During the middle ages, feudalism was the law based on the exchange of land for military services and labour. This structure offered the upper nobility class the ability to maintain control over the lower classes. The kings held this land by what they believed was “divine right”. The right to rule granted by God and then passed down through their families. Because the land they owned was so grand geographically and there was no quick way for communication, the king needed a way to maintain control, even if indirectly.
As a solution, he formed a contract with his barons, his direct underlings. The barons were given a large portion of land known as “fiefs or manors”. In turn, they had to pay “homage and fealty”; which meant money and military service provided by knights. Barons had the same problem as kings, the land was too large to govern, so they would subdivide their land into smaller fiefs and made binding contracts with knights. The land was granted in exchange for military service and protection. At the bottom of this social order was the common peasant or serf, who was left to labour the fields and harvest the crops.
In the middle ages, a serf could have a profession of a farmer or a craftsman by which he was trained by his parents or by an apprenticeship. The apprentice would live in the master’s house, usually ate with the master’s family, often wore clothes provided by the master and was subject to the master’s discipline. After 7 years of training, he was free to open his own shop as a journeyman and join a guild of his craft. Guilds were a very important part of medieval commerce. They were groups of men and women that joined to establish standard pricing and to determine what was considered a skill. So getting a job in a particular craft meant collaborating with the set rules governed by the guild, whether it be craftmanship or pricing. The word craftsmen and apprenticeship derive from the middle ages and are still used today in professions like plumbing, carpentry, and electricians. In order for a journeyman to create a masterpiece he had to undergo an evaluation before the order of the guild, only after their approval would he be entitled master craftsman.
The building of medieval cathedrals was probably the greatest achievement in human history. The intricate beauty and perfected geometry and detail could only take form from the dedication of highly trained individuals, only established master craftsmen were hired for such work. Undertaking the construction of a cathedral required selflessness, perseverance and the ability to embed beauty into its craft. Since most master craftsmen had to pass on their unfinished work to future generations because it would take anywhere from 100 to several hundreds of years to complete. Most never seeing the completion of their hard work. Side note, a great read to get you into this time frame is “Pillars of the Earth”, not intended to be read to children, mind you.
The medieval church dominated everybody’s life, from peasants to kings, they all believed that God, Heaven, and Hell existed. From the very earliest of ages, the people were taught that the only way they could get to heaven was if the Roman Catholic church let them. Everybody was terrified of hell, and the people would have been told of the sheer horrors awaiting them in hell in their weekly service they attended at church.
Peasants worked for free on church land and those working on their own land paid the church 10% of what they earned in a year through a tax called a tithe. As peasants had very little money, they could pay their tax in kind (seeds, equipment, livestock, etc). The church did not pay any taxes, hence why most churches were wealthier than kings. This sole fact allowed for the construction of cathedrals which undertook several centuries and a vast amount of money gathered from the local villagers to pay the many skilled master craftsmen who built them.