Thinking about Children in the post Black Death Village

This is a topic which is very much on my mind at the moment. What was life like for young people in the medieval English village? What was it like to be a child growing up in the 14th century? We know that infant mortality was very high in the medieval world, and that many children would have died young from illnesses which are now wholly preventable, we also know that many children worked from quite a young age, what interests me however is attitudes which we can glimpse through our records towards children. Few – if anyone-  doubt anymore that medieval people did indeed have concepts of childhood and child development. Such concepts were different from our own as different societies – both in the past and contemporaneous to ours construct their own cultural and social images and ideas of childhood. So constructs of what constitutes a  child are very much socially, culturally, as well as chronologically determined. It is these concepts and how such conceptualisations are arrived at which interests me. Medieval villagers had various ways of marking the progressive steps from childhood to adulthood. Rituals, such as all 12 year old boys being sworn into a tithing in the manorial court, which entailed various formal roles and responsibilities in communal policing, were important landmarks in the experience of reaching maturity. Another such ritual, and probably the one which most defined entry into the adult world was to become the head of a household, by, for example, inheriting a holding. So it is interesting to explore how villagers dealt with the particular problems caused by the Black Death, which in wiping out anywhere between 25% and 80% of the population of individual villages, created numerous heirs which were considered too young to be granted full adult responsibility of looking after a holding. Typically a young villager was considered old enough to take on a holding anywhere between the ages of 18 and 21, but after the first arrival of the Black Death in the mid 14th century, when land was untilled and the lord wanted tenants to work the land and pay his rents, some villages granted lands to some young people aged far below 18. What decisions were at play? what pressures were exerted. What qualities did a young person have to show to be considered fit to become a tenant in his or her own right?  How did the boundaries between childhood and adulthood change in the 14th century?

Longbridge Deverill in Wiltshire.
Longbridge Deverill in Wiltshire.

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