A Medieval yeoman was of an intermediate social status in medieval Europe. It was a social status that was higher than the lower-class foot soldiers and peasantry, but lower than the nobility and knights. A yeoman typically possessed land, owned arms and took part in fighting on behalf of his lord. The term Yeoman was also variously applied to minor officers, private soldiers, agents attendant on the crown and other persons closely associated with the nobility, although not directly a part of it. Yeoman not only served directly under the nobility and the Crown as guards, they were also tasked with several civic positions throughout the Kingdom. Over time, the Yeomen rose to a level on par with landed gentry, in terms of wealth and influence.
Medieval Yeoman in Military
One of the most certain estimates of the medieval yeoman comes from his status in the fighting hierarchy. A yeoman was typically armed with decent weapons and although he wasn’t on par with knights riding on horseback, he was considered above the foot-soldiers. A medieval yeoman was expected to be adept in using a bow and arrow, and often carried a sword which he could wield well. Apart from frequently accompanying lords to any wars that had to be fought, another major function of yeomen was to guard the house of their lord. This duty was frequently performed if the lord was away on a campaign and his castle or home had to be protected.
Yeoman as a landowner
The key trait which qualified a person as a yeoman in medieval Europe was whether or not he owned land. If a person didn’t hail from the nobility and didn’t own significant land, he was considered a part of the peasantry. If a person wasn’t a part of the nobility but owned a sizable amount of land, he was considered a yeoman. The yeomen class was distinct from the landed gentry and burgesses. Yeoman, towards the late medieval ages, could own as much as 100 acres of land and often more. Because of their relative affluence, yeomen would often come at part with the landed gentry in terms of wealth.
Yeomen of the Crown
Yeomen of the Crown were directly appointed under the King. These were non-noble personnel who were in the service of the King and were tasked by the King to perform different jobs. Because of their association with the Crown, these yeomen were honoured at the houses of the lords. They sat and dined with knights and squires and their career was considered a lucrative medieval job for someone of non-noble origins. At retirement, the yeoman of the Crown was given a post-retirement privilege, such as the stewardship of a specific forest or land originally owned by the Crown.
Yeoman as civil servant
Medieval yeomen also served in a number of civic positions, which may make them an early form of civil servant. They acted as constables, churchwardens, bailiffs for the High Sheriff, chief constables of the direct and often, overseer of the parish. The yeomen were appointed to these jobs directly by a lord, a member of the nobility or the Crown itself. Because of this, their positions carried a certain authority, especially over peasants and the commoners.
In some cases, the position of a yeoman was inherited from one generation to the other. For instance, in the role of constables and bailiffs, many yeomen passed down their position to their sons who in turn became constables and bailiffs. This was legally permitted and the corresponding lord or the noble overlooking the yeoman’s position often allowed such hereditary transition.Yeoman as a landowner
Franklins as Yeomen
Franklins were a sizable class in medieval French who were wealthy landowners. They were originally peasants who had rose through the ranks with the acquisition of the land. Significantly important positions such as village mayors, constables and aldermen were occupied by franklins. The franklins essentially comprised the same class which was categorised as yeomen elsewhere in Europe. They held a lot of authority and influence, especially in areas which were remote from the influence of landed gentry or directly controlled by the nobility.
Yeomen of the Guard
Yeomen of the Guard are a sort of personal bodyguard for the British King or Queen. They were first instituted by King Henry VII in the 15th century just before the Battle of Bosworth and continue to exist down to this day. Originally, the Yeoman of the Guard were meant to protect the reigning monarch but their present-day position is entirely ceremonial.
Yeomen as guards for the nobility
Yeomen served as guards and protectors of the nobility in various roles. They looked after the houses of the nobility and the royalty, and also looked after the supply of food and other goods, especially when an expedition was carried out. During the delivery of supplies as ordered by the lord, the yeomen accompanied and protected the baggage train. When the members of the nobility were on the road for a long journey or on their way to a pilgrimage, the yeomen often escorted them and served as their personal guards.
Medieval Yeoman Summary
The Medieval yeoman was a large social class of such peasants who rose in social influence through the acquisition of large tracts of land. Typically, a yeoman owned at least 100 acres or more of land. The yeomen were appointed on a number of important positions throughout the realm. They closely associated with the nobility and served as their personal guards and protectors. The Crown directly appointed a number of yeoman for various jobs. These yeoman were highly honoured in the realm and sat with knights and pages at meals. In civil matters, yeomen were important figures and were tasked with many secondary-level administrative positions such as bailiffs, constables and churchwardens. Militarily, the yeomen were placed between the knights and the foot soldiers. They were expected to be good at archery and often carried swords and other weapons to the battlefield. King Henry VII instituted a royal Guard of yeomen, which was meant to serve as his personal bodyguards. This Guard continues to exist to this day.