Saturday, July 23, 2005

Social Cohesion in the 14th Century

It's not just the poor we have always with us:

tell me, Lord, if you please, by what right or title does a villein eat beef? ... And goose, of which they have plenty? And this troubles God. God suffers from it and I too. For they are a sorry lot, these villeins who eat fat goose! Should they eat fish? Rather let them eat thistles and briars, thorns and straw and hay on Sunday and peapods on weekdays.

They should keep watch without sleep and have trouble always; that is how villeins should live. Yet each day they are full and drunk on the best wines, and in fine clothes. the great expenditures of villeins come at a high cost, for it is this that destroys and ruins the world. It is they who spoil the common welfare.

From the villein comes all unhappiness. Should they eat meat? Rather should they chew grass on the heath with the horned cattle and go naked on all fours ..."

(From Le Despit au Vilain, cited in A Distant Mirror by Barbara W Tuchman. Tuchman notes:

[This tale was] addressed to an upper-class audience. Was this what they wanted to hear, or was it a satire of their attitude?)

No comments: