The medieval period was an important time in European history. It was during this period that feudalism arose in Europe and became entrenched as new kingdoms and empires came into being.
It was also during this period that the foundations of the renaissance and the modern era of Europe were made. This was largely accomplished through the advances in various sciences made in the later medieval period.
The occupations of the medieval period were quite often different from those that exist today, although they were also related.
The Medieval period was dominated by the working of the land and revolved around the manor estates owned by the ‘Lord of the Manor in countryside estates.
Medieval craftsmen were skilled workers who made important products that were needed in medieval villages, towns, and cities and also for warfare. Craftsmen had to complete long apprenticeships, after which they became journeymen.
Craftsmen commonly joined a Guild and could become masters of their trade by completing a ‘masterpiece’ work that was accepted by the Guild as being worthy of a master craftsman.
In the medieval period, an artist was typically someone who would paint a likeness of a person. Artists usually worked in the service of famous and wealthy persons.
They would be commissioned to create portraits of such persons for which they were handsomely rewarded. Some like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were also commissioned to work on public works. A variety of materials and mediums were used by artists during the medieval era.
The carpenter and blacksmith were one of the most important occupations in the medieval period. Nearly all areas of life used iron and steel products and tools at the time. Such tools were used in warfare, farming, and a variety of other skilled occupations such as *Horse Shoes *Door Knockers *Metal Gates *Armour *Weapons *Tools *Torture Devices
A blacksmith would forge such tools in his workshop. In doing so, the smith used an anvil and a hammer to shape and forge various tools first melting into liquid form.
Bell Founders made bells of all types, bells were in high demand during medieval times for many buildings such as Churches and Clocktowers.
Specialist medieval craftsmen had to be very skilled to produce large quality bells that were cast in moulds. Bells also required fine tuning so that they would hit the correct pitch and harmonies required.
Like hats, belts were very popular in medieval times, belt makers were in demand to make a variety of belts for common people and nobility
Belt makers used a variety of cutting tools, skiving knives, and hole punches.
The Calimala were an elite guild of cloth finishers that were based in Florence in Italy which became a very powerful city under the ‘House of Medici’.
The Calimala imported woolen cloth from France and other regions and used highly skilled techniques in which the cloth was dyed, stretched, fulled, calendared, and finished.
Candlemakers were kept busy in medieval cities, towns, and villages as they offered an essential product to light medieval people’s homes and businesses.
Candles were primarily used for illumination during the medieval period. They would be used at homes, churches, outdoor feasts, and in greater abundance on special occasions.
A candlemaker was the one who made these candles. Although most towns had their own candlemakers, notable estates of noblemen retained their own candlemakers. These would be responsible for harvesting the wax from the bees and using it to create candles.
Carpenters created useful products out of wood. They were important during the medieval ages as many important objects such as utensils, furniture, wagons, building structures required wooden parts and frameworks
These were created by a carpenter who could earn a very good wage from his occupation. Some carpenters were permanently attached to a wealthy person such as a nobleman or a king. The more intricate a carpenter’s work was, the more highly it was rewarded.
Cabinet makers were carpenters who work in the specialism of making chests and trunks out of wood, they would have also made other products.
Cobblers made and repaired shoes for everyday medieval people. Wealthy Medieval people such as the Nobility had their own shoemakers called Cordwainer.
A Cordwainer made luxury shoes with various styles that were exclusive to the nobility.
Hats were very popular in medieval times and some form of headgear was worn by almost all people in medieval society. Various materials were used to make medieval hats, including wool, silk, linen, leather, cotton, etc.
Hatters were classed as skilled craftsmen and as such were part of a Guild
Tailors were also hired by nobility and rich merchants to make their clothes as well as medieval hats. Thus customized hats with elaborate styles could be ordered.
The common people and the peasantry, on the other hand, usually purchased ready-made hats or sometimes made them at home. Peasant women could sew and embroider them when required.
Moneyers during medieval times had the exclusive task of minting coins as per the instructions of the king. Sometimes they would remain idle in which case some of the moneyers worked with goldsmiths. During the late medieval times, the status of a moneyer was recognized as a respectable medieval Craftsman.
Coppers made barrels, wooden casks, and other similar containers. The Cooper was a very skilled and important craftsman in medieval times, Casks were in high demand to transport dry and wet products commonly food, but were difficult to produce and required considerable skill to make.
Some Coopers were directly employed by Breweries and made the Casks that were used to transport Ales and wines.
As artisans, goldsmiths enjoyed very significant prestige in medieval Europe. They typically worked not just on gold but also on silver and occasionally used gems in their works. In most major medieval European cities, goldsmiths organised as guilds that held significant sway and political power.
