The central unit of social life during medieval times was a medieval village. It had all the necessary ingredients of a self-sufficient social life, including places for work, socialization, religious rituals, and festivals.
Life inside a medieval village was so self-sufficient that it was rare for medieval people of the medieval village to venture out of it. Unlike modern life, socialization was very important during medieval times and people living in a medieval village depended on each other for protection and sustenance.
While there were peculiar differences according to the location and climate of a medieval village, the basic components of a medieval village remained similar.
The life of an individual in a medieval village was intertwined with the community. The bulk of the population consisted of peasants who either worked on the lands of the nobles or sometimes owned a small piece of land, the most common peasant was called a Serf who was not a freeman and tied to the land so that if the land was sold the Serf would be sold with it.
The common form of buildings in a medieval village were small houses with thatched roofs which were used as living places for common people. Houses were generally made of mud, stone, or wood which could be made available from the nearby forests. The technique of building houses from wood and mud was called ‘Wattle and Daub’.
Another essential building of a medieval village was the church which was the central place of congregation for the inhabitants of the village.
A blacksmith shop was also essential in a medieval village as it was the blacksmith who made things like nails, tools, armor, shields, and even church doors, etc. Other noteworthy buildings that could be found in a medieval village included a great hall, barn, and mill.
The medieval village was governed under the medieval feudal system and thus the running of a medieval village was closely linked with the relationship between Lords and the peasants such as villeins and serfs.
Peasants worked on the lands of the nobles and their sustenance depended on the grants offered by the nobles in various forms, including food and other provisions.
A lot depended on the whims of the lords who could destroy the lives of their peasants on petty pretexts. The nobles or the lords also had certain judicial and legal powers over the serfs or peasants. For instance, the disputes that arose in the jurisdiction of a certain noble could be decided by that noble with the disputants having no right to appeal except to the king himself.
Broadly speaking, there were two classes of medieval people inhabiting medieval villages. The first class was that of nobles who overlooked the affairs of the villages and the other class was that of commoners.
The class of commoners could be further subdivided into villeins, cottars, servants, and freemen.
Villeins were the people who did not own any land and tilled the land of the lords. They could be turned out of the village if the lord was not pleased and thus had very limited rights.
Cottars were individuals who had the land of their own but it was so small that they nonetheless had to work for the lords too. Then there were freemen who had land that was sufficient for their sustenance. They could also sell their land and move to a different manor. At the lowest end of this hierarchy were the servants who were used in the manor house by the lords and were provided food and lodgings for their services.
Medieval Villages were located close together in medieval times and the population of the average village could be between 50 and 100. It was very rare for the population to exceed 100, although it did happen sometimes. During medieval times, the greatest population density in medieval villages was in France which was about 100 people per square mile. France had a climate that was naturally suitable for agriculture and so the average population of its villages was higher.
In comparison to France, the average population density of a German medieval village was 90 people per square mile and that of a British village was a little more than 40 people per square mile. The main factor that decided the population density of a medieval village was if the climate was suitable for farming the arable land.
The community in a medieval village was called a manor which was commonly arranged along a single street with houses on both sides. Surrounding the manor were fields, pastures, and meadows and it was also common to build the community in a place that had a stream nearby as a source of water.
The large manor house was reserved for the lord of the community while the houses of common people were usually made of mud or stone.
Another common sight in the medieval village was a windmill whose purpose was to grind the corn.
The mill was owned by the lord while ordinary people could take their own corn to the mill for grinding for which they had to pay a certain amount of tribute. The tenth part of the total village produce was given to the church which was stored in the tithe barn. Some medieval villages also had dovecots to store pigeons as pigeon meat was eaten as a delicacy.
The distinguishing factor of a medieval village was its self-sufficiency. The needs of people mainly consisted of water, food, and clothing, all of which could be fulfilled with the village produce.
Wood for houses and furniture, on the other hand, was provided by the forest. Fax, wool, and leather were used to make clothes and the farm implements were manufactured at the village smithy. Trade and travel were uncertain and bore considerable expense which was generally out of reach of the villagers. Thus each medieval village acted as a self-sufficient unit of medieval life.