The peasant’s wife

The peasant’s wife had a pretty hard life. In addition to helping with a lot of field work as needed, she did a lot of everything else.

Her most likely cause of death by accident was to fall into the local well, which was usually a poorly-marked hole in the ground. Lining wells with stone came later. She had to stand on the edge and haul a bucket up, and it was very easy to slip. If not a well, then a riverbank.

Half-wild pigs wandered in and out of her yard and even her hut. She probably shared living space with their ox and dairy sheep. Her heating came from a central fire pit; chimneys were invented in castles in the medieval period, but it was a long time till they came to peasants. She did her sewing and spinning outside to have adequate light; rainy days were dim and smoky. Her only light, after dark, was a long splinter of wood dipped in lard; it burned for 20 minutes at most.

She had no real child care help, and it was difficult to keep children even slightly clean. They did have soap; they didn’t have time and leisure to use it. Gardening, animal care, direct child care, spinning, weaving, sewing, brewing and getting wood and water took up all of her hours.

Sanitation was, at best, a wattle hut around a latrine hole with a wooden or wattle seat. Wattle, something like wicker, was the poor man’s building material. Slabs of wood were just too expensive; poor men could keep some tree stumps sprouting shoots so that they could replace worn wattle when needed. The hut was wattle and daub (clay); their two-wheeled cart, if they had one, had wattle sides.

Cheap leather for shoes was costly enough for peasants, so they kept their one pair of moccasins out of the muck and went barefoot where possible. Socks were strips of torn linen, wound around the leg and tied. The wife’s wool gown tended to be short in the skirt. Her only coat was a cloak or shawl.

Her only annual fun came at peasant festivals like May Day and the harvest feast that every feudal lord had to provide. These traditions loomed large in her life and remained unchanged for years after the cities had forgotten.

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