Given their affluence, goldsmiths also often acted as bankers since they had a ready stock of well-secured gold at most times.
A medieval Locksmith made various Locks and Keys. Locksmiths were in high demand during the medieval period creating many types of locks, the most popular of these was the fetterlock, which was used to secure livestock.
Medieval homes often had several locks on their doors especially if they were important buildings such as armories and treasuries that stored valuable items.
Medieval roofers used different materials to make and repair medieval buildings’ roofs, in earlier medieval periods the thatched roof (straw) was popular and needed a different skill set to later medieval roofing materials such as clay tiles, wooden shingles, and stone slabs.
These new roofing materials were introduced by law in the 13th Century as they were less likely to catch fire which helped to stop fires from spreading through medieval towns and cities which were mainly made of wood.
Stonemasons were involved in the building of stone medieval buildings and castles and creating fancy stoneworks for buildings and castles such as created gargoyles. A stonemason was a skilled craftsman who would break, cut, and carve stones to be used in buildings.
Most stonemasons organized together as guilds. A mason was hired to carve and place stones in structures such as castles and churches. A quality stonemason with finesse in work was highly sought after and could earn decent money.
Like Carpenters Stonemasons were highly skilled and very Important trades in medieval times.
Tanners use the skins and hides of animals to create leather products using a messy process called tanning, in a building called a tannery that is usually located on the outskirts of cities and towns due to the stench created by this process.
Tanners used a special process known as tanning to make leather products from animal skins such as
Tanning was a dirty, messy, and foul-smelling occupation that was often frowned upon by medieval people of higher status, however, the ancient art of tanning was very skilled, and as such tanners were classed as craftsmen and belonged to Guilds.
There were many types of weavers in medieval times who made a wide range of cloth products.
Medieval weavers made all kinds of items made from cloth such as clothing from materials such as wool, flax, hemp, and sometimes silk. Weavers were classed as urban craftsmen and had to become a member of a guild that established a standard of quality for the work they produced.
Medieval weavers often worked at Home and used two types of looms
A medieval wheelwright was in demand to make wheels for carriages and also repaired broken wheels, the name wheelwright means in Old English ‘Shaper of Wood’.
Carts of various types were in demand and carriages were popular modes of transport with wealthy medieval people such as Royals, Nobles, and wealthy merchants.
Armorers were part of a guild of master craftsmen who made body armour and shields for medieval knights and soldiers. Although an armorer was a type of blacksmith, he specifically focused on creating armor for the knights and noblemen who fought battles.
Suits of armor required a great degree of skill to create and were very expensive to buy, modern estimates consider a price of up to $100,000 to be accurate. Every suit of armor was designed to be specific to the dimensions and preferences of the individual wearer. So each suit was a unique project.
Blacksmiths made general products as well as armour and weapons, but as the medieval period progressed manufacturing processes became more advanced and complex, this gave rise to specialist smiths who worked only as ‘armorers’.
Armorers could also specialise in a certain part of body armour protection, there were armorers who just made helmets or shields for example.
Bowyers were specialist craftsmen who made Longbows which were used by Longbowmen (archers in medieval armies), they were in high demand during the many battles of the ‘Hundred Years War between England and France (Plantagenet Period)
This was the golden era of the English Longbowman who dominated the battlefield during the Battles of
Bowyers were master craftsmen and as such were members of a Guild.
The Bowyer commonly learned his ancient trade from his father, mastering the most important skill when making a longbow which was the bending called ’tillering’. The bending of a longbow needed to be very even, if the bow was not bent correctly it would simply snap when drawn.
Closely related to the craft of the bowyer was the art of arrow making which is far more complex than it may first appear. Fletchers were in high demand during the hundred years war between England and France (1337 – 1453) as they made the arrows used by the famous English longbowmen during the battles of *Crécy (1346) *Poitiers (1356) *Agincourt (1415)
Arrow makers sometimes made just the fletching of an arrow also called the ‘flight’, but also commonly made the whole arrow and Fletching.
Arrows were commonly under a yard long and made from lightweight woods such as
Feathers were ‘Fletched’ to the base of the Arrow commonly
A nock or groove was cut into the base of the arrow into which the bowstring was placed and this held the arrow in position.
The sword, a mystical weapon and favourite weapon of the gallant knight was made by a specialist smith called a ‘swordsmith’ or ‘bladesmith’.
Swordsmiths were very skilled craftsmen who were in demand throughout the medieval period and formed their own guilds.
Weapons makers were in a constant struggle against advancements made in armour design, as the medieval period progressed sword technology advanced and the use of tempered steel in sword manufacture became more common around the 10th century.
