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Life in a Medieval Village

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  964 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
The reissue of Joseph and Frances Gies’s classic bestseller on life in medieval villages.

This new reissue of Life in a Medieval Village, by respected historians Joseph and Frances Gies, paints a lively, convincing portrait of rural people at work and at play in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the village of Elton, in the English East Midlands, the Gieses detail the agricultur
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 30th 1991 by Harper Perennial (first published December 20th 1989)
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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey ChaucerWorld Without End by Ken FollettBeowulf by Unknown
Best Middle Ages Books
101st out of 974 books — 1,196 voters
Life in a Medieval City by Frances GiesCathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel by Frances GiesThe Year 1000 by Robert LaceyLife in a Medieval Castle by Joseph GiesA Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman
Nonfiction: Daily Life in The Middle Ages
8th out of 165 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,190)
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Jason Koivu
Apr 01, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it it was amazing
Out of the three books in the Life in a... series by Gies, Life in a Medieval Village seems the most informed, as well as having been written with the most heart and love.

All three are collaborations between Frances and Joseph Gies, who wrote numerous books together as well as on their own about the Middle Ages period. ...Village came out in the 90s, while the other two in this particular series, ...City and ...Castle were published in the late 60s and early 70s respectively. They suffer in comp
Sep 15, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
This is more of a survey-level work than anything particularly in-depth, but that's pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Like most people who haven't spent a lot of time studying the period, my knowledge of medieval life is tainted with all kinds of bits picked up from popular culture. For me, it's the mishmash of modern and medieval from tabletop RPGs and video games that comes to mind, with taverns by the village green, suspiciously-clean peasants wandering around, and not enough attent ...more
Karen Brooks
Jun 12, 2011 Karen Brooks rated it liked it
This is the third book in the Gies' series on medieval life and I have to admit that while I really enjoyed aspects of it (learning the differences between a seneschal, reeve and bailiff, reading about the squabbles and offences that erupted between villagers and which make 'Neighbours', 'Eastenders','Bold and the Beautiful' etc. as well as 'Criminal Minds' seem tame and unimaginative! Also, the details on childbirth and the role of the parish was fascinating), but overall felt that compared to ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
Though the first couple chapters are a bit dry, bogged down with listings of facts and figures, the rest of the book is a highly informative and very readable treatment of life in the medieval open-village system of the High Middle Ages (the 12th - 14th centuries), focusing on the village of Aethelington, or Elton as it is modernly known, as a case in point. The Gieses, Frances and Joseph, describe well the establishment of the lord and his manor, differentiating the manorial system from feudali ...more
Nov 09, 2014 Rae rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-non-fic
Have you ever read the Bible? Not just the interesting parts, but really tried to read the whooollee thing? Then some of the more boring parts of this book will seem very familiar to you. Detailed accounts of laws, and who begot who, and what the fines were for very specific amounts of land.

Life in a Medieval Village can be a trying read at times, but the little nuggets of interesting information help carry the reader through. I would have preferred a more narrative history than this format, whi
Ashley Catt
Feb 19, 2015 Ashley Catt rated it really liked it
Definitely a book to read if you have not read anything else on the topic of Medieval villages before, and are looking for an introduction. Whilst this book doesn't go into masses of detail, it can be argued that it wouldn't need to, and to do so would be to throw off the good sense of balance that this book does possess.

Essentially, this work divides Medieval village life into portions and uses analyses them both in theory and in context. Often the example given is the village of Elton, which
Storm Chase
Jan 10, 2014 Storm Chase rated it it was amazing
I love this book. Bought it for research years ago and came in handy for The Knight and the Damsel in Distress and will be useful again later, I'm sure!
Robert Wilson
Mar 17, 2014 Robert Wilson rated it it was amazing
The common image of the life of the medieval peasant is a miserable one, a substance-level life of slavery to a lord and endless toil. The image of the peasant is one of a brutish, ignorant dolt. Frances Gies's book certainly won't make you jealous of the medieval peasant, but it will give you a much more nuanced view of their life. His work shows that the life of the medieval commoner was far more complex (with terms like "Free" and "Unfree" being rather elastic) and that the peasants themselve ...more
Sep 02, 2010 J.M. rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference, medieval
LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE is one of the core books by Frances and Joseph Gies that I find I refer to time and again for my own writing; though I've only read perhaps 70 percent of this book, to be perfectly honest. I just noticed I've bookmarked pages 20 and 172.


Page 20: Talks about traces left by Romanization in Britain, specifically agriculture via field systems and farmsteads gathered in collective groupings.

Page 172: Regarding village justice, namely the bi-annual hallmotes, where the loc
I really enjoyed this book, although I feel a little like some of the portrait of the medieval village as a place full of Jerry-Springer-esque drama is because there are more records of what happened when things went wrong than when they ran smoothly. I also really enjoyed hearing about medieval village drama, because I don't watch reality shows and so books about history are generally where I get my dose of Real Live Drama!

I did really like that the author chose an example village and focused m
Jul 04, 2012 anna rated it really liked it
Although I am getting to like these authors more, I confess I did not like this book as much as their other book 'Life in a Medieval Castle' which I read last year.

The main reason was that the first part of the book seemed to me very dull, tedious and rather slow. As a history student I shoud be more used to dry academic writing, but this was not a textbook and I found the dry recounting of facts and figures rather off putting in work of popular history.

