March 1, 2021 at 3:01 am #2269March 1, 2021 at 3:14 pm #2274
Neat! Medieval clothing is another fascinating subject. What do you think a typical medieval peasant or artisan would think of typical modern clothing?March 2, 2021 at 2:53 am #2276
Ooh, big question! I think late medieval people would have loved dyes from industrial chemistry (real black! cheap colourfast crimson and vermillion!) And they did wear some cotton, especially in the Mediterranean and in doublets / jacks. But I think they would have been shocked at people wearing cottong where its going to get rained on (wet cotton sucks heat out of you!), at the way polyester and nylon blends catch fire so easily and cling as they burn, and that everything is so insubstantial and won’t last a month of serious work. Also that you can’t look at someone and immediately see their nationality and their station. If Henry VIII could wear 11 1/2 ounces of gold just in the points of his better arming doublet in 1510/11, POTUS should be wearing at least a kilo of gold right? And then there are the the brocades and the furs and the broadcloth dyed in grain … And why are all the fancy people wearing black and brown and beige like a bunch of monks or Burgundians? Their hose don’t show off their legs properly either.
I’ll never forget wearing the first gown to the mid-shin of three broad yards of cloth and realizing that a winter coat can be warm and breathable not trap you in a sheath of sweat and leave your legs freezing.
March 2, 2021 at 4:28 pm #2282
- This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Philologus.
Just to make things complicated … Villani complains that in his visit to Tuscany, Kaiser Karl IV dressed in brown without any ornaments so he looked like a hermit (Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince p. 70).
According to the Journal de Jehan Aubrion, on 12 July 1479 Louis XI was going to mass:
Et avoit le ro vestus un gippon de rougue sattin, des chaulces de blan bocquassin, des grans houzel de magre bazenne, et une robe de tannelz jusques une palme ou environ desoure le genoux; et avoit ung bonnet rouset, et ung chappel de brun tanel.
And the king had dressed in a doublet of red satin, hose of white boccasino (a cotton or part-cotton fabric), big gaiters of a poor sheepskin, a robe of tan cloth up to a palm or thereabouts above the knees; and he had a russet bonnet, and a (felt) hat of brown tan cloth.
During the bad times on the Anglo-Scottish border from Edward I to Elizabeth I, we also hear about lords who spend all their money on strong houses and keeping as many armed retainers in porridge as they can.
But many medieval people got quite vocal about people under-dressing or over-dressing for their station.
March 2, 2021 at 7:38 pm #2284
- This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Philologus.
Yes I think the low thread count, cheap cloth, idiocracy style ad slogans, flimsy / poor fabrication standards, and lack of overall quality would be shocking to a mid-level peasant or artisan, let alone a noble or a patrician.
For that matter, a typical peasant in Germany / HRE in the 15th century owned at least a few acres of land, a middling (‘yokel’) standard was about 20 acres, a bauer had anywhere from 40-120 acres. How many Americans can say that today?
And a middling artisan in a Central European town owned his own workshop, tools, and had at least a few servants and apprentices. How many people meet that standard today?
No smart phones or internet though..March 2, 2021 at 7:45 pm #2285
Cotton was fairly commonplace by the 15th Century. Fustian, a cotton / linen hybrid fabric somewhat similar to Denim, was probably the main textile in production in a lot of South German towns.March 3, 2021 at 3:30 am #2286
Yes, logos would be a whole other topic! You wear a bourgeois hood in red and blue or a badge of a ragged staff to mark your membership in a community which watches each other’s backs. You wear a badge of San Rocco or an amulet set with genuine imitation amethysts to protect against terrible dangers like plague or drunkenness. You don’t wear BROADCLOTH OF BRUGES: IF YOU WANT THE BEST, ASK FLEMISH WEAVERS on your surcote because if its real Flemish broadcloth people will know.
Hans, I think people would be interested in some demographic estimates for one of the freer towns in the 15th century. My understanding is that you need several apprentices and journeymen and day labourers and carters for every master or yeoman … but if someone got into a good guild, they definitely had prospects of a comfortable life by the time they were 50 (or some travel and adventure if they decided to look for work somewhere less advanced or settle in a free city some lord with more land than money was founding).March 3, 2021 at 4:03 pm #2287
Yes I suspect we disagree on the demographics. But it’s a complex enough subject that you can support many different perspectives.