The swordsmith would heat blocks of iron in a furnace, this allowed the swordsmith to work the shape of the sword, it was then rapidly cooled in water ‘quenched’ which created a hardened and tempered steel.
The executioner would be given a warrant that authorized him to behead prisoners for very serious crimes such as treason. It was the executioner and his assistants that administered torture in the dungeons of the castle and he acted in an official capacity.
Castle Guards threw rocks, hot oil, and other projectiles from battlements at the top of the castle walls and towers onto besieging armies. Castle Guards may have been deployed as archers on the walls of the castle, commonly using crossbow weapons.
Castle Guards stationed around the Gatehouse poured boiling oil through murder holes at the castle’s gatehouse entrances and also used other weapons such as crossbows to protect these highly important areas of the castle.
In medieval Europe, a page or page boy was classed as being a young nobleman who left home at a very young age (around 7 years) to learn how to become a knight (assisting a Squire) in another royal or noble household.
Typical chores of a page included taking the lord’s messages to different other persons, tidying up the clothes and weapons of his lord, and serving the Lord in other ways such as by filling his wine cup at meals. Often the page was also required to aid the lord put on his armor and weaponry just ahead of a battle.
In the medieval period, a squire was someone who accompanied a knight as his shield and armor-bearer. Typically, a squire was a teenager and earned the title of Squire at the age of 14. He would then accompany the knight onto the battlefield, to prove his mettle and show his loyalty to the lord.
Before battles, the squire was also required to perform different tasks as his lord may require, such as readying the horse and preparing weapons.
Medieval knights and feudalism had a special relationship that was well-defined. Knights often worked for a high-ranking lord who may have granted them lands.
These lords in turn would work for the King or a higher-ranking noble and were responsible for providing their military services during battles.
There were many jobs in medieval Cities, Towns, and Villages that were neither classed as crafts, but could be considered skilled or unskilled.
A Baker was one of the most common occupations during the medieval period. A baker would bake and sell bread as well as other basic eatables made from flour.
In some parts of medieval Europe, bakers would sometime swindle the public by selling bread at a higher price. To counter this, kings would then promulgate decrees to punish such cheating.
The Butcher was one of the most important people in medieval times, depending on whether the butcher resided in a medieval village, town, or city he may have actually slaughtered the animal himself, prepared the meat, and sold it in his shop.
A miller was someone who ground up the grains to make flour. Farmers who would grow wheat and other grains brought them to the miller.
The miller then ground them up to make flour which was then turned into bread and other eatables. Mills powered by water flowing under a building were typically used. These comprised of horizontal and vertical grinding stones which crushed the grains by applying weight to them while rotating.
During the medieval period, Europe was largely feudal and relied heavily on agriculture. As a result, farming was the main occupation of a large percentage of the population.
Most of the farmers were essentially Serfs who worked on the land of the Lord of the Manor or tenants who would be given land by the local lord who originally owned it.
They would till and cultivate it, reap crops and keep a share of the profits while giving the rest to the Lord. Yet there were other farmers who privately owned land. The amount of land a person owned was often seen to define his prestige and standing.
Winemakers played an important role in medieval times as they produced the wine that was very popular, they would grow and harvest the grapes and produce the wine which was stored in casks made by a cooper.
A medieval court jester was a jester employed by the royal court for his performance and entertainment. This was a permanent position and the Court Jester had his own residence that was provided for him.
The medieval court jester could perform a variety of tricks other than telling jokes. For instance, his entertainment also included music, juggling, acting, clowning, etc
A minstrel was essentially a medieval musician. Minstrels could play a variety of instruments, sing poetry and songs, and typically travel around from one place to another.
Some were permanently retained by wealthy noblemen and kings so that they could play when required. Minstrels recorded and popularized the heroic deeds of the knights of the medieval period. They would sing these from tavern to tavern, playing a key role in preserving information about many important historic events.
Trouvère were poet-composers who were very similar to Troubadours, they composed and performed lyric poetry during the high medieval period.
Waits were very important during the medieval period and most cities and towns had a band of waits (Band of Musicians). Waits could be seen in most medieval towns and cities playing their instruments through the night and entertaining important visitors. These brightly dressed bands of musicians would play their music anywhere including outside medieval people’s homes.
As the medieval age progressed, the laws of the land became more important and clearly defined. There was a need for someone to be able to interpret and argue with these laws.
This is why a barrister enjoyed an important role in the later medieval period. Initially, local parish priests would serve as barristers but in time, a whole separate class of independently educated barristers came into being. They would be educated in the King’s law and settle legal disputes through arbitration.
Our thanks go out to The Nuremberg Twelve Brothers Foundation who have allowed us to use some of their images of various medieval people in their jobs and occupations – here is a link to their fantastic work