If one reads history like Mel does, then it did surprise him that despite the improvement of labour rights over the last 150 years, we are all working harder than the serfs of the middle ages ever did!
Really you ask?
Well if you believe this report, you’d think that these poor serfs had it much better than the average office stiff/drone today! To think these near slaves have 150 days off in a year? And some of us work weekends these days? Because the article cited sources, it was the ever inquisitive Mel that did some researching into the history of the supposedly dreary lives of peasants 5-600 years ago. In the western European context (his favorite).
- Farming, as it still is today is intense, but usually only at field rotating, planting and harvesting. In between its like watching grass grow (literally). Yes this is simplifying it, but like herders the serfs watch their farms – to keep away pests etc. It is not back breaking planting throughout the whole year. Many a time it was spent drinking ale…Statistics are hard to get, but Mel found out that some monastery in England was giving their serfs a gallon of ale per day in the late 1300s according to historical records.Ok, shortage of clean drinking water was another reason…but still, ale?
- Serfs probably spent more time on other things such as maintaining their tools, homes etc. Which is actually not so far off from what farmers do today. And for the womenfolk, working on fabrics, housework etc while minding children. We know of some folks in the US (ladies) who quilt in the fallow months today (not medieval times).
- Sundays were definitely a day off – as serfs file off to church. If you look up the feast days of medieval England you will find 45 of them. Not sure if each and every one of those are days of revelry or rest. But they are days off the farm.
- Serfs had to work for their lords as part of the feudal contract (yep there’s one) and this could be 2-3 days in a week. But at the same time they also participated in the manorial lord’s activities such as feastings, joustings, hunting etc. Yes it would be callous to compare that to work vacations, but hey that’s a comparison!
- And serfs did also have rights – such as help from the lords during crop failures, a medieval sort of social security. Just like unemployment benefits. Who foots the bill? The manorial lord of course!
It is not a totally fair comparison, because today we have mostly 5-day work week. Which means 104 days of weekends + the paid vacations and public holidays.
With many now working long hours in the weekdays (12+ in many cases that we know of) and some hours over the weekend, we can safely say we might not have it that much better. Ignoring the threat of plagues and wars, materially yes but socially and leisurely perhaps not.
Would this convince you to be teleported back to medieval times as a serf?