Life in medieval times

I have always been fascinated with how an average person in the middle ages would spend his/her day. The movies provide woefully little in the way of authentic “a day in the life” stuff, because they have to dedicate the major portion of the film to plot. I, on the other hand would be happy watching a 2 hour “look” into a typical day of either a subject or nobleman’s life, and the producers need not provide me with plot ot action as long as the film provided authenticity. Does anyone know of the existence of such a project in any length?


“Becket” with Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. It is Hollywoodized history, but I think you’d like the performances, costumes and sets.

Doing the ol’ google serach on medieval times documentary film produced thousands of hits. I think such a film as you describe would be cool. I’d also like to see one for Roman times. I love the Roman epics, but a real day-in-the-life of a Roman would be interesting. Of course, I would quibble with the no/plot no/action specification. Do ya really want to watch a guy chopping wood for twenty minutes? Even documentaries tell a story.

Back in the seventies the BBC in Britain ran a documentary weekly based on a group of people picked from the public who tried to live an early medieval (IIRC) life in a round house in Southern Britain. I believe the project went on for a year and involved all aspects of life. I can’t remember the name of the series. It was repeated about five years ago. With the current interest in reality television, it must be repeated sometime soon as it is right in that genre.

If you e-mail the BBC helpline, I’m sure they would be able to give you details.

King Rat, you might really enjoy Harry Turtledove’s book Household Gods. Look for it in the science fiction/fantasy section of your bookstore. A modern woman’s soul is transported into the body of a Roman woman who lived about the first century AD, IIRC. Her host body runs a tavern, and Turtledove has apparently done quite a bit of research in this.

At most public libraries, you can find a book called “Everyday life in the Middle Ages”. That usually explains a lot of things.

There is a whole series of books entitled “Everyday life in …” They are quite popular for school reports.

There also books which are aimed at writers who are trying to get background info on a particular time period.

The turn of the millenium generated interest in the turn of the LAST millenium. I saw a book on life in the year 1000 in a bookstore a few months ago. It focused on everyday stuff. I don’t remember the title or author. It would not surprise me if there were several similar books floating aroung right now. Might be worth seeing what your local library has.

Re fiction, I recommend “The Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis. Scholars in mid-21st century Oxford are studying the past via time travel. Certain eras are rated too dangerous to visit, including the midevil black death decades. But a researcher accidently lands in the wrong year…

Thanks very much for all the replies. What prompted the question was a recent visit to what is known as Die Residenz in Würtzburg, Germany which was the palace of one of the Catholic Archbishops during the middle ages. It’s opulence was stunning and it made me wonder about the artisans and architects who created it, and I thought they must have worked sunup to sundown every day. Still, they must have had a private life and it was this which set me to thinking. By the way, in my OP, I should have used the term nobleperson instead of nobleman. I regret the mistake.


Just finished Timeline by Michael Crichton. I showed the first page to my thirteen year old daughter, and she yelled, “Hey, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court!” It’s a quick read, but it’s the first piece of fiction that I can remember with a four page bibliography. Crichton seems to take the medieval research thing seriously. One of the points he makes in the book is that our ideas of thirteenth century interiors are from paintings that weren’t contemporary–and the artists depicted them as spartan, even though they weren’t.

Freaky! I was just about to post that! He has a list of probably 30 or more books he used to research. It’s an excellent book, and even if it’s not really ‘A day in the life of…’ look at medieval times, it’s still very well written and I enjoyed it a lot.

There’s a PBS mystery series called Cadfael about a monk who must deal with that era. When it comes around again, check it out. It tries very hard to be accurate.

I am also fascinated by the Middle Ages, probably from reading too much fantasy fiction and playing too much Dungeons and Dragons as a kid.

Now, as one who is chronologically consisidered an adult, I have grown more interested in the reality of the day.

I highly recommend books by Francis and Joseph Gies. “Life in a Medieval Village”, “Life in a Medieval City” “Life in a Medieval Castle” and my favourite “Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel” about science and technology advances in the “Dark Ages”.

I also just read “The year 1000” which discusses the turn of the last millennium.

Okay, so they aren’t movies or documentaries. I tend to trust books more. If you want a tv show, watch the History Channel non-stop like I sometimes do. Occasionally they will break away from their study of WWII, the Civil War and modern weaponry to talk about more distant history. When they do, it is usually very interesting.

I could add more if my brain did not seem so slow today.

You have got to read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Story of building of a Cathederal in 12th Century England. Really good read and pretty well detailed.
Will run about 1000 pages but worth it.

Try Barbara W. Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Incredibly written non-fiction following the life of the Sire de Coucy, who had his finger in pretty much everything going on during the century. Not so much a look at the life of a peasant, but she does provide background on everything.


Thre is a nice book printed a while ago with some photos called Lost Country Life-- sort of wide chronology, roughly “pre-industrial-revolution” regular-guy life in England, but with lots of information about how people did stuff-- how they used flax, thatching rooves, bee-keeping, etc.

Nothing really of importance to add, just wanted to share…
Pillars Of The Earth is one of my favorite books of all time. Ken Follett is another one who tries really hard to be very accurate. It would make a great movie if they stuck to the book faithfully (and had a budget of several hundred million! :slight_smile: ).
Timeline is another good one. I heard it’s being made into a movie.