Saturday, August 17, 2019

Cecilia Penifader: an Ordinary Peasant in Medieval Times Essay

Cecilia Penifader lived on the English manor of Brigstock in the early fourteenth century. She was not a princess nor was she of noble blood. She was, in fact, a peasant. While many people today would consider her poor and lowly just because of that title, she was actually rather successful in life and was one of the wealthier peasants of her time. Cecilia did not leave behind any personal writings, as most medieval peasants were illiterate, but her life has since been pieced together through the use of the archives of Brigstock. These archives reveal many aspects of Cecilia’s life. They tell us that she functioned as the head of a household, that she faced gender bias because she was only a woman, and that she led a family-oriented lifestyle. Cecilia went through life as a singlewoman, the term used by medieval peoples to describe women who never got married (Bennett 143). Because she never married, she was considered to be the head of her own household. She held many of the same rights that men had as heads of their households. She certainly had more freedom than her married sisters; a wife was completely dependent on her husband, who functioned as the head of the household (Bennett 115). As the head of her household, Cecilia could hold the title of an independent tenant of the manor. She was able to accumulate several acres of land throughout her lifetime, and she could buy and sell it as she pleased. By the time of her death, she had acquired an extensive amount of land and other possessions. Cecilia also had the ability to manage her household as she saw fit. This meant that it was necessary for her to organize her household and lands effectively in order to survive a less than favorable economy, especially during the periods of the Great Famine and the Black Death. Though Cecilia lacked a family to provide supportive labor to the household, she could usually manage her lands on her own because she chose to devote her land to the less labor-intensive practice of animal husbandry. If she did hire workers, it was probably only at certain times in the year so she could have help with plowing her property, cutting hay from her meadows, and harvesting her food (Bennett 98). To help ease labor demands of her household, Cecilia also bought goods from others in the commodity market. In this market, people could purchase almost anything that they were in need of (Bennett 94). Through what Bennett calls an â€Å"economy of makeshifts,† Cecilia was able to function effectively and make a suitable living for herself, without a husband. Despite Cecilia’s success as an independent head of the household, she still did not receive the same treatment in her community as men did. For example, when males turned twelve, they entered groups called tithings. These groups contained ten or more men who were responsible for making sure they all obeyed the laws, and if someone did not follow the laws, the other members of the group were responsible for making sure that the law-breaker showed up in court (Bennett 144). Cecilia could not be a part of these groups because of her gender. While few peasants ever learned to read or write, those that did were men. Cecilia would not have been given the opportunity that her brothers may have. Men also earned better wages than women did (Bennett 117). As a woman, Cecilia was unable to hold office or pledge in court, meaning that she could not stand in court to affirm that someone would do what he or she claimed. While this may not seem major, it actually prevented Cecilia from creating important networks throughout her community, and even from possibly accumulating income (Bennett 120). Cecilia may have been an independent woman in her community, but she still had close ties to her family throughout her entire life. When she was young, she obviously relied on her family, primarily her parents, to raise her and teach her important life skills. After her parents’ deaths, Cecilia often bought land that was next to those of her brothers or were near lands that they bought. With properties near each other, the Penifaders could help each other work on their lands (Bennett 80). Family was also important in court for Cecilia as well. Every time she did business in court, she needed a man to be a pledge and back her promise that she would pay the amount that she needed to pay. When she went to court on these occasions, she relied on her brothers or men that her brothers knew well to pledge for her (Bennett 81). In June of 1336, Cecilia and her brother Robert combined their resources and their households. Neither of them was married and they were both in the last few years of their lives. In combining their possessions, they supported each other and entrusted each other with their possessions when one of them died (Bennett 82). Before Cecilia died, she attempted to give some of her relatives who would not have originally had a part in her inheritance a twenty-four year lease on her lands. She chose to give her lands to those relatives whom she liked best. Although her wishes were not considered legitimate because she was not able to fulfill all the requirements to make the lease legally binding, this shows that she was trying to provide for her family and ensure that they would be cared for in the future (Bennett 85). Cecilia Penifader was certainly a prosperous peasant in fourteenth century European society. She successfully functioned as the head of her own household despite the many disadvantages of being a woman, and family was a major part of her life. While studying the history of someone like Cecilia Penifader may be interesting, studying the histories of exceptional male figures like kings, knights, and clergy reveal more about certain time periods than the histories of ordinary people. This is because the lives of ordinary people like Cecilia can often be generalized since there are so many people that live lives similar to one another. Exceptional people, on the other hand, are often persons who have exhibited qualities that are highly esteemed by people in that period or severely looked down upon. These cases may not be representative of society as a whole, but the fact that those stories are passed down over others reveals the values and general workings of the societies they came from .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.