What was medieval life like? What type of jobs did people have? Whether you’re just curious or researching your character for our festival, read about the townsfolk jobs.
- Bakers made and sold bread and other baked goods. They would also rent out their ovens to nobles who were required to provide public ovens for their serfs.
- Industry Connections: Cook, Millers, Farmers, Nobles, Potter, Merchants, Wenches, Chambermaids/servants, and Masons (stone oven).
- Butchers sell meat. They purchase an animal from the farmer (or noble who owns the animal), shepherds or hunters who then kill/butcher the animal (if necessary), clean it and sell the meat.
- Industry Connections: Hunters, Shepherds, Farmers, and Cooks
- A cook prepares meals and feasts (for special occasions). They would work for a wealthy or noble family.
- Industry Connections: Butchers, Bakers, Millers, Merchants, Farmers, Hunters, and Vintners
- The majority of serfs were Farmers who worked their master’s land. They would grow crops and be taken care of by the noble house they worked for. They were poor and didn’t really own anything themselves – it all belonged to the noble house they worked for.
- Industry Connections: Bakers, Butchers, Cooks, Thatchers, Stable hands, and Apothecaries.
- Hunters would catch wild animals using traps or shoot them with a bow and sell the carcass to butchers and tanners. Butchers would clean and sell the meat. Tanners would clean, treat, and sell the skin (hyde or leather).
- Note, hunting in the King’s forest without permission is illegal and therefore hunters are a highly suspicious occupation. Either you have to be royally designated or you might consider calling yourself a “butcher” in good company.
- Industry Connections: Butchers, Bowyers/Fletchers, and Tanners.
- Fishermen caught and sold fish. While the men were out in the boats, fishermen’s wives worked together to clean and sell the fish at the market.
- Industry Connections: Carpenter, Cooper, Merchants, Blacksmith (spears), Spinsters and weavers (for nets).
- Millers were people who worked in grain mills (which were generally owned by the local noble house). There was often a fee associated with using the mill (paid to the noble house). Millers turned grains like wheat into flour. The heads of the wheat would be ground into a powder using a quern stone – a stone wheel which rotates on a stone table. Millers could also double as bakers – renting the mill to make the flour and then baking it into bread.
- Industry Connections: Bakers, Masons, Wheelwrights, and Merchants
Vintners (Wine makers)
- Vintners make wine. They grow grapes which are harvested and collected in a wine press where the grapes are trampled until the juice comes out of them. The juice is then fermented in a cellar until it becomes wine.
- Industry Connections: Coopers, Farmers, and Merchants
- Carpenters build things out of wood such as tables and other furniture. They may also build houses inside a town which is surrounded by the more protective stone wall. Weapons of war, such as trebuchets, were also made of wood.
- Industry Connections: Masons, Thatchers, Guards, Fletchers/Bowyers, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, Spinsters, Tanners, Weavers, and Anyone else who uses wooden tools or wooden components.
- Masons build things out of stone such as castles or town walls.
- Industry Connections: Carpenters, Thatchers, Bakers and Millers.
- Thatchers build and repair roofs. Most roofs were ‘thatched’ meaning they were made of straw, reeds, and dried grasses. The thatcher would need to collect these materials and put them together to form a strong, water-proof barrier.
- Industry Connections: Masons, Carpenters, Millers, and Farmers.
- Blacksmiths are metal workers. They could make metal armour and weapons (see armourer) but would also make things townspeople could use – like horseshoes. Most blacksmiths would also be the local ferrier. They could also make household items.
- Industry Connections: Guards, Knights, Stable hands, Glaziers, Cooks, Wheelwrights, Coopers, and Merchant
Bowyer & Fletcher (Bow & Arrow makers)
- Bowyers and fletchers made bows and arrows for archers or hunters to use. Bows were made from wood and some kind of string which could be leather, animal sinew, or plant material.
- Industry connections: Tanner, Hunters, Butchers, Carpenter, and Guards (Archers)
Cooper (Barrel Maker)
- Coopers made barrels out of wood and iron. Barrels were used as containers for transporting goods such as wine, flour, fish, etc.
- Industry Connections: Blacksmiths, Merchants, Fishermen, Millers, Carpenters, Vinters, and Anyone else who used barrels.
