Medieval Serf

Medieval Serf Graphic

Medieval serfs were peasants who worked on a lord’s land and paid him certain dues in return for the possession (not the ownership) of the land. The dues were usually in the form of labour on the lord’s land.

The feudal land controlled by a lord was commonly called a manor estate, the lord lived on the estate in a grand ‘manor house’ and was known as the ‘Lord of the Manor’.

Grand Manor House *Lord of the Manor

Grand Manor House *Lord of the Manor

Medieval Serfs were expected to work for approximately 3 days each week on the lord’s land and bound to work on a certain estate, and thus attached to the soil, and sold with it into the service of whoever purchases the land.

The Serf was a very important class of labourer and the most common person in the population of medieval times, and thus the most common peasant. Serfs were included in the lesser category of labourers and farmers.

As a result of their lack of education and standing in society, medieval Peasant families usually became trapped in the medieval peasantry category.

Medieval Serfdom Reeve and Serfs

Medieval Serfs under the Watch of a Reeve

Definition of a Serf

A medieval serf was a labourer or a farmer who did not own any land of his own. Thus he had to work on the land of the nobles for which he was paid wages. These wages were usually meager but provided for sufficient sustenance.

Medieval Lord *Master of the Medieval Serf

Medieval Lord *Master of the Medieval Serf

The lord of the manor had certain rights over a medieval serf and as well as other small landowners such as the right of the jurisdiction where he would decide disputes and the rights of hunting for example.

If they wanted to leave the manor or get married, they could only do so if they got authorisation from the Lord of the Manor. When the estate was sold, a medieval serf would also be sold with the estate and the serf would then belong to the new lord.

Medieval Serf in Fields

Medieval Serf *Sowing Seeds in Ploughed Field

Medieval Serf Working Life

The daily life of a medieval serf was quite hard. They commonly had to work for three days every week on the land of their master and usually did ploughing and harvesting.

Serfs and Serfdom

Medieval serfs worked on a wide range of jobs around the manor estate, they worked very hard often together in the fields and provided all the essentials needed for daily life such as firewood, food, clothes, etc.

Medieval Windmill

Medieval Windmill

In certain cases, a medieval serf had to make payments to the lord in the form of grain, eggs, honey, and such. For instance, he would pay a small amount of wheat to use his master’s mill for grinding.

Quern Stone used by a medieval miller

Quern Stone *Grindstone used to Grind Wheat

How did a Serf Make a Living?

The chief source of income of a medieval serf was the money that his master gave him. This was a reward for his work on the land of the master, although it was quite meager.

Sometimes, he would get assistance in the form of grain, wheat, or food but this was not very often and he had to live his life on a very small income.

Medieval Food

Medieval Serf Home Life

A serf usually lived in a cruck house. These were small houses made of wood and plastered with daub and wattle. A wooden frame formed the main structure of these houses, other common materials included, twigs, straw, and mud.

These houses had thatched roofs and little furniture, commonly they would have a fire located in the center of the room for cooking and heating, and a hole was made in the straw roof to let out the smoke.

Wattle and Daub House of Medieval Serf

Wattle and Daub House

There was hardly any protection against the cold in the winter and it was common for whole families to live in a single room.

Wattle and Daub House Interior Serf

Wattle and Daub House Interior

Status in Medieval Society

The status of a medieval serf in medieval society was at the lowest rung of society only slaves were of a lower standing, and a serf did not commonly own any land and did not enjoy any social prestige.

Feudal System Cartoon

A serf could be sold, along with the land, to some other master without any consent. Thus the status of a medieval serf in medieval society was hardly more than a slave.

However serfs were allocated small landholdings where they could work and were able to buy their freedom if they were able to save enough money, one of the greatest achievements of a Serf was to become a Freeman.

A Medieval Peasant Family of Farmers

Sometimes if a serf stayed in favour with his Lord and worked his land well could inherit the use of their smallholding of land which could be passed down to sons and daughters, however, they would not own the land but would have the rights to work the land.

Medieval Serf Clothes

The clothing of a medieval serf consisted of a blouse of cloth or even skin which was fastened round the waist by a leather belt. He also used woolen trousers with large boots. Sometimes he also wore an overcoat made of thick wool.

Medieval Peasants Clothes

Peasants Costume Labelled

Medieval Serfs Summary

The life of a medieval serf during medieval times was quite pitiable and he did not enjoy any social status of note.

Medieval Peasants Baking

He also did not own any land and instead worked on the land of his master who paid him a small amount of money for his services. He lived in a small house made of wood, twigs, and mud and had a very hard life.

Serfs were low-level peasants who were commonly agricultural labourers

Serfs were usually uneducated and therefore were not able to gain higher status

Serfs worked on the land of the master ‘Lord of the Manor’

The poor serf commonly did not own any land of his own

Serfs were commonly ‘tied to the land’ and would be sold with it