Other groups in society were churchmen, and also some communities of people, such as Jews, who were not really fully accepted members of the wider society. These were by far the most common public edifices. To modern eyes, many medieval towns would not just have been small, they would also have seemed almost rural. Even their leisure activities involved mock-battles called tournaments. The lords dispensed the law with little or no kingly oversight, and as a class supported each other's hegemony. The medieval aristocracy were steeped in a military culture – they were, in fact, a warrior class, trained from childhood in warfare. On the other hand, they had the right to look to their lord for protection and justice. An urban proletariat began to appear in many towns, made up of poor labourers, as hereditary in their lowly status as the patricians were in their high estate. But, in reality, the European landscape was a patchwork of small, medium, and large peasant holdings, which changed hands with the fortunes of the families. Determining guilt or innocence was often undertaken through “ordeal” – a suspect made to hold a red-hot iron to see whether his hands blistered (guilty! The broad reaches of the Atlantic ocean formed an impenetrable barrier to the west. Christian traders and travellers ventured inland on only the rarest of occasions, however, and the same was true of Muslim visitors to Europe. They were easy targets when things went wrong – in time of plague, for example, Jews were often accused of poisoning wells and other crimes, and anti-Jewish pogroms could all too easily occur. An estimated number of between 30–50 percent of all Europeans died between 1347 and 1351. As the tradesmen became wealthier, they resented having to give their profits to their lords. This in turn enabled the Venetian merchant Marco Polo to travel around Asia from the 1260s to the 1290s, spending many years in China but also visiting South East Asia, Sri Lanka, India and the Middle East. From here, various steppe peoples invaded and settled central Europe. The earliest merchants were peddlers who. Most people’s experience of law would have been in their local manor court, which settled disputes between neighbours and tried petty crimes. That situation could arise because Normanized common law had already established a secular and ecclesiastical aristocracy, an aristocracy that relied heavily on the royal prerogative to function. It was a hugely powerful international organisation, challenging and constraining the authority of emperors and kings. The period of European history which we call “Medieval” is usually regarded as consisting of the thousand years or so between the fall of the Roman empire in the west (in the 5th century), through to the period of the Renaissance in the 15th century. Crime in medieval towns was far higher than in modern inner cities. In many streets an open sewer flowed down the middle. In aristocratic households, boys were sent to another household to be trained in military skills. The habit reached to their feet. Arrangements were made for the townspeople to pay a fixed annual sum to the lord or king and gain independence for their town as a "borough" with the power to govern itself. These were practical and moderate rules which aimed at allowing men and women to live communal lives of worship and study, separate from the rest of society whilst contributing to its welfare. Their head and hair was almost covered by a headpiece (or “coif”). In fact, Jews came to be seen as extortionate moneylenders, and this, added to the fact that they were a group of outsiders who had not integrated with the rest of society, led to their being the object of widespread fear and distrust. In later medieval times, education became more widespread in northern countries as well. At the same time, in the eastern Mediterranean war flared up again. Women were legally subject to men (though one would not necessarily have believed that from the work of medieval writers such as Boccaccio and Chaucer, who give pen portraits of assertive and powerful women). The growth of long-distance business networks made letter-writing and account-keeping a necessity for merchants and their agents. This was an economic necessity, as their retinues were so large that they would soon have exhausted the resources of any one locality. – of the World during the medieval period, Subscribe for more great content – and remove ads. In merchant’s houses the lower storey would be given over to the family business. Much of the learning of Greece and Rome was preserved by the Church, and Roman law influenced the law codes of the barbarian kingdoms. All told, the death rate was frighteningly high. To the northeast and east of Europe, beyond the Baltic Sea, lay the expanses of Russia and central Asia. A Lord also needed a wife who was called a Lady. These were distributed so that each would get a fair share of the good and bad land. These lords, along with their households and retinues, lived in strongly fortified castles. A literate, complex urban society gave way to an almost illiterate, much simpler and more rural one. Other obligations included giving gifts to the lord at certain times of the year, or at key moments in the peasant’s life – for example when his daughters were getting married (for which they had to ask the permission of the lord), or when a father died and the parcels of land he had farmed were being taken over by his son(s). They had a much greater level of freedom than most peasants, and lived under the authority of their own leaders – magistrates and members of the town councils – rather than of feudal lords. These building complexes would be structured around a great hall in which the noblemen met with other nobles or with royal officials; and where great feasts were held on regular occasions. At first, the students who attended these universities were all intended for the church; however, others soon followed, especially the sons of noblemen and wealthy merchants who wished to study law. This was a near-universality of family-farm tenure by conditionally hereditary leases under noble, ecclesiastical or princely lordships who collected cash and in-kind payments from their subject villages. In many towns, membership of a guild conferred citizenship of the town upon a person. From being humble traders in tiny towns in about 1000 CE, in status roughly on a par with craftsmen, they evolved into merchants living in grand town houses with many servants. Kings granted out much of their kingdoms as large fiefs to their nobles, and these in turn granted smaller fiefs for lesser lords, and so on. Education became the mark of a gentleman or gentlewomen. In a feudal society, status is based on land ownership. Whether secular or regular, from the 11th century onwards all clergy were required to live celibate lives, taking no wives and having no children. Their womenfolk, likewise, would have various layers of garments, and also brightly coloured cloaks. This in term led to aristocratic families being demarcated from the rest of the population by heraldic coats of arms though which their families could be traced for generations. They had a social pyramid based on not only the money you made, but the job you had. Nun’s also wore habits. A feudal society has three distinct social classes: a king, a noble class (which could include nobles, priests, and princes) and a peasant class. Medieval Europe was comparatively isolated from the rest of the world, geographically, culturally and commercially. They regulated admission to the guild by supervising apprenticeships and awarding licences to practice the trade; they set standards for quality of work, and enforced these standards on their members; they acted as social clubs, organising feasts and celebrations through the year; they fulfilled particular functions within the wider life of the town, for example taking responsibility for certain aspects of the town’s religious life; and many set up schools for the education of children of their members (and for a fee, other children). Even when law was administered in a more orderly way, it could take a grisly form. Here, Roman power survived for a thousand years longer than in the west, centred on Constantinople. As time went by, and the population of Europe increased, trade and industry expanded and new towns appeared. The upshot of the takeover of the land by the Norman aristocracy was that peasant families who had for generations owned small farmsteads became renters, indentured servants who owed the landlords their allegiance, their military service and part of their crops. Schools began to appear in towns, at first attached to cathedrals and large churches, later maintained by guilds or town councils (but still taught mostly by clergy and with a curriculum still focussed on grammar – hence the label grammar schools).