My main comment regarding your point about the ratio of ‘comfortable’ guild members vs. servants etc., is that while the ratio does vary substantially by town, in the larger towns in Central Europe about half of the population overall are servants or apprentices or day laborers of some kind, and about half are sufficiently well off as to be taxable.
Yeoman is an English term for a more well off peasantry to middling member of the country gentry. In England there was a very different pattern from Central Europe in that the country was relatively peaceful and (so long as you had a somewhat fortified estate) was considered generally safer and a better life than the cities, which tended to be dirty, crowded and subject to both internal unrest and sackings or crackdowns by princely or Royal authorities.
In Central Europe it was the opposite, the princes were comfortable enough but the lower to middle nobility, let alone the peasants, felt a great sense of unease and lack of security and comfort. The towns by contrast were fare better organized and the larger ones at least were comparatively safe. Even when Europe was devastated by horrific religious wars in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the larger towns offered the best hope of safety and security (unless they made the mistake of allowing “allied” troops to garrison within their walls).
Towns, as you may be aware, generally had a majority female population, and these people were the bulk of the servants – washer women, cooks and maids, wet nurses and so on. Even relatively poor families often had a servant. Male servants included guards, carters and porters, horse grooms, clerks and scribes (also sometimes a role women took on). Most day-laborers actually didn’t live in the towns, and often came in from the countryside.
The apprentices were almost always young, and as they aged they tended to move up in rank. Social mobility was fairly brisk. Towns had a much lower birth rate than the country, rarely achieving demographic replacement. Journeymen were kind of an estate of their own, and by definition were roaming around.
There is a lot of confusion about the role of apprentices and journeymen because of changes in their role in the Early modern and modern era (17th -18th Centuries, usually ending after the French revolution or Napoleonic Wars, but in some cases well into the 19th) particularly in places like England. By the 1750s, say, it wasn’t unusual for apprenticeships to last 10 years or longer, and journeymen might never acquire the title of master, or only in middle age.
In the medieval world, this was very unusual. Apprenticeships rarely lasted past the age of 16, typical duration was 2-3 years, sometimes up to 5, very rarely for highly elite crafts like goldsmithing maybe up to 7. Journeymen were expected to go on the ‘walz’, roaming around from town to town, typically for 1 year, sometimes up to 3. Part of the point of moving around was finding a niche. They cold also change specialization – a cutler or some other type of metalworker could be come a lockmaker or a clockmaker, or a gunsmith, for example, if they found the right opportunity on the road.
If you look at the craft guild alderman rolls for a town like Strasbourg or Augsburg, many of them were in their 30’s, a few in their 40’s. Older than that they tended to move on into the town council or back toward semi-retirement. Most retired by their 60’s. Militia obligation typically ended for the able-bodied at age 64.
Most artisans who lived long enough and didn’t get into serious legal trouble achieved master status and were able to set up a workshop in their 20’s. How soon they were making a good income depended greatly on the craft and the individual economy of the town, and the skill of the individual artisan. Also things like how industrious and helpful their family was. Did the wife help with the books and brew beer or run the storefront? Did the kids stay in the craft and help the dad out or move on to something else? Most master artisans had 1-2 apprentices and 1-2 journeymen, depending on the craft and the town. The numbers were strictly regulated. Journeymen had their own societies and social clubs and would routinely riot if pay and conditions were not sufficient. Often food was the major issue.
The really rich people in a town of course were the merchants, especially the long distance merchants. But compared to a typical 30 year old American in 2021 who has $80k in debt, and a median net worth (by household) of also about $80k in assets, the typical artisan who was usually debt free or carried very little debt, and owned their own workshop and a relatively small house (typically three stories – bottom for the workshop, 1st floor living space, top floor storage), tools, and inventory, had the right to vote directly on all major community decisions (like raising taxes, joining an alliance or going to war) I’d say they were doing better. Merchants of course, much better.
But no smart phones, washing machines or cars.
