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The Medieval era is so easily generalized into the three orders of those who fight, those who work, and those who pray, or even simply divided into the privileged and unprivileged.

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Ann McMillin History 27 Barbara Harris 1 November 2001 The Medieval era is so easily generalized into the three orders of those who fight, those who work, and those who pray, or even simply divided into the privileged and unprivileged. These distinctions are important, for the ability of the church and manor to influence a peasant's actions and to take a peasant's earnings was obviously a central component of a peasant's life. However, when peasants constituted such a sizable majority of the population (over 90 percent), it is also important to recognize the distinctions among them. Some peasants were free and some were serfs. Some peasants were well off and some were barely subsisting. Some peasants held manorial offices and some did not. Some peasant women lost their identity behind a husband and others maintained it by never marrying. In this sense, Judith M. Bennett's portrayal of peasant life in A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344 is a nuanced perspective. She not only analyzes the affect of the powerful institutions of church and manor on peasants, but she also recognizes that they were affected differently depending on their position within peasant society. ...read more.


Along the same lines, Cecilia's other actions or inactions can easily be misinterpreted without knowing her motivations. As stated earlier, peasants are often placed into one huge group because they are so economically and socially different from the clerical and manorial elite. The basis of this social stratification could be that all peasants are subject to the influence of the manorial lords and ladies and church clergy and must abide by their courts, taxes, and other customs. Bennett recognizes the power and influence of the manor and parish over the peasantry. "Well off within her community, Cecilia was just another peasant to the many different sorts of people who sought to profit from her life and labor," she writes (41). Cecilia, like all other peasants, had to pay rents and other taxes and had to complete her obligatory labor for the demesne. She also had to follow the customs and laws established by the manor and enforced by the manorial court, like all peasants. The church also influenced peasants equally in the sense that it influenced their beliefs, which in turn influenced their behavior. Peasants attended the rituals on various holy days throughout the year. ...read more.


However, marriage gave women "social approval and support; greater economic security; full independence from their parents; and the protection of husbands more publicly powerful than they," (125) and in this sense, it was a desirable position. When observing the variations based on economic welfare, social status, and gender in peasant society, it becomes harder to view peasants in one group. Although they were all part of a working class, their lives differed in considerable ways. Prior to reading Bennett's book, I was victim to stereotyping peasant society in medieval England into an uneducated mob, toiling under the hardships of a feudal hierarchy. Bennett's detailed description of the life of Cecilia Penifader and the village of Brigstock show that each peasant had a life of their own, complete with personal successes and failures. She provides more nuance than the traditional medieval historian, who often focuses on the monarch or church. While still emphasizing the significant control that the aristocratic elite and Catholic Church had on the peasantry, Bennett succeeds in describing how peasants could control their own lives through their relationships with kin and community. Cecilia Penifader might not be the average peasant, and Brigstock might not have been the average village, but by recognizing their distinctiveness Judith Bennett has shown me medieval society in an entirely new light. 1 McMillin ...read more.

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