If you lived during the Middle Ages, what kind of things would you have? Here is a guide to some of the everyday items that a medieval person would have used or had.
Anvils – one of the instruments typically used by blacksmiths, anvils are heavy blocks of metal. When working with iron or types of metal, the blacksmith would put those pieces on an anvil and use a hammer to hit the piece into shape, creating things like armour, weapons or tools.
Beds – medieval beds would not be as soft as those we use today. It would have a wooden frame, and then a few layers of mattresses – the one on the bottom would be stuffed with straw, the next one filled with wool, and then others with slightly better material like goose feathers. You could also find feather-filled pillows and blankets made of linen or wool.
Books – Most medieval people would not have had books. Those that did would include priests and monks, the nobility, and other wealthy people. In the Middle East and China (where printing was invented) books would be more widely used. Within medieval Europe, books were typically created using animal skins that could be turned into vellum, which was then sewn together into leather bindings.
Brooches – Before the days of zippers (and even buttons, as they only started to be used in the 13th century), people would use brooches to fasten clothing together. Often made of metal, brooches were often elegantly designed and decorated, looking very much like jewellery. We have many examples of medieval brooches, including those made in Viking Scandinavia to Renaissance Italy.
Candles – if you needed light when indoors or at night, you would probably use a candle. During the Middle Ages, there were two kinds of candles: tallow – which was made from sheep fat; and wax – made from beeswax. Wax candles were more expensive because they burned more cleanly.
Chairs – Like today, medieval chairs come in all shapes and sizes. Some would be simple stools or benches, while those used as thrones would be much more ornate, often with a high-backing. There was even a folding chair, called a faldestuel.
Chamber pots – if you needed to go to the washroom, but didn’t want to leave your bedroom, a medieval person would probably use this portable toilet, often made from metal or ceramics.
Combs – Grooming and beauty would be important to medieval people, and a comb would be an essential tool for that. They were usually made of wood or bone, but we have many examples of those made from ivory.
Fireplaces – for heat and cooking, you would often have an ongoing fire, called a hearth. They would be usually found in the middle of the room, which was the best way to make use of all of its heat. The smoke was supposed to go up through a hole in the roof, but often a medieval room would have a smoky smell. A larger building like a castle would have fireplaces built into the walls.
Hats – both men and women often wore headgear, and there were many varieties and styles. What you were wearing on your head would be a good indication of how wealthy or important you were. Jeffrey Singman writes, ” ordinary women of the period are often shown wearing a simple wrap, probably consisting only of a long rectangle of fabric, either tucked into itself or secured in place with a band wrapped twice around the head.
Jars – You always need containers, for storing food or other goods, and pottery was a big business throughout the medieval world. A lot of the surviving art from the Middle Ages is those found on pieces of pottery, including jars, pitchers and decanters.
Keys – to help lock a door or chest, you would need a key. Made of metal, they are often a lot larger than the modern keys.
Knives – one object for daily life in the Middle Ages was a small knife, which would be used both as an eating utensil and as an everyday tool. They were typically carried on a person’s belt.
Musical instruments – there were many kinds of musical instruments in the Middle Ages – some of the most popular include the lute (a string instrument similar to a guitar) and a horn, which was made from an animal horn. Flutes, recorders and pipe organs were also being used during this period.
Ploughs – one of the most important things to do on a medieval farm was to break the soil on a field so it could be planted with crops. In order to do so, you would need a plough – basically a type of blade that could be dragged through the ground and slice it up as it went by. Typically pulled by animals, you would need a heavier plough to break up tougher soils, like those found in northern Europe.
Scales – to properly measure the weight of something, medieval people would use a scale. For example, a merchant would need to know accurately weigh a good that he was buying or selling, and medieval governments often had a lot of regulations for their use.
Shields – a medieval soldier often carried a shield – in some cases, this was their only form of protection. Some styles include the circular wooden shield often associated with Vikings, and a pavise, which was large enough to cover an entire body and would allow an archer or crossbowman to crouch behind it while they prepared their attacks.
Shoes – these often came in many shapes and styles, and could be made of cloth, leather or even wood (clogs). Towards the later Middle Ages, one style of shoe popular with men were those with very long pointed tips. Apparently, they were painful to wear, as they could cause bunions.
Shovels – working as a farmer in the Middle Ages would mean using a few different tools, including the shovel. It’s been used since ancient times, and they are very similar to those you can buy today.
Spindles – in the process of making clothing, you would need to take wool, flax or cotton and turn them into yarn. Spindles were hand-held and through twisting and turning them, you could collect the cloth. During the Middle Ages, the process was improved when the spinning wheel was invented, which made the process much easier and quicker.
Swords – one of the most important weapons of the Middle Ages, the sword is essentially a long piece of iron that has been sharpened. They can be found throughout the medieval world, coming in many different sizes and styles.
Tables – the most common type of table in the Middle Ages was a trestle – they would come in pieces that you would have to set up with two or three supports and then laying a flat board on top of them.
Tools – many of the professions in the Middle Ages would need a variety of tools for the job. Everyday items like saws, hammers and chisels would be needed for construction or to make items.
Trencher – When serving someone food in the Middle Ages, you would serve it on other food. A trencher was usually an old slice of bread, round in size, on which you would place the other food. Once the meal was finished, the trencher might be soaked in sauce, and sometimes this would have been given out to the poor.
Washtubs – While only wealthy people would have their own washtubs, public bathhouses could be found in many cities for the general public to use. Made of wood and circular-shaped, a medieval washtub could be large enough for two or more people to sit in, while water would be brought to them. Click here to learn more about bathing in the Middle Ages.
Holmes, Urban Tigner, Daily Life in the Twelfth Century: Based on the Observations of Alexander Neckham in London and Paris (University of Wisconsin Press, 1966)
Singman, Jeffrey L., The Middle Ages: Everyday Life in Medieval Europe (Sterling, 2013)
Tschen-Emmons, James B., Artifacts from Medieval Europe (ABC-CLIO, 2015)