On the other hand, probably much nicer clothes. And all organic / better food.March 3, 2021 at 4:10 pm #2288
One of the things about living in the town, only people who could afford to be taxed were taxed, and most of the artisan and lower ranking merchant or professional estates lived in houses which had been paid for in previous generations. There were no ongoing rents. They did have to pay to enter the guild and some ongoing guild fees, as well as to buy armor and weapons for their role in the militia (and sometimes a horse, depending on their craft). But most of the rest of their spending was discretionary. Quite a bit on food, drink and clothing, raw materials for their workshop. And wax or lamp oil, and firewood or charcoal.
Peasants by contrast did have to pay some rent though depending on the region, it was usually low.March 3, 2021 at 7:21 pm #2289
Yes, I think part of it is me being focused in 14th century Italy, and you on the 15th and 16th centuries north of the Alps.
Without going on a deep dive into 15th and 16th century HRE urban history, I think the most useful thing I can say is … the people who live outside the boundaries of the town are people too. So are all the unmarried servants. The Burgers didn’t always acknowledge them as part of the community, but they were an essential part of the system which made the town work (just like the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia can’t survive without South Asian servants and workers and European and settler soldiers and technicians). Those clothes and dishes still needed to be washed, that firewood needed to be gathered and split, that trash and sewage needed to be cleared away. Only counting propertyowning Burger and their wives and children is like only counting the Spartiates when you talk about ancient Sparta.
There were quite a few guilds which relied on shops with many apprentices and journeymen. By definition, shop owners could only be a minority of craft workers in those guilds. IIRC you see this in the armour industry, guilds which focus on quantity allow bigger shops, towns which focus on individual clients allow smaller ones. This was why the Arti Maggiori of Florence stamped down so hard when the popolo minuto created real guilds with brawny arms, it threatened their ability to get rich running carding and weaving and shearing and dying shops and lending money to the poor.
Different kinds of landholding in late medieval and early modern Europe, and which are “private property” in the sense of US or Canadian law, is another big topic. There were a lot of prosperous farmers who leased etc. their land.
March 3, 2021 at 7:47 pm #2291
- This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Philologus.
Also, I agree that we have to be careful about calling medieval / early modern people ‘poor’ because their economies produced different things than ours. I like talking about societies which have a lot of ‘durable stuff’ per person and societies with less. There are reasons why late medieval peasants and artisans often took time off rather than work to get more of the simple goods they could buy, or why settlers in 17th and 18th century North America or the 20th century Pacific Islands often talked to the locals, looked at their life and the lives of the locals, and vanished one morning to join an indigenous community. Sometimes people would rather govern themselves, or have a good climate and time to hang around, than be in a place with lots of movable goods.
I get frustrated with the economists who invent numbers for world GDP before 1900 and declare that in the Olden Days everyone had a very low income. Their numbers are made up, and they don’t ask how much people today would pay for some of the things those ‘poor’ people took for granted.March 3, 2021 at 10:49 pm #2292
Yes, all fair points – and the precise guild politics and economic structure of each town could be radically different, even among the so-called guild towns.
Italy is different in some important ways, and the 14th Century is different. I am gradually acquiring a sense of it. We went to Sienna and Florence and a few other towns, and I saw the Artes still thriving in both marvelous places. But there are many differences, like the Italian towns had nobles in them and they were part of the family rivalries, which the German burghers derided as Hausmachtpolitik. I think maybe the German and Czech etc. burghers had more of a conscious sense of themselves as a separate estate outside of the feudal order.
I do think the non-citizens were people too, and mattered too, and so did the peasants. Some towns exploited the rural areas, Ulm and Bern come to mind, like forcing them to grow certain crops they wanted for their mills. And some of the Livonian towns. Though many others extended citizenship fairly far out into the countryside. Erfurt and the other towns of the Färberwaid paid the regional peasants very well for their woad, and they had a kind of symbiotic relationship with them. Strasbourg lent money to Alsatian peasants to set up vinyards so they could produce more wine. In Prussia and a lot of Poland, even the tiny market villages and the little cottage industry “towns” of less than 500 people (which often worked as sort of subcontractors for the “bigger”* cities) had a form of German town law, which extended to the Slavic, Prussian, and Kashubian residents and surrounding peasants, as well as the German speakers. The same was true for much of Swabia and the Rhineland, and parts of the northern fringe where the Hanse towns were.
