Medieval England

Explore the Middle Ages...

Medieval Education and Professions

The country was largely agricultural and the majority of land was held by the Church, the Crown or Knights who were bequeathed titles. This land was then rented out, thus many people worked as tenant farmers or labourers. It was not easy to move up the social scale or change profession without money; trades were kept within families and apprenticeship were expensive. However, some tradesmen and merchants were able to live comfortably, marry well and improve their social standing.

Education was the preserve of the wealthy male or those who had entered religious life, although it was also possible for poor boys to be sponsored through the beneficence of a rich relation, friend or acquaintance. In return for such generosity, the benefactor would be helping to ensure their place in Heaven, plus they would guarantee loyalty from the student and their family. Men of the cloth were often employed as scribes for the wealthy illiterate, of which there were large numbers.

 

Reading and Writing

In Medieval England, most people were illiterate. This is why Church stain glass windows and wall paintings depict bible stories- it helped the congregation follow the biblical stories. If you were lucky enough to receive an education, however, then you would have learnt French and Latin, the language of the Court and the Church.

What is more, printing had not yet reached England, so books as we know them did not exist. Books were hand-made from manuscripts and hand-written by scribes in places such as St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. There was no paper, so vellum, an animal hide which was commonly calves skin, or parchment was used.

 

Religious Pilgrimage

England was Catholic and religion was prevalent in society. A pilgrimage was viewed as a way to atone for sins or ask for God’s hand in your misfortune through miracles and cures. Making the long, arduous, dangerous journey and offering sacrifices to God or the saints could absolve sins and generate God’s mercy.