There are medievalists to whom all medieval people or at least all people in their society are depicting people of noble birth. This is of course closer to fantasy than a real wiev of the historical era. It is rather unrealistic to depict noblemens life whitout their many servants. Just as it would be to represent a modern high rankin politician or busines company leader, whitout their secretaries and assistants. Or a general whitout the attending staff for that matter.

Often medieval re-enactors say they depict a character from the “middle classes”. With this they mean, they have aquired the garb and things of a merchant or common soldier. Behind this idea lies the way people see themselves today. It is a part of the “you in the medieval times” genre.

What was middle class in the middle ages? Was there such a thing? The social stratigraphy was arranged differently to what we have today, but one common thing applie to both eras. Even in those days wery few people had wery much money and most had barely enough to survive. We often see the medieval culture set in stratigraphy of “noble” birth, and rigid system of three dimensional division to nobility, church and the commoners. This is due to written sources, that depict the society in a particular ideal. However, this ideal did not hold true in many cases. The church was much a part of the nobility, since most priests came from the noble families. They had quite a lot of political ambition and often rather a practical vision of religion. The commoners were steeply divided in the “burghers” and countryfolk and in the end also into owners and servants. So a mayor of a city had more in common with a duke and a bishop than he had with an artisan from a professional guild in the town under his rule. There was no concept of “middle class”.

Man who owns several ships is rich in comparisson to a man who holds a castle for his liege lord. In the ideal he who owned much land was rich, but in practice much like today he to whom other people are in dept is the richest fellow.

Most re-enactors seem to come from middle class. It is a middle class hobby. So middle class is overly represented in both re-enactment and modern re-enactor group. In modern world middle class people see themselves as the great majority. The norm of common folk as to speak. In the middle ages as well as today the actual middle class, that is people who are not stinking rich or obviously poor, is formed from a small number of people. This is so irrespective of the fact that there propably were poor people who saw themselves as some sort of “middle class” in the middle ages as well as there are those today. Middle class is represented as a way of life and a level of wealth. In reality the modern person working in an office and making awerage wages and living in a house owned by a bank (that he/she believes to own) has more in common with a person working in a factory and living in a rental flat, than with the stock owner who actually owns his/her house and a couple of other appartments. But we like to see ourselves as part of the social group “better” than we actually are. That is why so many common folk vote for right wing parties. They like to think themselves as the fortunate ones. In my opinion people actually do not belong to the middle class before they actually own the busines or at least a part of it that supports them. Every one earning under the average wages should be counted as part of the proletariat and not part of the “middle class”. Politically their interrests lie with proletariat, so why would those people support the rich?

In middle ages most people were farmworkers who did not own the land they toiled. In towns and cities lived only wery small part of the population. Of those a great majority was actually beggars, servants, apprentices and such. Only wery few people in a town would be merchants or professional shopkeepers of a craft.  So the “middle class” between the wery rich burgomeisters, dukes and bishops was a small group of people indeed.

What of the soldiers then? Most men who participated in wars were actually not professional soldiers. They were farmers, farmhands and townsfolk called or pressed for service. The professional soldiers were divided in those of commoners and those of nobility. The commoner soldiery were servants of any rich people, who could afford and needed protection. The noble knights were part of the ruling classes of society, but most of them did not have a chance at any real power. They were wealthy in terms of comparisson to most people, but did not own great sums of money. Their wealth was often connected to the land they owned, so they were in a sense just glorified farmers. Many of them actually did not even own their land, but were lookin after the land for a liege lord, so they were more like militant overseers. Did these “poor knights” form a middle class? Well they were poor in comparisson to actually rich people, but saw themselves as part of the crem of society, and so formed a structure to keep the system intact. In that way they were much like modern lower middle classes.

The comparisson between people who nowadays see themselves as middle class and medieval people who did not even know of the whole concept  is in my opinion an irrelevant one and should not be used at all.

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