Unit 5 Chapter 9 Lesson 2 Daily Life in Medieval Europe

Lesson 2 examines the way of life on medieval manors and in towns and analyzes the role of knights in society.

Daily Life in Medieval Europe

Living during the Middle Ages

Many people lived on a manor during the middle ages.  The manor was a self sufficient plot of land where the people could make all the things they needed to survive.  They didn't need to trade with other manors or villages. Click on the image below to learn more about the manor.

Image result for medieval manor

Dover Castle

The History of Dover Castle

Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, Dover Castle has a long and immensely  eventful history. Many centuries before King Henry II began the great stone castle here in the 1160s, its  spectacular site atop the famous ‘White Cliffs’ was an Iron Age hill fort, and it still houses a Roman lighthouse,  one of the best-preserved in Europe. The Anglo-Saxon church beside it was once probably part of a Saxon fortified  settlement: very soon after his victory at Hastings in 1066, this was converted by William the Conqueror into a  Norman earthwork and timber-stockaded castle. Click on the image to learn more.


Dover_CastleGuest HallMore pictures here.

Terms and Names

manor a main part of a noble’s land

knight a vassal or a lesser noble who fought on behalf of his lord in return for land

chivalry the knights’ code of honor

guild a group of people with the same occupation

The Manor System

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What role did the manor system play in the economic structure of Europe during the Middle Ages?

As you have read, warfare and political disorder characterized much of Europe during the Middle Ages. In the absence of strong central governments, Europe became little more than a series of kingdoms and lands held by high-ranking nobles. In such a setting, there was little trade or commercial interaction. Instead, the lands held by the nobles became the center of most economic activity.

The Role of the Manor The main part of a noble’s land was called a manor. The center of a manor was the house where the lord and his family lived. Often the manor house was a fortified building or castle. Surrounding the manor house was the lord’s estate. Much of the estate consisted of farmland. 

Manor Life and the Economy As Lesson 1 explained, peasants called serfs lived and worked on the manor. The serfs farmed the land, which formed the economic basis of the manor system. Serfs were said to be “bound to the soil.” This meant that they were considered part of the property. They remained on the land if a new lord acquired it. Feudalism and manor life had a powerful effect on the medieval European economy. The land on a manor supplied residents with most of the things they needed. As a result, most activity—from farming to woodworking to wine making—took place on the manor. Manors became worlds unto themselves, and few people ever left the property.

Geography and the Manor System The geography of Europe played a key role in the development of self-contained manors. Plenty of rainfall and mild temperatures created good conditions for farming. In addition, numerous streams and lakes offered fresh water and fish. In short, the land provided nearly everything the manor needed. Such a way of life could not develop in other places.

For example, the Arabian peninsula had a hot, dry climate that did not support agriculture. Shown here is a chart comparing the farmable land in four present-day and similarly-sized countries, two in Europe and two in drier regions.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION  What role did the manor system play in the economic structure of Europe during the Middle Ages? Manors became  of most economic activity, as residents obtained much of what they needed from the land.

REVIEW Why did residents of the manor rarely have to leave? The on the manor supplied them with much of what they needed to live.

The Age of Chivalry

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What was chivalry?

As you learned in Lesson 1, knights were often vassals, or lesser nobles, who fought on behalf of lords in return for land. During the Middle Ages, conflict often broke out between various lords. Many times, they settled a quarrel simply by attacking each other. To do their fighting, lords relied on knights, who were skilled horse riders and fighters. 

Knighthood and Chivalry Knights were not merely professional fighters. They were expected to live by a code of honor known as chivalry chivalry. They had to demonstrate a strong religious faith and a willingness to defend the Catholic Church. They were also expected to protect women and the weak. In addition, knights were supposed to fight against injustice and show courage in every battle they fought. The battles that knights and other warriors fought ranged from bloody open field skirmishes to grueling attacks on castles.  

To capture a castle, lords and knights used weapons such as battering rams and catapults. Often an attacking force put a castle under siege. During a siege, an army tries to prevent food or supplies from entering a castle. Its goal was to slowly starve the people inside and force them to surrender. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What was chivalry? a code of that knights were expected to follow

REVIEW How was a knight expected to act under the honor code of chivalry? He  had to demonstrate , loyalty, a devotion to the Catholic church and a willingness to the weak. 


The Growth of Towns

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What was town life like during the Middle Ages?

Around A.D. A.D. 1000, town life began to return to Europe. This was due in large part to the fact that a number of lords became increasingly powerful. They brought peace and stability to numerous regions. As a result, people felt more safe and secure. Merchants began to travel more freely and trade their goods. Wherever merchants settled, builders and other tradespeople gathered around them.

Town Life Most medieval towns were dirty, cramped, and busy places. In the center of town were the market square and a cathedral. The streets were narrow, filthy, and usually not paved. After a rain, streets turned to mud that was often knee-deep. Most of the houses were made out of wood and easily caught fire. As a result, entire towns often burned down. In France, between 1200 and 1225, the city of Rouen burned down six times!

The Guilds In towns, people with the same occupation formed groups called guilds. Many guilds were formed by tradespeople, such as goldsmiths, bakers, weavers, and dyers. Guilds made rules that controlled the quantity and quality of production. The guilds watched out for their members and worked to make sure everyone found employment.

The formation of the guilds was one of the many unique aspects of life in Medieval Europe. However, a feudal society developed thousands of miles away in Japan that showed both similarities and differences to the way of life in Europe.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What was town life like during the Middle Ages? People lived in cramped and conditions and dealt with streets and the threat of fire.

REVIEW What led to the growth of towns in Medieval Europe? A growing number of lords became more powerful and brought to larger regions.

Knight in Shining Armor

"Blade with whom I have lived, blade with whom I now die. 
Serve right and justice one last time. 
Seek one last heart of evil, still one last life of pain. 
Cut well old friend, and then... farewell."

— Sir Orrin Neville-SmytheThe Flight of Dragons

Click in the video below to see an actual fight between 2 knights.  Warning, graphic violence, not for the faint of heart.




Lesson Summary

• The manor system shaped the economy in feudal Europe.

• During an age marked by warfare and fighting, knights became a highly valued group in society.

• As warfare declined and trade increased, town life reappeared during the Middle Ages.

Why It Matters Now . . . Today people who share an occupation often form groups known as unions. Unions help their members gain better wages and working conditions.

Terms and Names Quiz

  • a main part of a noble’s land
  • a vassal or a lesser noble who fought on behalf of his lord in return for land
  • the knights’ code of honor
  • a group of people with the same occupation