Thankfully though, the book becomes a li
Erica Fairs
May 01, 2013 Erica Fairs rated it liked it
A book chock-full of information. However, I found it difficult to get over the poor grammar, punctuation and misuse of words: 'two-story building' instead of'two-storey' building, for example. Some sentences were totally incomprehensible and I found myself re-reading them three or four times to try and ascertain the sense. Then, suddenly, it was as if the proof-reader woke up and the final part of the book read extremely well. I also bizarrely found it intensely irritating that a book about an ...more
Margy Levine Young
Nov 14, 2015 Margy Levine Young rated it really liked it
Jonathan and Kathy Rawle loaned this to us years ago and it’s high time to return it. An amazingly detailed portrait of daily life in 14C England. Most appalling: Churches were considered “profit centers” - a man could own “the living” of one or more parishes, with their tithes and fines, and could contract out the actual parish work.
Jun 20, 2007 Doug rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by Amy Ryan.

The principle of the book is to illuminate elements of everyday life, as expressed through some ephemeral legal records that have been unearthed in the town of Elton, England.

Fascinating tidbits of information include the fact that villagers were taxed to consume their own grain as bread, but were free to consume or even sell their product as beer. The first pubs were just people's homes.

Pieces of information about crime, taxation, family law and nutri
Apr 21, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
This book provides a comprehensive study of medieval village life, including work, marriage and family, and religious traditions. The book is centered on one particular village in England, but it aims to have generalizable findings. Very readable, but a bit dry.
Apr 25, 2010 Andrew rated it really liked it
The book got buried so I only recently got back to it. This is a good, solid, social history of Medieval English village life, drawing from records of Elton Village in Cambridgshire. The book focuses on what life must have been like for ordinary people, free or villein, in the 13th & 14th centuries, the height of Medieval manorial system. Although I was hoping for more intimate pictures of daily work and family life, the book is true to the historical imperative in basing its portraits on ev ...more
Nov 11, 2014 Mckinley rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Good overview of life from place to lord to villagers to church including marriage, life and justice. Includes evidence from records like the Doomsday day and the like.
Erika Schoeps
Dec 10, 2013 Erika Schoeps rated it liked it
Comprehensive, but sometimes boring. The book goes into interesting facts, and then goes crazy providing endless examples of the fact in question. It gets tedious, but the book as a whole is still incredibly interesting. The sections are well organized, and introduced and wrapped up cleanly and beautifully. The facts and figures are interesting, but as I said, the examples are endless, and sometimes the information gets really boring and textbook like. Finally, the end touches upon our human sid ...more
Amari Rune
Apr 28, 2016 Amari Rune rated it it was amazing
I got Life in a Medieval Village on loan from the library, but after reading it, I'm still going to buy a copy of my own for reference. The details in it are extremely helpful to have around for my own writing.

It follows one specific village in England, Elton, rather than talking about a general village. Records are reported in the book, although not in too great of a detail (thankfully, it would have been too heavy if it was). I particular like the sections about the lord, the villagers and wh
Ellen Whyte
May 28, 2013 Ellen Whyte rated it it was amazing
I bought this because I was scouting the possibility of writing a crime series based in the 1300s. The authors are historians who discuss life in the context of Elton, a village in England. It's a detailed discussion covering agriculture, religion, family life, justice and public life from the early 1300s to the late 1500s. The writing is fluid, exciting and informative. I loved it. If you like history, check this out. Incidentally, this book convinced me that my book idea will need a lot more t ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Christopher rated it liked it
A good work. I read the 'Life in a Medieval Castle' first and found it quite useful for my own worldbuilding process. This book didn't add too much, although it did add some. Most likely it was just redundant to the other, using much of the same verbiage. Obviously, there was a lot of overlap. Still, a good book and I'd recommend it to someone looking at this bit of historical nonfiction.
Benjamin Glaser
May 04, 2013 Benjamin Glaser rated it really liked it
Very interesting and detailed read of the day-to-day life of the average peasant in the 14th-Century. While life was certainly no picnic it wasn't as difficult as Hollywood and others would have you believe. It also included much more "liberty" than one would be led to believe possible in the days of Feudalism. Life was far more "normal" than one might think.
Michael Rawson
May 27, 2014 Michael Rawson rated it really liked it
I found the book to be quite interesting. It took place on a village, Elton, during the Middle Ages. It described all the aspects of the village and what happened at the particular village. The most interesting part was how they described the courts and cases. It was odd that there was no severe punishment usually. There was usually a fine for the person.
Oct 17, 2015 Fabián rated it liked it
Only for students of History. Boring otherwise.
Mickey Schulz
Feb 14, 2011 Mickey Schulz rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very good overview of how the different aspects of medieval villages worked with each other, and the fact that the noble/peasant relationship, while having a power imbalance, was reciprocal in nature. How well that reciprocity worked in practice... well, that's a different matter.
Jun 22, 2009 Jan rated it really liked it
A lively, entertaining book loaded with fascinating detail about city life in the Middle Ages. Black and white photos and illustrations. This book is well-known as the most comprehensive, accurate, and readable of its genre. Ages high school through adult.
Aug 07, 2011 Violet rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book and I did not quite get along. It reminded me of reading a text book for school and didn't remember most of what I read. Except there where long lists of names and conditions from rolls that were kept as records. Oh well, on to the next book.
Dec 30, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
History that goes down easy like ice tea on a summer day. The Gies have a talent for making history very accessible. I love the whole series.
Aug 03, 2012 Kris rated it really liked it
Not particularly deep, but the Gies do a great job of bringing a medieval village to life. They look at the people, the layout, what houses looked like and I was pleased to note that fines for rundown homes are not a 20th century invention!
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Frances and and her husband Joseph Gies were historians and writers who collaborated on a number of books about the Middle Ages as well as wrote individual works.
More about Frances Gies...

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