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Medieval serf. Source: Demian / Adobe Stock.

How Much It Sucked to Be a Medieval Serf (Video)

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Medieval serfs endured a harsh existence, occupying the lowest rung of society. Unlike peasants, they couldn't sell themselves, though they weren't technically slaves. Lords in some regions could punish serfs severely, often pushing the boundaries of what was considered torment. They might imprison them indefinitely or confiscate possessions. Serfs had meager plots of land that technically belonged to the lord, leaving them with little security. While peasants had more freedom, serfs were bound to their manor and had to pay various taxes and rents, which varied widely. Marriage required the lord's permission, and marrying beneath one's class led to severe penalties, keeping them in poverty.

Serfs had little say in court disputes, as lords controlled the manor courts, usually ruling in their favor. Despite their hard work, serfs had limited free time, with their labor-intensive week lasting only three to four days. Women handled household chores and various tasks, from making food to pressing wine. Their housing was basic and often flammable, with thatched roofs. During times of upheaval, some serfs took risks to escape their servitude, but fleeing had dangers. Serfdom eventually declined, but it influenced the brutal practice of slavery in the Americas. Being a serf was an unforgiving existence, marked by few freedoms and the arbitrary power of their lords.

Top image: Medieval serf. Source: Demian / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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