Daily Themes and Historical Information


1. Religion and the Church

2. Jobs

3. Family/marriage, home, roles of men & women

4. Knights

5. Food and Feasts

6. Heraldry

7. Learning, Books and Education

8. Art and Music

9. The Plague, Sickness, Death and Medicine

10. War

11. Castles

12. Theatre

13. Non-European Medieval World, Trade and Travel

14. Games, Sports, Festivals and Fun

1. Religion and The Church

Background information:

Game: Papst Sagt

Papst, was machst du?

Ich tanze. Du tanzt! Wir tanzen! Sie tanzen! (points to one or two people to dance by themselves,

with others or with the Papst)

Was machst du?Was macht ihr? Was machen wir?

Ich tanze, sie tanzen, wir tanzen.

Subjects have to describe what they’re doing w/correct conjugation or else they’re out

Activity: Stained glass windows

Background information:

• Windows in churches often told stories for people who couldn’t read

• Featured saints, Bible stories and knights

• Sometimes knights sponsored windows in churches and had their picture put on them

Skit: Gummibaergott

2. Jobs

Background Information:


New ways of farming developed to allow fewer peasants to produce more food so more

people could live in towns and cities

Some jobs done by hand in early Middle Ages were done by machines in the late Middle


Three-field rotation: First group of fields planted with rye or wheat in autumn, second

planted with oats, beans, or vegetables in spring, and third left fallow—peasants grew

crops in two-thirds of the fields each year

Heavy plow: Used to prepare heavy, damp soil in N. Europe for planting; created ridges

in which seeds were scattered. Required team of horses or oxen. Horses wore horseshoes.


• Cloth making: employed more people than any other trade except farming

• Made from sheep’s wool or linen (from flax) or silk (from silkworms)

• Used for clothes, sacks and food wrapping

• Wool was cut from sheep using shears, washed and combed

• Flax plants were harvested and stems soaked until they fell apart; pounded until fibers

separated; then washed, combed and spun

• Thread and yarn made by hand, then dyed and woven


• Wind and water mills: Used to grind grain into flour. Craftspeople also used them to

power up and down motions, such as raising and lowering hammers, pumping bellows,

and pounding cloth.


• Leather used to make shoes, buckets, aprons, leggings, harnesses, window coverings,

book covers

• Scrape fat off skin of animal, soak the hide in water and lime, rinse hide and scrape

away the hair, soak in many changes of water, sometimes with animal manure or urine to

soften it, soak for at least seven months in a vat filled with water and chips of oak to turn

it brown


• Houses built out of wood directly on the ground; had to be rebuilt later on a foundation

• Carpenters made wooden frames for houses, wooden furniture, and made and repaired

wooden tools.

• Used tools such as hammers, chisels and adzes (to shape lumber)


• Used saws, hammers and chisels to trim and shape building stones

• Used mortar to hold stones in place

• Used measuring tools to match stone’s shape to patterns

• Stood on scaffolding to reach high places

• Cranes and treadwheels (which looked like big hamster wheels) lifted stones, wooden

beams, iron and lead

Master Builder:

• Supervised masons, carpenters, metalworkers, laborers needed to build a large stone

structure such as a cathedral, bridge or castle


• Iron: most important metal, used to make hammers, nails, horseshoes, plow blades, axles

and gears, and weapons

• Iron couldn’t be made hot enough to melt, so blacksmith had to clean and crush iron ore

and put it in a furnace with lots of charcoal, then remove glowing metal with long tongs,

hammer hot iron until unwanted parts of ore were forced out, hammer remaining iron into

shape, reheating as often as necessary to keep it soft

• Blast furnace in 1300s used extra oxygen to make fire hot enough to melt iron

• Eventually learned how to make steel by combining iron with a tiny amount of carbon

• Goldsmiths used chisels and small hammers to shape gold into beautiful pieces of jewelry

• Early Middle Ages: chain mail, then flat iron or steel connected with rivets and leather

straps, then by 1450 all steel plates


Games: Tierspiel (mit Berufe)


Siedler von Cataan


Activities: Making leather

Making clothes

Herbal Healer


3. Family/marriage, home, roles of men & women

Background information:

• Noblewomen:

o Directing people who ran staff of manor house

o Entertaining important visitors

o Keeping track of money

o Stocking provisions

o Sometimes making sure manor could be defended during war

o Some girls taught to care for children so they could be governesses


o Caring for livestock

o Smoking meats

o Baking

o Making cheese and butter

o Taking care of gardens

o Sometimes ran schools, sold things they made, watched over renters

o Could buy things in town so had to be able to bargain

Peasant women:

o Very important because family depended on her completely

o Keeping houses clean

o Cooking

o Making cloth and clothes

o Caring for children

o Making cheese, butter, ale

o Helping men and boys in the field

o Growing herbs and vegetables

o Providing many of the goods that were paid as taxes to the lord of the manor

Women outside the home:

o Mostly did not have jobs, but some were nurses

o Some became doctors but this was frowned upon and if they were too good they

might be accused of witchcraft

o Moneychangers: could lend money to merchants and shippers; eventually

declared illegal

o Merchants and shippers, some owned own shipping businesses, trading in wines,

oils, wax and silks

o Candlemakers, alemakers, cloth merchants, street hawkers, could buy or rent

shops if they made enough money

Activity: Time-telling candles


4. Knights

Background information:

• A noble boy could become a page to one of his fathers’ knights at about age seven.

