There is a whole lot of interest in what people did in the Middle Ages. What kinds of jobs did they have? What kind of work did they do? Some of this interest comes from the proliferation of Role Playing video games. In a lot of these games you can be a potter, blacksmith, Armorer, Miller and much more. It is quite fascinating and there actually were a whole lot of interesting jobs in the Middle Ages. I am going to give you a list of the more popular and well known ones. Then I am going to cover some that you might not know - and they are no less interesting. I also have a list of further reading at the bottom of this page.
The Four Orders of Society During the Middle Ages
Of course, when you say "Middle Ages" it covers a thousand years and things changed over these centuries but generally there were four different orders during the Middle Ages:
This article, for the most part covers the fourth category of Craftsmen and laborers.
Some of the well known Medieval Jobs
Lesser known but no less interesing Medieval Jobs
Guilds were a very important part of Medieval life and medieval jobs. They were bands of men and women that joined together for profit and mutual protection. Each guild revolved around a particular craft or the trade of a particular type of item. The Guilds established standards, set prices, and determined skills. A good example of this would be a merchant guild that dealt in wool.
Getting a job in a particular craft meant joining a guild and following the rules for craftsmanship and pricing. A young person could be given a job as an apprentice with a master craftsman. This wasn't a paid job however. It was often the case that the young persons family actually paid the master craftsman to take on the apprentice. After a period of time as an apprentice the young person could possibly be promoted to the position of journeyman. As a journeyman, he would now become an assistant to the master and get paid. He would learn the craft more fully. And eventually, if he had acquired the necessary skills, and had the money to pay his guild dues he could in turn become a master craftsman. This application to become a master craftsman often had some kind of a test where the journeyman would make something that showed he had fully mastered all aspects of the craft. This object was called a "Masterwork".
- There were basically two different types of guilds: The Merchant Guilds and the Crafts Guilds
Merchant Guilds: These were typically guilds of traders who were involved in the various aspects of trading items (commerce). They would typically purchase rights to trade from the king and would establish monopolies. they would set tolls and taxes on outsiders. Wool was one of the most vibrant types of merchant and a Merchant Wool Guild of a city or town would make rules that prevented outsiders from trading in wool. Some of the tasks of a merchant guild of this type would be to set the standards for weight of wool and the standards for price.
Craft Guilds: This type of guild is more well known in modern times and it is what we think of when we think of guilds. Craftsmen banded together to set prices and standards for their craft. They could be stone masons, blacksmiths, cooper or any of a wide variety of crafts where things were made.
The lives of Two Medieval Women - I take a look at two women from the period of time after the black plague and before the Renaissance where life and society, and the roles of men and women began to change and form into the precursors of modern life.
Some very interesting books:
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