Monday, July 23, 2012

Profession Digression: the Medieval Village

I promised to perform the Profession Digression over the weekend, so I have been compiling a list of professions that are suited to towns and villages of the medieval type. This can be helpful in a number of ways; I myself find that I tend to make places too "sleepy" as it were, without even the requisite amount of excitement. The thing to remember is that these places, while they may seem sleepy to outsiders, are never simply boring lumps or bypassable dots on the map to the people who live there. It's always the human drama which allows you to bring that out.


Farmer, free. Free farmers are probably going to compose the bulk of the people in your town or village. They own their own land (or rent it) and owe only a few hours a week's work on their lord's land. Generally they bake their own bread in the communal oven (bannum) and grind their grain in the communal mill. They pay a fee to do both of these things, which can lead to some resentment over their lord's control.

Farmer, servile. These farmers don't own their own land. They work as part of a lord's estate and generally do not have as much time to farm the regions they are given as part of their agreement with the lord. They do much more work on the lord's land than free farmers. However, the lord is also required to provide them with food and ale semi-regularly and servile farmers can actually wind up being better off than their free counterparts.

Cotter. Cotters don't belong to the town proper. They're traveling vagabonds who come in during harvest or sewing time and work in exchange for some beer and some bread and maybe a place to stay. They are generally disliked but tolerated, as they provide a source of cheap labor. If a murder occurs in a town during a time when there are cotters present, they are the first to be suspect.

Alewife. Most wives are alewives in small towns. It is only when you start to get to a village which is a little larger that you need women who take care to make ale and increase their reputation to the point where a farmer's house can become a "public house," i.e. a sort of bar that only opens when the ale is brewed. This is in direct contrast to a building that is always serving ale and beer (such as an inn or tavern) but can serve in towns that are too small to play host to those kinds of establishments.

Ale-connor. Like the Ale-connors of Heimir, these folks check the quality of beer in towns and villages and make certain that it isn't being watered down and that the proper taxes are being paid when someone holds a public house.

Hayward. Usually a young man (little boy Blue from the nursery rhyme was a hayward) this position exists to ensure that cows don't enter the fields or wander off the meadow. Literally someone who watches the hay, the hayward can generally be found engaged in some licentious scandal with a milk-maid or other farm-hand.

Servant. Sometimes free or servile farmers get wealthy and own (or rent, or have been given) large estates that they in turn rent to others. Sometimes the village has a wealthy luxury worker in it, such as a goldsmith (see below). These people need servants, who they hire on and allow to live in their houses. Servants generally make a small amount of money weekly and serve the household in much the same way that a Roman slave would have.

Blacksmith. Every town needs a blacksmith to shoe horses and repair plows. The blacksmith generally has a fair amount of wealth due to his universally needed skills and may expect to be in high demand for his entire life.

Miller. Everyone hates the miller. This is the man (and his family) appointed by the lord to run the lord's mill, which everyone in town must use to grind their corn (grain). No one is allowed to have their own querns or mill outside of the lord's monopoly, so the miller gets a fee (in grain) from every single farmer in the town or village. He is constantly under suspicion of cutting grain with sawdust or cheating the farmers in some way.

Goldsmith. A luxury worker, goldsmiths can only flourish in a town where there are a large number of merchants and/or nobility. Perhaps a nearby temple helps support him, or a monastery which can afford to pay for such luxury. Either way, the goldsmith is a high-prestige position not normally found in the small towns and villages but semi-common in large ones.

Tanner. Many farmers make their own leather on their land, but in some cases when a village gets large enough a dedicated leatherworks springs up to help cover the need to make large amounts of leather goods. Tanners are generally in ill-health as the chemical combination of cow piss and tannin that cures leather is deadly. The servants and tannery workers usually have a very low life expectancy and tanneries must be constructed far from the rest of the town due to their stink and the fact that they poison any water which passes through them.

Merchants. Merchants require at least a medium-sized village to begin settling there, but can often be found in medium-sized villages. Indeed, if a town or village has a market, at least a few merchants will reside there to make use of the marketing days authorized by the local lord or king.

Reeve/Baliff. We've spoken of reeves before, but to repeat what they do: they are selected by the lord (who may not, in fact probably does not reside in the village) to act as his proxy. They can detain criminals and hold them for trial by their lords, they ensure that proper taxes (in kind; grains, etc.)

The Lord. Your local lord. He may reside in the current village (but probably does not). He may have a manor nearby where he can reside if he needs to visit the region. He may be very powerful, or he may be relatively weak (in terms of the men he can call up). You probably won't ever see the lord of the village in your ever day affairs barring a festival day.

Knights. There may be some farms who's rent is owed to knights nearby. Generally, these would be rented to farmers (both servile and free, based on the region) who are responsible for the upkeep and rents and in that way support the knight while he is performing military duties abroad.

This list is clearly incomplete, but my time is growing short, so I shall add more to this list later on for your perusal and enjoyment.

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