• Pages had to learn manners, etiquette, how to care for armor, weapons; had to study hard

• Noblewomen and queens taught pages how to play musical instruments, sing, recite

poetry, serve food

• Monks taught them reading and sometimes writing, arithmetic, geometry, strategy games

• Squires were the most important teachers—taught pages how to shoot a bow and arrow,

train falcons, fight with a sword, ride a horse, jousting

• Page was a squire’s servant—had to lay out his clothes, heat and carry water for the

squire’s bath, help him get dressed, wait on him during feasts, polish his armor

• At age 14, page became a squire to one knight

• Knight taught squire how to make and fix weapons and armor, fighting techniques

• Squire assisted knights with horses, spurs and weapons, and knight eventually took best

squires to battle with him

• At age 21, squire was ready to be knighted

Knighthood ceremony:

o Squire bathes and dresses in a white gown the evening before

o Goes to church and prays

o In the afternoon he dresses in a full suit of armor

o Squire’s knight gives him his own special sword

o Squire swears to be brave, honest, humble and courteous, helpful and generous to

the poor and weak (close enough)

o Swears fealty to one special person, usually a king, queen, or duke, as well as to


Activities: Archery

Riding horses

Sword dance

5. Food and Feasts

Background information:

• Spoons used for soups and puddings

• Knives used to move meat from plate; guests often carried their own knives

• Forks were unfashionable

• Everything else eaten with hands and fingers—certain fingers for different dishes

• Fingers washed between

• No individual plates—just serving platters brought from the kitchen and bread bowls that

were often colored/flavored with spices

• Honored guests/hosts sat on raised table at the front; other tables in rows perpendicular to

the front table

• White tablecloths

• Service (for serving and hand-washing) starts at the most honored seat at the center of the

high table

• Courses announced with trumpet fanfare, drums, pipe music

• Dishes brought to pairs of guests who then shared that plate

• Double portions appropriate for special guests/special occasions

• Food brought by servants in procession

• Music played throughout and guests sometimes participated in singing and instrument

playing as they feasted

• Lots of variety, choice within courses

• Serving was done by noble children—the chance to be present for what went on at feasts

(eg discussions of politics, learning decorum of court, seeing and meeting powerful

people) was important to training for future

• Servants were taught proper technique for tasting food to make sure it was good/not


• Food was made to impress and entertain (eg cooking peacocks with the feathers still on,

baking live birds into pies so they would sing when the crust was cut, sewing the top of a

baked chicken onto the bottom of a baked pig, serving pudding with jugglers or acrobats

inside so they would leap out when the food was served)

“Kitchen art” such as sculpting and artificially coloring food was common




Role play: Medieval Feast—kids serve counselors using proper etiquette

Cook authentic food


6. Heraldry

Background information:

• Since knights wore headgear that hid their faces during battle, the design (coat of arms)

on a shield helped others to identify him

• Included symbols of the knight’s life and adventures

o Main charge: symbol representing something about your life

o Tincture of the field: Shield’s background color (color symbolizes difference


o Marks of cadency: Symbol of state or country

o Cantons: Smaller symbols

• Once nobility began to bear arms, lower classes often began to do so as well. In

Germany, burghers and peasants were allowed to bear arms

• Heraldry=system of identifying individuals based on insignia

• Original purpose was for use on shields, surcoats, horse trappers and banners, to

distinguish combatants in war and in tournaments, and on seals as marks of identity

instead of signatures

• Later, the insignia became more naturalistic rather than symbolic: identification on

battlefield and tournaments achieved through flags and crests, and seals became obsolete

because of more widespread literacy. This marked end of true age of heraldry.

• Coats of arms first used only by kings and princes, then nobility, then (by mid-13th

century) by lesser nobility, knights and gentlemen, and eventually in some countries by

merchants, townspeople and even peasants

• Noblemen employed heralds to be near the lord constantly to answer questions as to

the identity of a knight—they became official confidants of households and diplomatic


• Two trains of thought: that any man could bear arms, or that only the nobility should be

allowed to do so in order for the system to function properly

• Colors: Black, red, green, blue (non-metal/dark colors), silver and gold (metal/light


• As more coats of arms were recorded, more designs and colors were included

Activity: Wappenkunde

7. Learning, Books and Education

Background information:

• Church set up special schools that mainly taught religion

• Children learned to read Latin so they could copy the Bible, math so they could figure out

dates of religious holidays, and singing so they could join the choir

• Boys from wealthy families attended monastery school—usually younger sons who

would not inherit family’s wealth or boys who weren’t strong enough to be knights

