Maybe you don’t want your fantasy novel to be exactly like medieval times. You probably want to romanticize it a bit, right? Medieval times were quite violent and no one suffered more than the poor, especially women and children. And almost everyone had problems with fleas and rats, even the nobility. But knowing what life was like in medieval times certainly helps build a scene for your fantasy novel. A great book which can help is “Life in Medieval Times” by Marjorie Rowling.
“Life in Medieval Times” covers all sorts of topics. Chapter titles are Charlemagne and Society, Lords and Vassals, Townsmen and Traders, Women and Wives, Pilgrims and Crusaders, Monks and Friars, Schools and Scholars, Church Builders and Artists, Doctors and Patients, and Scientists and Technologists. The first chapter covers the development of the feudal society and how the church slowly became a very influential part of society. Slaves weren’t common but serfdom was. Books were rare and expensive, and subject to thievery.
The second chapter goes more into the feudal estates and how lands were often held as fiefs by vassals. Allods were lands free of service but sometimes surrendered then received back as fiefs. The second chapter also goes a little into the development of castles and other fortifications, how ceremony was important to almost every official act whether by the lords or clergy, how children sometimes sent to be raised in a lord’s castle, the knighting ceremony, and more.
Learn about the marketplace, important workers in trade and the making of cloth, and the influence of the great international fairs of Europe in the third chapter. The fourth chapter covers the various roles of women which varied depending on the culture at the time and their class. You can’t study life in medieval times without covering the crusades in the fifth chapter. Lords and common folk alike make pilgrimages to the holy land. The life of monks and friars in the sixth chapter was also a big part in medieval times. While most people in medieval times weren’t educated, education through the church was common for many lords (chapter six).
The church had a huge influence over much of society in medieval times. Their influence in government grew over time. They were responsible for preserving the Greek and Roman culture by copying manuscripts, education of the nobility (chapter seven), establishing schools of architecture and art (chapter eight), and for establishing hospitals and promoting the healing arts (chapter nine). The church often came to odds with the scientific community (chapter ten). Science was sometimes seen as a form of witchcraft and strongly frowned upon by the church. Despite the huge influence of the church, there were still people in medieval times who studied alchemy, biology, astronomy, and other powers of nature.
Other interesting facts read in “Life in Medieval Times” are that while doctors were promoted by the church, surgeons were detested. It was often left to barbers to perform surgeries. There is also some interesting information regarding the development of guilds, the life and development of the knight, the educational curriculum of the noble men and women, and more.
Knowing about life in medieval times not only helps you in building the cultural society in your fantasy novel, it also helps to spark ideas. How influential are the religious groups in your fantasy novel? How about the guilds? Can anyone with skill be a knight or it is exclusive to nobles? Are your characters peasants or lords? How do they perceive others of a different class? Are their schools in your medieval world? If so, what do they study?
One thing I really love about fantasy is that anything is possible. Read “Life in Medieval Times” to get an insight on life without modern technologies and to inspire ideas in your fantasy novel, but don’t let it limit you. And have fun writing!