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SparkNotes is here for you with everything you need to ace or teach! Find out more. Bennett organizes these chapters topically rather than chronologically, illuminating in each one an aspect of medieval society and describing how Cecilia behaved or might have behaved in each context.
Bennett then discusses the Great Famine of —, a time of transition for both Cecilia and England. Cecilia Penifader was born to Robert and Alice Penifader in the late thirteenth century in Brigstock, a manor in central England.
She was the seventh of eight children, only two of whom died before reaching adulthood, an unusually high birthrate for the time.
Their large house, built of rubble, twigs, mud, and moss, covered about square feet. It had only one room, at the center of which was a fire for warmth and cooking. Cecilia probably spent most of her childhood in the farmyard around the house, playing and, later, helping out with gardening, cooking, and watching her little sister, Agnes.
There were two main villages in Brigstock manor, Brigstock and Stanion, where many people built their houses right next to each other, sometimes sharing a wall.
Most business and trade occurred in the villages, but the most important economic activity took place in the countryside. Brigstockers used the three-field system, in which peasants rotated crops among three fields each year. When Cecilia left her own premises, she could have walked among a few lanes of tightly bunched homes and outbuildings, then out to surrounding arable fields and meadows, and beyond that, to Rockingham Forest, which the king used as a hunting preserve.
Many peasants would leave Brigstock to travel to the nearby markets in Geddington, Kettering, and Corby. Here, peasants got their news about goings-on in the wider world. Manorialism, or feudalism, is the system of estates in which the elite who owned land profited from peasants, who worked in the fields and paid taxes to their landlords. Brigstock was a royal manor, which was unusually fortunate for a landholding tenant such as Cecilia.
Whereas peasants on other manors might have had to deal with vigilant landlords, Cecilia enjoyed some independence from manorial rule because her landlords were absent. Additionally, as a tenant of Brigstock, Cecilia benefited from special legal status: she and other tenants could lease the manor and manage its affairs as they saw fit.
Cecilia would have considered the clergy most important because it addressed her chief concern: her eternal salvation. The second most important was the landed elite—the kings and noblemen who protected the peasants from foreign invaders. The only real communal structures in Brigstock, they were central meeting places for markets, ball games, gambling, gossip, and manorial court meetings. As the centers for spiritual worship, they held masses nearly every day and were especially popular on Sundays.
Like virtually every other English peasant, Cecilia was a devout Christian who, unable to read, learned about Catholicism mostly from pictures and the local clergy.
Cecilia and her neighbors also engaged in folk practices, such as spell-casting, and believed in fairies. The Church generally condoned this behavior and in some ways even incorporated these folk rituals into religious life, sharing holy days with some pagan gods.
In this sense, Christianity for Cecilia was an extension of everyday life and responded to the rhythms of the natural world around her. Holy days often coincided with equinoxes, solstices, and times of harvest. Cecilia matured during a great famine that ravaged England and northern Europe from to To survive, peasants, including Cecilia, resorted to crime. Even as famine tapered off, crime rates remained inflated, as peasants felt either lingering resentment toward wealthier neighbors or were simply accustomed to taking a little more to assuage their worries over an uncertain future.
But in some ways, the Great Famine worked to her benefit. Exploiting the desperate circumstances that led some peasants to sell their land leases at reduced prices, Cecilia made acquisitions at least six different times between and , emerging from the famine with nearly twenty-five acres in her name. From a young age, Cecilia had a good sense of nuclear family. Her own family was twice the average size, and every day, they slept, worked, and ate together.
Robert had to account publicly for Cecilia when a neighbor accused her of stealing hay from him in Robert was also responsible for beating his children and having them perform hard labor in the fields and around the house, practices that were quite common in the Middle Ages. Robert and Alice seemed to be exceptionally caring parents, given their efforts to provide some form of inheritance for all of their children, which was uncommon practice in medieval England.
Cecilia remained close with her family into adulthood, but as her brothers and sisters married and moved away, the nature of family changed for her.
At this point, Cecilia relied more heavily on her brothers Robert and William, who remained nearby and had power in the community. With landholdings so large, Cecilia employed skilled and unskilled laborers and servants on daily basis. Closely connected to the labor market was the land market.
Land was a source of wealth for landless peasants, who often worked it for money and food. It was also a great source of wealth for Cecilia, who could profit from subletting and selling what she produced. Cecilia excelled in the land market by concentrating on buying pastures for animals to graze, which limited the number of people she would need to hire.
Finally, the commodity market took place in villages, where people from the surrounding area would sell and buy everything ranging from food, cloth, and animals to tools, leather, and smith work. These simple exchanges fed more complex regional and international markets, which helped lead to regional specialization. Heads of the household answered for their dependents, and all men were required to join tithings by the age of twelve.
The men who served as officials were generally wealthy peasants or minor gentry whose positions gave them power. Cecilia sat atop a socioeconomically diverse peasant class, but acting humbly and equitably allowed her to avoid resentment from neighbors and laborers.
As a woman, Cecilia was forbidden to hold any office or act in any official manner. Literacy, education, and lucrative trade work, such as blacksmithing or thatching, were unavailable to her. Though women were exclusively responsible for brewing ales, Cecilia could not hold the office of aletaster.
And because she could not participate in tithings, she was technically left outside community law. These restrictions left Cecilia at a substantial social disadvantage because the ability to serve in court and perform more active functions on the manor made an individual powerful in the community.
The Brigstock court records indicate that men were responsible for eighty percent of violent crimes, but surprisingly few of these crimes were against women, a phenomenon that suggests that the law did not protect women as readily as it did men and property.
Cecilia died in late May or early June of Artboard Created with Sketch. Error Created with Sketch. Character List Cecilia Penifader. Themes Motifs Symbols Key Facts. Important Quotations Explained. Summary Plot Overview.
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A Medieval Life Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock C 1295 1344
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A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344
Feudalism in the 14 th century is perhaps one of the most intricate systems of societal, political, and economic life that has ever been experienced in Western Culture. When one thinks of the medieval age in Europe, one usually thinks about valiant knights, lords, and ladies. However, such romantic imaginations would be poor representations of what medieval life was really about. Cecilia was involved in the economic system known as manorialism. It is with regard to this system of life and economics that we consider three questions. How did the life of Cecilia Penifader typify the life of a medieval peasant?