For many of the servants, just being in the town gave them a much greater degree of safety. She wouldn’t have to worry so about the kind of arbitrary abuse of power or the violence of raids she might experience in the rural world. I have court records of a (quite lowly) bath-house attendant in Prague who won a court case against a squire who was backed up by a powerful noble, over someone else’s inheritance she didn’t even directly have to do with. There is another case in a little market town in the Tyrol where a woman, just the wife of a low-status artisan, was called a ‘hunden‘ by a visiting merchant, and she cut him with a knife. The court ruled in her favor and fined the man 6 groschen. In another case, a wealthy tavern owner was fined for yelling at and insulting two of his employees, a cook and a scullion. And this was a little town ruled over by an Abbot, but it still had a charter under town law, a variation on Litoměřice law. So he had to follow the rules.
By being in the town, that young scullion or cook might have an opportunity to get involved in some kind of business like brewing or peddling some kind of goods, or work in one of the many precursor ‘cottage industries’ such as spinning. Even if she never did advance herself much in life, there is a good chance that her kids, if she had any, could become apprentices and thereby move into the artisan or even the merchant estates.
Now the craft artisans could be oppressive to one another. Individual craft workshops were limited in how many apprentices or journeymen they could have but wealthy merchant artisans could contract out to dozens of poorer masters for a single contract or ongoing operation. The weavers in Augsburg was set up like that for example. Other towns were more egalitarian, with quite large middle classes of wealthier artisans, professionals, and lower ranking (local) merchants, based on the income levels I’ve seen – as much as 40%. That probably compares pretty well to the town where I live.
Peasants in the countryside also benefited from the towns quite a bit. Many towns like Nuremberg (and / or their citizens) had industrial operations like fulling mills, wire pulling and metal working mills, bloomery forges and so on scattered all over the countryside. The people (mostly men) who worked in these places were sometimes granted paleburgher status, meaning they could move into the town. And of course, many
This famous sketch by Dürer is a ‘Drahtziehmuehle’, a water powered wire puling mill, which Nuremberg set up about 30 miles outside of town. The finished spools of wire would be floated up the river to town where the skilled artisans could make armor, or clocks or whatever they were doing with it.
One of the biggest things, which I suspect was also true in Italian city states though I’m not certain, is that they had all that time off. Typical in German speaking or West-Slavic areas (Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, etc.) was 120 ‘Holy’ days per year. Even when they were working they got usually a day off plus half a day for the bath. Which is much better than workers in England or the US in much of the 19th Century, or today in places like Bangladesh.
*Caveat that a ‘big city’ in medieval Germany was about 30,000 souls, the biggest had maybe 50,000 at their zenith. So that’s another difference from places like Florence.March 3, 2021 at 10:51 pm #2294
So I don’t think the analogy of modern Saudi Arabia or Dubai is quite apt for 15th Century Central European towns. Maybe Venice or Genoa….March 4, 2021 at 12:26 am #2296
I think Christopher Dyer reckoned about 240 working days in a year for carpenters, thatchers, and other day labourers in late medieval England after allowing for sickness and holy days and family duties and rest (which is handy, because then an income in pennies per day is pounds per year!) But there were a significant population earning a pound English or so a year, just like there was a significant population with no change of clothing and one or two changes of underwear. At Pavia in 1525, the imperialists tried to make a night attack and decide that everyone would wear a shirt over their other kit so they could recognize each other, at which point one of the captains shifted uncomfortably and reminded the lords that some of the lads did not have a spare shirt and they made arrangements to use paper and tent canvas.
But yes, that narrative of continual progress, or something in the 18th or 19th century happening which is the cause of everything good and nothing bad, has a lot of problems.March 4, 2021 at 1:45 am #2297
England was an economic and cultural backwater in the middle ages. One of the biggest problems we have in understanding the medieval (and Early Modern) world is we see it so much through an English filter. I can’t speak to Pavia I don’t know what kind of troops you are referring to, maybe poor Spaniards from Estremadura?
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