Chandler (Candle Maker)
- Candlemakers kept villages and kingdoms lit. Candles were made out of animal fat or beeswax (which gave a better burn but was more expensive) by dipping the wick into the material repeatedly until it was thick enough.
- Industry Connections: Butchers, Hunters, Beekeepers (generally monks), Shepherds, and Weavers
Glazier (glass worker)
- Glaziers made stained glass windows for cathedrals and possibly houses of wealthy nobles. Glass needs to be carefully cut, ground, foiled and soldered into geometric patterns.
- Industry Connections: Clergy, possibly Nobles, Heralds, Masons, Carpenters, and Thatchers
- Locksmiths make and install locks.
- Industry Connections: Blacksmiths, Carpenters, Guards/Sheriff (although maybe not with Nottingham jail’s history of escapes).
- Potters made clay pots which could be used as cookware, vases, general containers, etc. They would collect clay from the soil around rivers or wetlands. The clay is then cleaned, shaped into vessels and carefully dried out so it doesn’t crack.
- Industry Connections: Cooks, Nobles, Bakers, and Merchants
- Wheelwrights made wheels out of wood. Wheels were used for carts and mills. Although they were made of wood (the word “wright” means “wooden _item_ maker”), there could be metal components either in the wheel or the machine the wheel was a part of.
- Industry Connections: Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Millers, Spinsters, Stable hands, Merchants and Anyone else who uses wooden wheels.
- A cobbler is a person who makes shoes. Shoes were generally made from leather.
- Industry Connections: Tanner, Merchants, and Anyone who wears shoes
- A dyer colours fabrics using dyes. Many of the ingredients used for dying could be gathered from the woods (e.g., certain roots could make a red dye or some plants for blues or greens). Some ingredients were harder to find and had to be purchased from merchants (importers) such as purple dye which was obtained from certain shells. The dyer would then sell the coloured fabric based on what colour it was and how bright the colour was (bright colours use more dye).
- Industry Connections: Weavers, Spinsters, Merchants (for dyes), Coopers, and Tailors
- Shepherds looked after sheep. Sheep would be sheared and their wool spun into yarn/ cloth by the spinster. When a sheep was old, they could be killed and sold to the butcher (for meat) and the tanner (for their skin).
- Industry Connections: Spinsters, Butchers, Tanners, Chandlers, Bowyers
- Spinsters spun wool into yarn. This was a job that a woman could do to earn a living if they didn’t have a man around who could provide for them. Spinsters used a spinning wheel to turn wool into yarn. The yarn could then be sold to a weaver (made into cloth) or could be knitted.
- Industry Connections: Weavers, Shepherds, Dyers, Tailors, and Merchants
- Tailors make and repair clothes.
- Industry Connections: Weavers, Spinsters, Tanners, Dyers, and Merchants
- Tanners make leather. They need to clean the fat and hair off of the hide with various tools then soak it in bark-water for about a year. The hide is then stretched on a rack to dry.
- Industry Connections: Cobblers, Scribes/Scholars/Heralds (for parchment), Blacksmiths, Bowyers, Carpenters, Stable hands (saddles), Hunters, Butchers, Tailors, Merchants, and Anyone else using leather
- Weavers make cloth. They use a loom to weave strands of yarn or string together and push them tight until they form a cloth. A derivative of this is a basket weaver who would weave reeds into baskets.
- Industry Connections: Spinsters, Merchants, Tailors, also Florists, Thatchers, and Millers for basket weavers.
Retail / Service
Florist (Flower Seller)
- Flower sellers were typically women who sold flowers in the street or marketplace. Flowers were kept in baskets.
- Industry Connections: Basket Weavers, and Merchants.
- Merchant is a catch-all term for someone who sells stuff. Generally you would have something semi-specific that you sell but it could be anything. What you sell determines how wealthy you are and what kind of connections you might have. In our festival, most of our merchants are importers – for example they may sell spices which would have come by ship from the Middle East.
- Industry Connections: depends on what you are selling. Example a spice merchant would know cooks, vinters, and bakers and a silk merchant would know tailors and dyers.
- In our festival, wenches work as barmaids in the Red Dragon Tavern and are named after flowers (e.g., Rose Taverner, Lilly, Lavender, etc).
