(villeins working their lord's fields)
The class of peasants known as "villeins" in medieval England play a significant role in my story of The Lady and the Minstrel. So what were villeins?
This term "villein" is often used today as interchangeable with “serf”, but in fact a “villein” was an unfree peasant on the higher social end among the serfs, while a “cottar” was at the bottom of the social scale among the serfs, the scale being determined by the amount of land one possessed and the number of fees and services owed to the manor lord. Whether villein or cottar, both were “unfree” peasants. At the same time, they were not slaves. Serfs at any level could not be sold, although the land they worked on could be sold and thereby bring the serf under the authority of another manor lord. Each serf held some land of his own on which he could raise crops to support himself and if he managed to grow any excess, he could sell that excess for profit. Serfs had some rights and privileges that the manor lord was (in theory) required to respect. It was technically illegal for a manor lord to separate a serf from his lands and send him to work on a different manor, although one manor lord in The Lady and the Minstrel does exactly that with one of the characters. It was also illegal for a serf to leave his land and go live somewhere else, with the exception of the Law of a Year and a Day. Although Robert’s mother was a cottar and his father a villein, I use the term “villein” throughout The Lady and the Minstrel to simplify the class of unfree peasants for the reader.