Village Life

While most player character’s probably left the drudgery of everyday life on the rural manor, they should be familiar with the social, economic and political issues that are involved with agriculture. Those characters not familiar with manorial life in the civilized regions of Onland, may also find the workings of a small manor or village interesting.

Town and Field

The layout of most villages are determined by the characteristics of the land and the builder, but all share the commonalities of function. Most rural settlements are divided into two distinct sections, notably town and field. The simple delineation between the village proper, and the fields have distinct meanings. Both are considered part of the village. The field is further divided into woodland and champion. The woodland included the lords forest and often served as his hunting grounds. Champion is the arable land used for crops. The Champion was divided into the lords personal land, and that held by his serfs. The land held by serfs was divided into toft and croft. Toft was the land held by the husbandman’s house that he farmed under his agreement with his lord. The croft, was a small personal plot that the husbandman could plant as he saw fit. Usually in vegetables, etc.

The village proper or “town” consists of the lord’s personal manor house and possibly gardens or orchards. In addition the homes of freemen, villeins and cottagers, there was likely to be a mill and a smithy. The church (local parish) was often centrally located, and it doubled as a townhall.

Populace

Serfs are generally either Husbandmen (or Villeins) who own houses, and yardlands of about 30 acres, or Cottagers (Cotters) who own cottages, or rent/labour for their room and board, and cotlands of about 5 acres. Villeins and cotters provided labour for their lord in exchange for land that they could work themselves.

Not all serfs however were farmers alone. Some provided more specific labour for their lord in exchange for their land. The village reeve is chosen after harvest for a period of one year or longer. The serfs themselves sometimes choose the reeve, but this is subject to the lords approval.

The reeve serves as an officer of the lord in the administration of feudalism, manorial administration, and common law. The Reeve generally serves at court for the lord. The village plowman drives the lords plow team, while most villages have common animal handlers Shepherd/Neatherd. Non-guilded tradesmen were sometimes serfs as well.

Freemen held a larger variety of positions. The wealthiest were often guildsmen. Millers were the most common, but other craftsmen often find villages more prosperous than the big city.

Yeomen served as the lords organized military. There were a number of responsibilities. The Woodward was responsible for the woodland, preventing poaching and the like. The Hayward keeps the fields free of damage, serves as warden of the village corn, and served as an officer of the court.

The Beadle is the lords policeman. He is an officer of the court, and is responsible for collecting fines, taxes, and issuing summons, etc.

Wealthy Lords employed bailiffs who would run the manor in their stead. If a Lord owned several manors, a steward would serve as an auditor or overseer.

Husbandry

Unlike modern agriculture, the Onlandian village is a single farming unit. While the freemen pay rent for their land, and may profit from their crops, the village as a whole decides what crops should be grown, when to harvest, etc. A husbandmans plot would consist of a number of furlongs in the field. A furlong is the distance that a team of oxen could plow in a day.

Onlandians have no knowledge of three field crop rotation. They use fallowing as a primary means of nitrogen fixation. For small plots, marling (mixing with carbonate of lime), or dunging (manure, straw, compost) is often used. Onlandians did not use grasses as field crops. Hay for cattle was collected from natural river bottoms rather than sown.

Death and Taxes

While farming was the primary means of survival, there are other things that an Onlandian villager would understand. One of the social rules prevalent in Onlandian society is that a man cannot marry until he inherits his fathers land. The general idea was that until he could support a family, he didn’t need a wife. Once the marriage was arranged, the woman would offer a dower. In some cultures, the ritual known as troth-plight took place. The couple would move in together, and would be married after the woman became pregnant, or the first child was born. If pregnancy did not occur within one year, the husband could renounce the troth-plight (more like an annulment than a divorce). In some churches on Onland, the troth-plight is replaced with a formal marriage.

When the head of household died, he would grant his land to an heir. The lord would usually collect a heriot tax. In some cases, clanhead would give out inheritances before his death, with the understanding that his heir would care for him. Usually the eldest son would inherit, but a Younger son could inherit if the clanhead desired.

Daughter’s usually were dowered, and married off as soon as possible. Younger siblings were often given portions. This might include some of the clanheads tools, that the younger offspring could use to make their living.

Farming

Onlandian farming is not based on individual family farms situated in fenced blocks of fields, woods, and pasture. In the year 1075, a bird’s-eye view of Onland would have consisted of a green sea of forest with scattered brown islands of human habitation. Each of these islands would have consisted of a nucleated village surrounded by two large and unfenced open fields. The village would have consisted of several small huts.

These huts were built with whatever local materials were most common. They might be built of whitewashed sod or wattle and daub (woven reeds plastered with clay). They often housed the family’s animals also. There would be one or two rooms, with a loft for storage. The family lived in a single room, in the center of which was a few flat stones on which the fire was placed. The roof was thatched, with a hole at the top through which the smoke escaped. There were usually no windows, and light came in through the smoke hole and an open door. The floor was dirt, sometimes covered with leaves or rushes. The furniture was a trestle table, a few stools, and a storage chest or two for whatever pallets the family might spread on the floor as their beds.

Attached to each hut was a messuage, about half an acre of land used by the family for a garden, chicken coop, pig pen, bee-hives and so forth.