- Industry Connections: Vintners, Bakers, Clients/bar patrons, Cooks, and Coopers
Assayer (Taste Tester)
- Assayers tested a Noble’s food for poison by tasting a little of it first. If they died, the Noble knew not to eat it.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, and Cooks
Chambermaid/ General Servant
- Chambermaids and servants helped their Noble with whatever they needed. Most jobs included cleaning, taking care of clothes, dumping the chamber pot, helping the Noble get dressed, have a bath, do their hair, etc.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Tailors, Potters, Bakers, Cooks, and Merchants.
- Stable hands helped in the stables with taking care of horses and equipment by ensuring harnesses, saddles and bridles were in working order, cleaning stalls, grooming horses, feeding horses, etc.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, Tanners, Millers and/or Thatchers (straw), and Farmers.
Military and Public Servants
- Guards protect the town by stopping crime and catching outlaws. Outlaws and the accused are held in jail until justice can be served.
- Industry Connections: Locksmiths, Carpenters, Fletchers, and Blacksmith
- Heralds act as messengers for Nobles. Since very few people could read, a herald would share the king’s (or noble’s) decrees verbally to the people including laws, holidays, and feasts. In the festival, our heralds keep time and direct the tournament (or at least tell us who’s fighting).
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Stable hands, Glazier, Tanners (parchment), and Clergy
- A soldier is a commoner who fights for their country. Most foot soldiers would be guards or watchmen unless the kingdom is at war.
- Industry Connections: see guard
- Tax collectors worked for the sheriff and collected the taxes due to the king. There were numerous types of taxes which could be collected. Taxes could be based on income, land, and there were numerous exemptions. They were not annual and could change at different times with the king’s mood. Tax collectors were not a well liked group.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Guards, and Sheriff
- Nobles needed to be able to read and write letters, act with diplomacy and understand basic maths to run the kingdom. Young leaders studied these things under tutors.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Clergy, and Heralds
- Watchmen are a subset of guards. They protect a town by keeping watch for any dangers approaching.
- Industry Connections: see guard
Actors and Storytellers
- Actors travelled in touring groups, putting on plays and improvised skits during festivals. They tended to arrive a few days before a show so they could listen to the town gossip and incorporate it into their scripts (which were often well known stories). Actors were not considered trustworthy by most people because they didn’t dress according to their rank. Storytellers who didn’t dress out of rank were more trustworthy.
- Industry Connections: No one! You are likely from out of town. You might know some wenches and heralds as these people will know the town gossip.
Fool / Jester
- Fools and jesters generally worked for a noble house, providing entertainment for locals with jokes and juggling. They were also the only people who could openly speak their mind to the king (under the guise of a joke).
- Industry Connections: Wenches & Taverner, Nobles, and everyone else!
- Minstrels were musicians of the court. They would compose ballads and sing tales to entertain people.
- Industry Connections: Wenches & Taverner, Nobles, and everyone else!
- Monks/ Nuns were men/ women of the church who had dedicated their lives to serving God. They did not own property and lived on the church premises. The church was the centre of life in the middle ages and actively served travellers, the sick and injured and any other people who could not go home. Monks and Nuns cared for these people.
- Industry Connections: everyone
- Monks and Nuns were encouraged to study God’s creation and were often scholars. Some notable monks include Geoffry Chauncer who wrote the Canterbury Tales and Gregor Mendel who discovered the principles of genetics using pea plants.
- Monks and Nuns were also taught to read and write so they could study scripture. This meant a lot of knowledge was held within the church.
Apothecary / Herbalist (Pharmacists)
- Apothecaries sold medicines to people and physicians. Most medicines were made from plants or derived from natural sources (e.g., yarrow and leeches).
- Industry Connections: Physicians, Farmers, Clergy, Florists, Merchants
- A barber would cut people’s hair and pull teeth if needed. Teeth pulling was often a spectacle to watch at fairs. Barbers also served as Surgeons and could perform amputations if needed.
- Industry Connections: Vinters, Blacksmiths, Physicians, and everyone else
Churgeon (Doctor or Physician)
- Churgeons tended to sick and injured patients.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Clergy, Apothecaries, and everyone else
- Midwives helped women deliver babies in their homes. Most townsfolk had friends and family members who would help with this but Nobles might hire a midwife to help.
- Industry Connections: Nobles, Vinters, Apothecaries, Physicians, and Clergy
Robin in the Hood Medieval Festival