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landed nobility had the highest status in the English countryside. However, a growing number of gentry—wealthy landowners who did not have inherited titles—were gaining in influence.
Subsistence Farming and Commercial Agriculture
In pre-industrial Europe, most people lived in rural communities and made their living from agriculture. For landowners and agricultural workers, social customs and class relations had mostly stayed the same since the Middle Ages. By the 1600s, however, the economic changes of commercial capitalism reached the countryside of Western Europe, where they began to transform the traditional way of life.
Subsistence Agriculture
In the Middle Ages, the social hierarchy, or ranking, and economic patterns in Western Europe still revolved around the system of feudalism. In this system, a lord would grant land (a fief) to a vassal, a person who accepted the land in exchange for loyalty and military service. Life in the European countryside revolved around the manor, a large agricultural estate under the control of a noble, or lord. The term landlord originally meant the lord who owned and controlled a certain amount of land. Although the nobility made up a small minority of the population, they owned most of the land and kept their power through a system in which land and titles were inherited from one generation to the next. Peasants, who made up the vast majority of the population, farmed the land and occupied the lowest rung of the social order.
Changing Status of Peasants During the early Middle Ages, the majority of European peasants labored under serfdom. This meant they were legally bound to the land and subject to the authority of their landlord. Many peasants, or serfs, worked three days a week for the lord and paid rent for the land that they farmed. Often this payment came in the form of a portion of crops they grew or products made from livestock grazed on the lord’s land. Serfs had some rights, unlike slaves who were considered property and had no rights.
Source: Getty Images
Although the plow
was a valuable piece of technology, an English peasant still had to labor long hours.

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