of animal waste after passing out at the smells of a perfume shop, meant to show the level of dirtiness that the peasants were accustomed to. But the higher the class the more safety there was for food resources, and kings would never go hungry, due to their immense wealth they could buy up even the smallest bits of food. And Manchester write that they only ate “black bread” because “white bread was the prerogative of the patriciate”(Manchester 54). The classes also ate in one manner which was incredibly messy and gruesome. Manchester describes their eating saying “They customarily ate with their hats on and frequently beat their wives at the table, while chewing a sausage or gnawing at a bone”(Manchester 57). Cutlery was not invented until later, in 1520 Jacques LaSaige a merchant recorder “These seigneurs, when they want to take the meat up, use a silver fork.” at a Venetian banquet. The classes during the medieval times were heavily separated both mentally and physically. They were physically separated because depending on their class they had a specific place to live. The men and women born the lowest class, a serf(peasant), would be living on the outskirts of the fief, in the fields.
They would work, under the orders of a member of the higher class, in the fields they lived in. Their homes would be large but very dirty, and William Manchester writes about the condition of the homes in the book, saying “Beneath the sagging roof were a pigpen, a henhouse, cattle sheds, corncribs straw and hay, and, last and least, the family’s apartment, actually a single room whose walls and timbers were coated with soot.”(Manchester 53). The peasants lived in terrible living conditions, whereas in the higher class, knights for example, would be living in much nicer conditions. Knights lived in manor homes, nicer homes with features that a peasant only dreamed of having. The inside of the home as described by Manchester had “a vestibule at the entrance, which led to a living room dominated by its massive hearth, and, beyond that, a ‘drawto chamber’, or ‘(with)drawing room’ for private talks and a ‘parler’ for general conversations and meals.”. This style of living was reserved for those who had been born into a more noble family and those who had more wealth. Knights were among the nobler. Health was suffering much like intellectual life, and it can been seen that those two things may go hand in hand.
During the medieval time period health and hygiene were terrible due to the lack of technology including medicine, medical tools, and any kind of ointments for something even as easy as the common cold. Plague was as common as the cold is in modern times, and death by a slight fever was very common as well. Manchester talks of the life expectancy saying “Life expectancy was brief; half the people in Europe died, usually from disease, before reaching their thirtieth birthday.”(Manchester 55). He then talks about how the modern day 90 year old would resemble someone at the age of 45 during the medieval period, and this age was uncommon during the time. The life expectancy of girls at this time was 24. The Black Death was a common plague that would strike Europe roughly every generation, wiping out massive amounts of people, after torturing them for 3-7 days full of painful symptoms. This could be connected to the way they ate because Manchester tell of a courtesy during the time in which “Guests in homes were also reminded that they should blow their noses with the hand that held the knife, not the one holding the food.”(Manchester 57). This can give a window to show why the sickness may have spread so quickly; manners and health also go hand in hand much like intelligence and health. Life in medieval times was insufferable, and full of despair. But classes during this time made life less insufferable and full of despair for some of the men and women during this time. Since the beginning of time, class has defined how life is lived, and medieval times is no exception.