The majority of Germans in 1500 were peasants who did not own their own land.[i] Many of these peasants lived liked slaves and worked on property owned by lords. They were called villeins. They were not allowed to leave without the lord’s permission and earned barely enough to feed themselves and their families. Some peasants simply paid rent on land they farmed, but these were not much better off than the villeins. Few owned their own land.
What kind of houses did peasants live in?
- One room
- Wood building with mud-fill between the cracks
- Thatched roof made of straw
What was in a peasant’s house?
- Livestock: chickens, maybe a couple of pigs and a cow
- A wooden table, a box for storage, stools
- One straw mattress
- A loom for making cloth
How peasants were kept poor.
Peasants worked long hours, serving the lord on whose land they lived and growing food to feed their own families. They paid taxes to their lord and paid tithe (10% of all earnings) to the church, as well as paying for services like weddings and funerals.
In addition, peasants faced many hardships that kept them in poverty. These included:
- Sickness: The bubonic plague often swept through villages, killing many
- Crop problems caused by flooding, drought, early frost
- War: peasants had to go to war with their lords; crops were sometimes burned by enemies
Relief from poverty
There were also happy times in peasants’ lives, that helped them to forget about their difficulties for a while. These included:
- Holy days which amounted to about 100 days each year when peasants didn’t have to work
- Some sports, such as an early form of football or soccer
- Dancing and singing