The Life of a Serf

Serfs rose with the first morning light to begin their long day. A typical breakfast may have included bread, an onion, a piece of cheese and some beer. Bread was the main ingredient of the medieval diet. The bread was hard, coarse and black. It was usually made with barley, millet and oats. Beer was the main beverage and all female serfs had to know the proper proportions of barley, water, yeast and hops in making beer. During a hard day of work in the field, the average serf may have drunk fifteen liters of beer, or even more.

Both male and female serfs worked in the fields, but females took care of most of the household chores. These included raising the children, milking the sheep (or cows), taking care of the chickens, shearing sheep, spinning wool, making clothing for the family, tending the garden, baking, preparing meals and preserving food. Women also managed the household economy. The family depended on the mother's wise management of food supplies to keep them fed from month to month and year to year.

The average peasant family lived in a windowless, one room house with a dirt floor. Furnishings usually included a fireplace for cooking, one or two beds, a table, several stools and a chest for storing clothes. Not surprisingly, these houses were dark, drafty, sooty and had leaky roofs. A shed was sometimes attached to the house. This served as a storage place for tools and a shelter for animals. Sometimes animals had the run of the house.

A typical noon meal consisted of stew made with cabbage, onions, peas and turnips, seasoned with a bone or perhaps a bit of meat.

Male serfs worked in the fields most of the time. However, they were obligated to work part of the time for the lord of the manor. The lord would have other work for the serfs besides field work. This might include taking care of the lord's animals, cutting down trees for firewood, digging a well, and constructing or maintaining the lord's buildings and roads.

The male peasant would return home at sundown, after putting in ten or twelve hours of hard physical labor. The evening meal, which would usually be leftovers from lunch, would then be eaten. Following that, the family would retire for the evening.

Although the life of a serf was mostly one of hard work, there was some time for entertainment. Loud and boisterous dances were held with the aid of much liquor.