People in History: Medieval Peasants (Serfs and Freemen)

Main page: The Middle Ages

A serf on a medieval manor.

Medieval peasants. (from
At the bottom of the feudal system are the peasants. In this chapter, you learn that there were two types of peasant in the Middle Ages: serfs and freemen. Serfs could only leave the land with their lord's permission, but freemen (as the name suggests) were free to come and go as they pleased. A serf could become a freeman if he escaped for a year and a day without being caught.

In a People in History question, you might be asked to write as a "peasant", in which case you can choose to be a serf or a freeman, or you'll be asked to write as one or the other (usually a serf). So let's go with the question title above. 

  • Start by explaining your place in the feudal system. Who's above you?
    • Talk about being a serf. What's the difference between you and a freeman? How do you become a freeman?
      • Then, go on to talk about the house you live in. It might not be much, but you can talk about what the house the is made of, how many rooms it has , what they're used for, and how much furniture you don't have.
        • Then, describe the food you eat. What is it? How do you prepare it?
          • Next, talk about your work.What does the lord expect you to do? You work on the farms, so describe them. Make sure to explain the open field system and crop rotation.
            • What happens to you if you break any rules, or if you're caught trying to escape? The bailiff can be a scary man, he might lock you up if you don't mention him.
              • Finally, talk about the tithes you have to pay, and why you have to pay them.
                • Finish off with a plan to escape for a year and a day, if you like!

                  So, in short...

                  1. Your place in the feudal system.
                  2. The difference between you and a freeman, and how to become one.
                  3. Your house and living conditions.
                  4. The food you eat.
                  5. The work you do. Open field system and crop rotation.
                  6. What happens when you break rules.
                  7. The tithes you must pay.


                  • Talk about anything that isn't based around a solid fact like you learn in class. No small talk! 

                  Making mistakes like that will cost you marks, as the information you write down must be relevant (important). You get 2 marks for every relevant point you make, so try to make sure you have at least 10 relevant points in each answer. The more you have, the less chance you have of losing too many marks if you get anything wrong or mix anything up.


                  1. This was helpful

                  2. you should give more examples and maybe a sample of what the long question should look like