Medieval Villein


During medieval times, a medieval villein was a kind of tenant farmer whose status was somewhere between a free peasant and a slave. The Villein was the same as a medieval serf.

Medieval Villein

The status of a medieval villein changed somewhat over the course of centuries. However, what remained constant is the fact that a medieval villein worked on the land of the lord of the manor and his status was little more than a slave.

Medieval Vassals postion in the Feudal system

  • How was a Villein Defined?
  • What Work did a Villein Do?
  • Where did a Villein Live?
  • What Clothes did a Villein Wear?

Early Medieval Clothing French Peasants

Medieval Villein Definition

A medieval villein can be classified as a medieval peasant or more appropriately, a serf. Both serfs and villeins laboured on the land of their masters and could be sold to a new master along with the land.

Medieval Manor Estate in Medieval Period

Medieval Manor Estate

Villeins did not possess any land of their own and were thus dependent on their master for their sustenance. Thus a medieval villein was a peasant who did not own any land.

Medieval Villein Peasants

French Medieval Villein

Working Life of a Villein

Just like a medieval serf, a medieval villein was expected to work for at least three days on his master’s land. The most important duties of his life included harvesting and sowing, other than taking general care of the land.

Reeve and Serfs - Medieval Farming

Medieval Reeve Watching Villeins at Work

During the busy seasons, he would have to work extra and was compensated for his work with a small amount of money. But he also had to pay the lord of the manor in certain instances.

For instance, after grinding wheat in a lord’s mill, a medieval villein had to pay a certain amount of wheat as a charge.

Medieval Miller Using Medieval Mill With Overshoot Wheel

Medieval Miller Using Medieval Mill

Villein Home Life

A medieval villein lived in small homes made of wood, mud, and thatched roofs, this building technique was called wattle and daub.

Wattle and Daub House

Wattle and Daub House

These houses were not dependable protection against cold and rain but nonetheless acted as shelters for a medieval villein. Villeins’ lives were tough and they went about in rough clothes.

Feudal manor 1

The lord of the manor had a right to expel a medieval villein from the village which made his life more miserable.

How Poor was a Villein?

The Villein lived on whatever little he earned for his services on the land of his master. Considering that he did not own any land and could not indulge in any trade, he did not have any wealth.

Clothes of a Villein

The clothes of a medieval villein were similar to the clothes of a serf. A blouse of cloth or skin was the most common dress which was fastened with a belt around the waist.

A sheath or knife is usually hung at the belt for protection. Other components of a medieval villein’s clothing included woollen trousers, an overcoat of thick wool, and large boots.

Clothing of a Peasant Villein

Medieval Peasants Clothing

Villeins status in medieval times

A medieval villein did not enjoy any status of note in society. Along with medieval serfs, he was at the lowest rung of society without any wealth and any land of his own. Thus he did not possess any social role to speak of.

Where did a Villein live

Cruck houses were the common abode of a medieval villein. These were small houses with no protection against cold and rain. Sometimes whole families would live in a single large room.

During the night, even the domestic animals were brought inside for protection against beasts found in the forests.

A Medieval Manor

A manor in Medieval times listing all the buildings

Summary of a Medieval Villein

A medieval villein was a kind of medieval peasant who did not own any land of his own and had to till the land of his master for sustenance.

Villeins did not enjoy any worthwhile social status and could be sold like slaves to new masters along with the land.

  • Villeins lived in cruck houses and shared their houses with farm animals
  • The house (cruck) of a Villein was small and badly built from wattle and daub (twigs and mud)
Medieval Farming Crop rotation 3 fields

Medieval Manor

Villein was a term used in the feudal system to denote a peasant (tenant farmer) who was legally tied to a lord of the manor – a villein in gross – or in the case of a villein regardant to a manor.

Villeins occupied the social space between a free peasant (or “freeman”) and a slave. The majority of medieval European peasants were villeins. An alternative term is serf, despite this originating from the Latin servus, meaning “slave”. A villein was thus a bonded tenant, so he could not leave the land without the landowner’s consent.