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Medieval Farming

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Farming - Feudalism and Rural Life
The introduction of feudalism fostered the movement from town to country, for feudalism, rested on the soil as its basis. The lord, his family, his servants, and his retainers were supported by the income from landed property. The country estate of a lord was known as a manor.

Feudalism in England

Medieval Farming - The Manor
A manor varied in size, according to the wealth of its lord. In England perhaps six hundred acres represented the extent of an average estate. Every noble had at least one manor; great nobles might have several manors, usually scattered throughout the country; and even the king depended on his many manors for the food supply of the court. England, during the period following the Norman Conquest, contained more than nine thousand of these manorial estates.

Medieval Manors

Medieval Farming - Common Cultivation of the Arable Land
Of the arable land of the manor the lord reserved as much as he needed for his own use. The lord's land was called his "demesne," or domain. The rest of the land he allotted to the peasants who were his tenants. They cultivated their holdings in common. A peasant, instead of having his land in one compact mass, had it split up into a large number of small strips (usually about half an acre each) scattered over the manor, and separated, not by fences or hedges, but by banks of unploughed turf. The appearance of a manor, when under cultivation, has been likened to a vast checkerboard or a patchwork quilt. The reason for the intermixture of strips seems to have been to make sure that each peasant had a portion both of the good land and of the bad. It is obvious that this arrangement compelled all the peasants to labor according to a common plan. A man had to sow the same kinds of crops as his neighbors, and to till and reap them at the same time.

Medieval Farming - Farming Methods
Medieval Farming was very backward. Farmers did not know how to enrich the soil by the use of fertilizers or how to provide for a proper rotation of crops. Hence each year they cultivated only two-thirds of the land, letting the other third lie "fallow" (uncultivated), that it might recover its fertility. It is said that eight or nine bushels of grain represented the average yield of an acre. Farm animals were small, for scientific breeding had not yet begun. A full-grown ox reached a size scarcely larger than a calf of to-day, and the fleece of a sheep often weighed less than two ounces.

Medieval Farming - Three field system of Agriculture
Manor lands were therefore farmed using the three-field system of agriculture. One field was devoted to winter crops, another to summer crops, and a third lying fallow each year. The land was worked by peasants.

Medieval Farming - Farm Tools
Farm tools and implements were few and clumsy. The wooden ploughs only scratched the ground. Farrowing was done with a hand implement little better than a large rake. Grain was cut with a sickle, and grass was mown with a scythe. It took five men a day to reap and bind the harvest of two acres.

Medieval Farming - Common Land
Common Land - the common use of the non-arable land. Besides his holding of farm land, which in England averaged about thirty acres, each peasant had certain rights over the non-arable land of the manor. He could cut a limited amount of hay from the meadow. He could turn so many farm animals such as cattle, geese, and swine on the waste ground. He also enjoyed the privilege of taking so much wood from the forest for fuel and building purposes. A peasant's holding, which also included a house in the village, thus formed a complete self-sufficient unit.

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Medieval England

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