The huts were sometimes grouped around a central open place, or green, in which the peasants might graze their animals. There was usually a source of water nearby, and a stream might run through the green, perhaps ponded to raise fish, ducks, and geese. Along the stream grew tall grass that the villagers mowed regularly to store for winter feed for their animals. Not too far away was the forest or brush in which the villagers pastured their pigs, gathered nuts, berries, herbs, and other things, and, when allowed to do so, picked up sticks and twigs to use as fuel.

Most villages had a church with its own grounds clearly distinguished, perhaps with a fence or even a wall from the village lands. There might also be a larger fortified house of the lord or his steward. If the villages were populous enough, the lord might have had built a stone mill along the stream and even a village bakery set apart from the peasant huts with their highly flammable thatched roofs.

Agricultural Technology

The villages were organized for the growing of grain, oats, rye, barley or whatever the soil and climate permitted.

The peasants lack some of the basic tools upon which the productivity of modern agriculture depends. They had no chemical fertilizers and lacked the resources to raise a sufficient number of animals to provide an adequate supply of manure. Soil exhaustion was a constant problem, and the peasants were usually engaged in the laborious process of clearing new land to supplement their old, worn-out fields. They lacked pesticides and often made do by providing homes for pigeons and doves who would not only eat insects, but provide a small but highly-concentrated amount of fertilizer for use in the gardens. They also lacked an herbicide, and weeds were always ready to invade their fields.

The basic organization of village agriculture was conditioned by the need to overcome those difficulties. The village acted as a plowing cooperative since the cost of plow and draft animals was too great for a single family to bear alone. Each family owned portions in both of the two fields into which the arable lands of the village were grouped. There were no fences between properties – which is why this arrangement is called the “open field system” of agriculture – although brush hedges were piled around the field under cultivation.

One of the fields was plowed in the early spring and planted in grain. The other field was then plowed, but left unplanted to let the air and sunshine restore some of its fertility. Weeds were allowed to grow. The weeds diverted some of the attention of insects and provides pasture for the villages animals who would manure the field as they grazed. Just before the weeds in the fallow field were ready to seed, the field was plowed a second time and the weeds turned under.

The process was reasonably effective in achieving the goal of restoring fertility and holding back weeds. But the system carried a heavy price. The villagers could utilize only half of their land each year but had to expend the effort of plowing fallow land.

Weather was a constant worry. Wet springs could cut plowing time, rot seed in the ground, and so reduce the harvest. Fall rains could wet the grain before harvesting and make it impossible to dry and thresh.

Production was not great—seven to ten bushels per acre was considered good, and two or three of those bushels had to be saved for seed. Part of the peasants’ harvest was taken as taxes, and part by the church as a tithe, so taxes and seed grain took about 60 percent of each harvest.

That being the case, a peasant might be able to gather as his own only a bushel or two from each of his strips. A family of four needed about 35 bushels a year to survive, so it was imperative that the village be able to plow between thirty and forty acres for each household. Given the relative scarcity of plows and animals, and the possibility that the plowing season might be cut short by a long winter or a rainy Spring, peasant life was a meager and precarious thing.

Improvements in Agricultural Technology

In the last 25-50 years, several improvements in farming have occurred, allowing for the rapid expansion of settled lands.

One group of innovations centered on plowing and the extended use of the old heavy wheeled plow.

This plow had an iron plowshare that could cut through the earth and a mould-board that turned the sod over. This made the traditional criss-cross double plowing of fields unnecessary. The mould-board plow could also plow deep to make more soil minerals possible.

The problem with using a heavy plow is that it took a great deal of tractive power. Teams of animals were needed and, since the operation required so much more capital investment, those teams had somehow to plow more land in less time than oxen, the traditional draft animals, would cover the necessary distance.

This difficulty was overcoming by using horses as draft animals. Horses were faster and had greater endurance than oxen and could be controlled by voice commands, thus eliminating the need for an additional man in the plow team to guide the ox or oxen with a sharp pole.

Several innovations were needed to make use of horses, however: horseshoes to keep the horses’ hooves from softening in the wet earth of plowing time, the horse collar since horses do not have well-defined shoulders as oxen do, and harnessing. The peasants also developed tandem harnessing, which allowed as many horses as one had to be hitched to the same vehicle. This gave the Onlandian peasants almost unlimited tractive power and made possible the widespread use of the heavy plow.

Another set of innovations centered on field utilization and involved the development of a rudimentary but effective system of crop rotation.

Peasants have started using peas and beans as a complement to their grain crops. Peas and beans are legumes and so restore nitrogen to the soil; they are vines and so choke out weeds; the vines and pods are succulent and so provide excellent silage for winter stock feed; and their vines cover the ground so thickly as to keep the soil friable and thus make plowing easier.

Added to all of these advantages is the fact that they are an excellent addition to the diet of humans. They can be dired and kept indefinitely – no small advantage in an era in which food preservation is a constant problem – and, although this is beyond the peasants’ ken, are a source of relatively good protein. Many villages divide their two fields into three, and plant them in a rotating sequence of beans, winter wheat, summer wheat, and fallow. With good planning, this can result in three annual harvests in place of the traditional one.

Results

These innovations have not only increased production, but also increased the peasants productivity to such a degree that a smaller portion of the population have to be directly engaged in the raising of food. The increased production of food has not only permitted an increase of population but provided better nutrition to the population as a whole. The increased productivity of the peasants has also permitted some people to devote themselves to the full-time pursuit of other labors, such as small-scale manufacturing and processing,

Village Life

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