(From the people who brought you “Entertaining During the Black Death: A Wife’s Guide to Meals, Mood, and Miasma.”)
Is your child eating you out of house and manor? Coming in late and treating the place like an alehouse? Leaving jerkins and hose, or expensive gowns, lying around the bedchamber? Perhaps it’s time for some tough love, time for young Edward or little Edith to make their own way in the world. Besides, who can afford another mouth to feed when food shortages, the Black Death, and famines have affected us all? And with you there to provide strong encouragement, a warm cloak, and enough food for 24 hours, your child is sure to succeed.
To aid you and your children in this important life-decision we’ve compiled information on a few of the more popular career choices for today’s youth.
For the Young Men
Need your alone time? Prefer a life of hard work and contemplation to one of commerce or entertainment? Then monk may be the job for you!
- administering to local villagers
- opportunities galore to prove just how austere and pure you are
- money-making potential – blind eyes are turned when extra prayers are offered to those townspeople who can pay
- food and housing are provided
- lots of feast days means less work
- uniforms also provided, with colours to suit any taste! Look good in black? Then join the ‘Wild Bunch’ Benedictines. Prefer white? Try the ‘Back to Basics’ Cistercians
- pretty much guaranteed admittance to Heaven
- no speaking allowed at meals, which means memorising a lot of hand signals, and quickly
- unsociable hours:
- Matins – you’re woken to pray around midnight
- Lauds – you’re woken again, this time at 3am
- Prime – you’ve JUST fallen asleep after Lauds and you’re up at 6am once more for prayers
- Terce – 9am (at least you’re awake now anyway…)
- Sext – noon, time for more prayers
- None – 3pm – you’re interrupted from your gardening, studies, or teaching
- Vespers – 6pm – ready for bed yet?
- Compline – last one of the day, 9pm, if you hurry, you’ll get a couple of hours of sleep before starting it all again!
- gardening – one word: spiders
- annoying villagers demanding your help
Comment: A respectable career with the potential for both advancement and monetary gain. A minimum of obedience and sanctity IS expected.
Can you sing? Make people laugh? How about being a minstrel?
- lute playing
- public speaking
- minstrels get all the girls
- see the world, travel to different courts and different countries
- meet interesting people, particularly those who can further your career or act as patron
- you have to memorise a LOT of words! – one of the most requested songs you’ll need to know is The Song of Roland, over 4,000 lines long
- you’ll have to go to battle – if you can play a horn, then you’re off to rally the troops – sounds exciting but there IS the potential for a sudden and very painful death
Comment: Not for the faint of heart or those with a limited imagination. Likelihood of abuse, both physical and verbal, is high.
Fancy a try at turning lead into gold? Like to blow things up? Then this one’s for you.
- reading books
- mixing chemicals
- trying to find the key to eternal life
- invited to lots of parties where YOU are the entertainment
- get to be a member of secret societies
- cool toys
- blowing things up
- very high possibility of blowing yourself up
- possible heresy accusations
- angry & hurtful disagreements with the church (really, those guys know just which buttons to press)
Comment: Recommended for those with a family history of madness, those with poor eyesight or those born when Mercury was in Capricorn’s third house.
Do you admire a nice sharp knife? Are you the one the family asks to carve the roast swan? Barber surgeon may be a good fit for you.
- cutting hair
- cutting beards
- cutting limbs
- membership of a guild
- licensed to handle blades
- varied job description – shave a beard one day and amputate a leg the next!
- blood – very difficult to clean off your apron
- bodily fluids – see blood
- constant association with sick people
Comment: NOT a career for the squeamish nor those with unsteady hands. A mild addiction to poppy syrup is recommended for this job.
For the Young Women
(Note: by now parents really should have married off their daughters and be enjoying the benefits that a successfully negotiated match brings. But if you’re in a remote area where no suitable marriage arrangements could be made, a career may be the only option.)
Are you ready for some major responsibility? Does running the show make you feel alive? Abbess may be just for you.
- running a community of nuns, including overseeing financials and operations
- keeping a close eye out for hanky-panky of any sort
- admit new members (with the help of the local priest of course!)
- good food
- your own chamber
- access to the best books
- varied nature of role
- soliciting local lords, ladies, and guilds for funding – not everyone’s cup of tea!
- not permitted to give blessings or administer the last rite*
- not permitted to give penance*
- not permitted to make the sign of the cross on a man
*But what the Pope or local priest don’t know won’t hurt them, right ladies?
Comment: Perfect for a strong-willed young lady prone to having visions from saints. However if you’re illegitimate, soiled by man, widowed, blind or deaf, you need not apply.
Answer the following statements: plants are my friends – y/n; I can recognize plants by their smell – y/n; I don’t mind a little poverty – y/n. If you answered ‘yes’ to these, you may already be on your way to becoming a wise woman.
- gathering plants
- drying plants
- planting plants
- learning about plants
- scaring nosey children
- live on your own, perhaps with a cat
- be your own boss
- decorate your hut any way you want
- scaring nosey children
- geography – while living on your own may be okay, your hut will be small and on the edge of town
- possibility of being accused of using witchcraft – and we all know how THAT works…
- live hand-to-mouth; your clients will mostly be poor peasants and farmers who can’t afford the crushed emeralds and pearl dust that their superiors use, and will often pay you with a chicken or a bag of turnips
Comment: Ideal for those who feel closer to nature than to people. Anyone not prepared to possibly be the social pariah of the village should consider another career.
Think you have beauty and poise? Are you patient? Do you like glamorous clothes and makeup? You may be model material.
- posing with flowers
- posing with books
- posing with sewing
- posing with the bible
- posing with the Christ Child
- posing with unicorns
- the admiration of all you encounter
- invitations to all of the best feasts
- access to the latest fashions and trends
- hanging around with painters
- smell of paint follows you
- stiff back from all that posing
- unicorn poo
Comment: Those with more traditional qualities of womanhood would be well-suited to a career as a model. Also ideal for those carrying a little extra weight. Those with a history of bad backs or being ravished by unicorns should avoid this job choice.
I hope these ideas helped and that your own little monk or wise woman is well on their way to becoming a useful and productive member of society.
Note: these are all essentially accurate descriptions of ‘careers’ available in the Middle Ages in England (although how and why an individual ended up in one of these roles would take a paper to describe); the tongue-in-cheek additions are of course mine!
Medieval Lives, Terry Jones (Book and TV Series)
The Measly Middle Ages (Horrible Histories), Terry Deary
The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language – Monasteriales Indicia, Ed. Debby Banham
The Worst Jobs in History, Tony Robinson
Medieval English Nunneries – c1275 to 1535, Eileen Power
Life in the Middle Ages, Martyn Whittock
The Medieval Church – A Brief History, Joseph H. Lynch