• Sat on a bench for long hours writing on a wax tablet

• Children, teenagers and adults learned same lessons in same classroom

• No recess or playtime

• No one could challenge ideas, conduct experiments, or ask questions

• Universities founded in some large cities

• Seven main topics: Grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy

• Books were hard to find and libraries had very few

• In 1040 a young scholar paid for one book with 200 sheep, several bales of wheat, fur

and other goods

• Schools started later for education of merchants’ children

• Children of lower classes learned a trade or farming, making home crafts, taking care of


• Memorization very important

• Girls’ Education:

o Before 1200s, educating girls was considered too expensive because of dowry

o Eventually people began to send girls to convent schools

o Sometimes they were tutored at home, for example by wandering scholars who

taught prayers and Bible stories

o Rare for women to become teachers, but mothers taught their own children

manners, poetry, how to read coats of arms, dancing and singing

• Scribes:

o Until 1100 most manuscripts copied by monks for use in monastic libraries

o Later, secular scribes were employed to produce books to keep libraries up to date

o By 1200 secular workshops were writing and decorating manuscripts for sale to the


o By 1300 monasteries rarely made their own manuscripts

o Some lay scribes worked independently but most gathered in workshops which later

became guilds

o They worked in neighborhoods of universities to supply textbooks

o Salary in 14th century was equal to that of a common farm laborer

o Scribes wrote on parchment or vellum with quills, which needed to be sharpened


o Great variety of scribes, ranging from clerks, students, priests, debtors and book


o In some colophons scribes declare delights in finishing the task, complain of its

length and ask for eternal life, a jug of wine or a pretty girl as a reward

o Many scribes early on were monks who worked in the monastery scriptoria

o The monks were either sons of poor families who had sent them to monasteries

tobe raised and educated to become monks, or men who joined because of religious

conviction or to escape the outside world

o Work in the scriptorium was an important obligation—manuscripts produced to

promote education

o Constant demand for reproduction of many religious and classical works

o Theft of a manuscript was a great crime

o Was important for scribes not to make errors that would then be repeated as the

manuscript was reproduced

o Copying was long and difficult work every day; rooms were dark because no candles

were allowed and they had to sit on stools all day monstly in silence

o Abbot decided what would be copy every day, and couldn’t exchange labor with

another or objectp; couldn’t let his mind wander because he might be questioned later

on the material he had copied


o Different styles depending on whether the scribe wanted to just write quickly with no

concern for appearance; quickly and attractively; or with great attention to detail and


o If all the letters are about the same height, it’s called “majuscule’; if the letters with

long ends such as “p” and “t” extend out further, it’s called “ minuscule”. These

styles correspond to modern capital and lowercase letters

o The “script” is the pattern, the “hand” is what the scribe actually puts on the page and

varies depending on his training, skill, taste in embellishment, and what he is writing

o Handwritten manuscripts were promoted aggressively by the Church

o Monks invented the “patron demon” of calliagraphy, Titivillus, who searched for

mistakes to fill his sacks to bring down to the devil, who recorded each sin in his

book against the monk who had committed it, to be read on the Day of Judgment


Calliagraphy (and making own ink)

Copying texts

Book binding

8. Art and Music

Background information:


o Painters colored plaster walls or wooden painters

o Painters often had apprenticeships of four to eight years

o In some secular painting the patrons often dictated the images to be produced by

the painters

o Religious images controlled by a traditional sense of what was customary and


o Medieval visitors could obtain relief from their time in purgatory by seeing

certain paintings

Embroidery and sewing:

o Craft suitable for noble women and queens—often had great skill

o Materials such as silk ground and silver and gold thread were often expensive

o Workshops created larger pieces

o Embroidery often enriched with pearls, semi-precious stones and gold and silver


o Noblewomen often created tapestries—elaborate scenes told religious and

romantic stories


o Wide range of colors used

o Manuscripts reflect light by gold and silver

o Lots of technical skill



Make instruments



9. The Plague, Sickness, Death and Medicine

Background information:



Herbal Healer game

10. War

Background Information:

Activity: War

11. Castles

Background Information:

Activities: Learn different parts of the castle, give directions

Make a castle gatehouse, tower and keep

Design own castles

(Detlef has more on this)

12. Theatre

Background information:


13. Non-European Medieval World, Trade and Travel

Background information:



14. Games, sports, festivals and fun

Background information:

• Over 100 holidays or days of rest

• Royal families often hired jugglers, acrobats, musicians, puppeteers, actors, and bards

(singers) to entertain at castle feasts

• Special effects

• Ballads

• Peasants enjoyed fairs in villages and around castles that had performances, cheap

snacks, beer, ale and crafts

• Fortune telling, holy relics

• Bowling and tennis were popular among merchants and nobility

• Hunting—awarded points for trapping different animals

• Falcon and sparrow raced and performed tricks

• Tournaments and jousts—chance to flirt, parade, dance

• Peasants also had sporting events such as wrestling and throwing contests, cockfighting,

bear baiting


Make and play boardgames