Medieval and Early Modern Peasant Life: Changes, Continuities, and Differences Among European Peoples

[Source: Robert Fossier, Peasant Life in the Medieval West (Paysans d’Occident) Tr. Juliet Vale. N.Y.: Basil Blackwell, 1988]

Population--

England: based on William the Conqueror's census document, the "Domesday boke" (c. 1100):

                                        1,300,000 men

1348 poll tax just before plague, 3,800,000 men, or a 300% increase in 250 years

France: 1100, 6,200,000

1200: 9,000,000

1328:22,000,000

Italy: 1100:5,000,000

1300: 8,000,000

Germany: 1100: 4,000,000

1300: 9,000,000

Rural vs. Urban population:

Europe, 1300 2.5 million urban, 90% rural

6-7 towns @ >50,000

+30 towns @ 20-30,000

40 towns @ 10-20,000

100 towns @ 5-10,000 [12]

Population density:

England, Alsace and Lorraine, 12-15 /sq. km.

France and Italy, 20 / sq. km.

Central Europe, 8 / sq. km.

Scandanavia, 5 / sq. km. [13]

Peasant age at marriage (typical):

males, 25-27; females, 16 [20]

Birth control was a long breast feeding period (18-22 months for boys) which was the only thing which interrupted nearly continuous pregnancy if the woman was fertile [22]

Peasants' Access to Technology:

C13 spinning wheel introduced replacing spindle and binding women to cottage industries (immobile vs. spindle could be carried to fields and on the road) [Fossier 33]

canopy and flue replace open hearth, allowing fire for heat vs. animals c. 1340

Peasants' Diet:

laborers’ food intake c. 2700-3000 cal./day (vs. 1700 cal./day start of malnutrition) mostly lentils, beans, wheat, rye, vegetables, and "a startling volume of wine" (1 to 2 liters / day or about 1000 cal./day) [Fossier 80]

pigs the mainstay of the poor (everything consumed) vs. Cows only slaughtered at end of working life; large-scale sheep raising C13-14 in England where "large" herd is 30,000 animals vs. Castile where one hermandad (brotherhood) of shepherds had 1.5 million sheep in 1273, 3 million before 1350, and 5 million by 1450 [Fossier 118-9]

Peasants' Health:

lethal diseases before plague were cholera, "St. Anthony’s Fire" (ergotism, 1093-1109 in France), leprosy c. 3% of population at times; tuberculosis arrives 1320-40 ["little evidence of smallpox, cancer, or alcoholism" Fossier 84]