A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, C. 1297-1344 / Edition 1

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Overview

This history of medieval village life is told through the experiences of Cecilia Penifader, a peasant woman who lived on one English manor in the early fourteenth century. This truly unique book offers a wealth of insight into medieval peasant society, bringing many of the characteristics of a time and a people to life. Short and readable, it is an ideal text for undergraduate teaching, suitable for courses in Western civilization, medieval history, women's history, and English history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780072903317
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Higher Education
  • Publication date: 11/20/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 198,894
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith M. Bennett teaches medieval history and women's history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is Martha Nell Hardy Distinguished Professor. Educated at Mount Holyoke College, the University of Toronto, and the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, she is the author of numerous books and articles about peasants, women, and families in the Middle Ages. Professor Bennett's research has been supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and numerous other agencies. She has held lectureships in Australia and England, as well as the United States. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London, she has held offices in such professional organizations as the Medieval Academy of America, the North American Conference on British Studies, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, and the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Professor Bennett has received several awards for her scholarly books and articles, and she is also an acclaimed teacher at UNC-CH, where she has won a top teaching award and is now a fellow of the Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: The World Around Her

Chapter 3: Lords, Ladies, and Peasants

Chapter 4: Parish, Belief, Ritual

Chapter 5: Changing Times

Chapter 6: Kin and Household

Chapter 7: An Economy of Makeshifts

Chapter 8: Community

Chapter 9: Women and Men

Chapter 10: Medieval Peasants, Modern People
Glossary
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 26, 2012

    Better Than a Textbook

    In A Medieval Life by Judith M. Bennett, the life of the peasant Cecilia Penifader is reconstructed through primary sources to create an image of what life was like in the Middle Ages for the common man, or in this case, woman. It is factual and reads like a textbook, but Bennett did not write the book to be entertaining. She wrote the book for students who were looking to learn more about the Middle Ages.She succeeds in that it is very informative, and the reader finishes the book with a rich knowledge of what life was like back then.
    To give a brief summary, the book describes all the aspects of medieval life. It covers politics, religion, economics, and societal functions. Furthermore, Bennett divides the medieval community into three interconnecting parts: village, parish, and manor. Other main topics in the book are gender roles and how families operated. The book successfully gives a snapshot of the Medieval Ages through Penifader’s eyes and how the world around her worked.
    Moreover, one thing that makes this book shine is the use of primary sources to piece together a life. Bennett uses multiple primary sources throughout the text, such as paintings/drawings, and court rolls and documents as evidence to back up her facts and information. However, Bennett does have to make assumptions and draw conclusions in some places, which is one of the critiques of the book. However, history through interpretation is one of the factors that makes this book admirable, because of the authors thorough research to conclude how Cecilia lived. A Medieval Life, while not only teaching us about primary sources, teaches students about how historians reconstruct the past.
    Furthermore, A Medieval Life is a good book for students because it paints the medieval times at a personal level. This makes the content easier to understand because the book relates these facts to how they pertained to Cecilia Penifader. However, it is worthy to note that Cecilia is not a typical individual of the Middle Ages: “Many peasants were poorer than she; many were male, rather than female; and most married, but she never did,” (Bennett 9) Furthermore, Brigstock is an atypical village because its manor is not monitored by lords, but by tenants.So while making the book a case study is beneficial, the reader has to keep in mind that Cecilia was not a typical medieval peasant..
    A Medieval Life is an excellent book for students who are studying the Middle Ages. It is rich with information about the medieval era. Additionally, it uses a case study to personally specify the experience of the medieval times through Cecilia Penifader. However, this book may be a bit too detailed for the average history student. While well written, it can sometimes go into so much detail that it can make be difficult for the reader to maintain focus and interest. Ultimately, this is a highly informative and useful book for a history student.

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  • Posted September 25, 2012

    Novice of the Middle Ages? Read on!

    When you think of the Middle Ages, what do you think of? Do you think of ladies in waiting, processions of kings and queens, and hardworking people that never rest? Most people do, but Judith M. Bennett disproves a lot of these common stereotypes by telling about the life of an atypical peasant, Cecilia Penifader, as well as the world around her. Focusing on the above misconceptions and how well Bennett wrote and conveyed and supported information in A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, C. 1295- 1344, a textbook-style work, that I would recommend the book to any novice of the Middle Ages.
    First of all, Bennett disproves the common misconception that all women sat around and called themselves “ladies in waiting.” In contrast to the idea of “ladies in waiting,” Bennett portrays women as hard-working members of society, and uses primary sources to support and explains extra information in footnotes. Bennett goes on to talk about some of women’s’ responsibilities: brewing ale, working around the house, and even assisting with harvest during the busy months. The author sees women as a crucial part of the Middle Ages’ economy and promotes that not many women even called themselves “ladies in waiting.”

    Another fallacy that people have is that the king controlled the daily lives of the people, when, in fact, Cecilia never even saw the king, or even her manorial lord, for that matter. Bennett states, “Cecilia grew up, reached maturity, aged, sickened, and died without ever bowing before any lord or lady of Bridgstock” (31). Cecilia and her manor weren’t ever really affected by the nobility. One must keep in mind, though, that Cecilia lived in an atypical manor, in which manorial supervision didn’t exist as it did in other parts around England. So, although Bridgstock wasn’t a typical manor, Bennett still clearly contradicts the common myth that kings ruled the lives of all people in the Middle Ages.

    Lastly, Bennett did a good job of disproving that peasants’ lives were all work and no play. Throughout the book, Bennett describes traditions and celebrations that Cecilia took part in. Cecilia’s parish was a place of not only worship, but also for social gatherings. Since Cecilia’s life was centered on the liturgical calendar, she celebrated many religious holidays. Bennett also erases this common misconception by providing many examples, and includes a glossary to define religious terminology such as “churching,” and continued to use it throughout the book. With the examples provided, we are able to understand the reality of what Cecilia’s life was like.

    Although there are many more misunderstandings of the Middle Ages, Bennett did a good job of erasing the ones listed above from the reader’s mind. Bennett’s support using primary sources and the inclusion of a glossary must be praised. As a result of Bennett’s notable writing and the organization of the book, I would certainly recommend the book to any novice of the Middle Ages.

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

    Eclectic Review- must read for everyone!

    A Medieval Life: A Different Perspective On Medieval Life


    Want an interesting view on medieval life? Want to learn how life for the exception was back in the days ruled by men? Want to learn about an independent woman in a world dominated by men ? If you answered yes to any one of these questions, then Judith Bennett’s A Medieval Life is definitely the book for you.
    Judith Bennett creates a book that has a different perspective about the Middle Ages than presented by the first chapter of A World Lit Only By Fire . She paints the church in a more positive manner, highlights the lives of peasants, and portrays the violence of the time in a more positive manner than many other texts.
    Bennett presents religion as a more caring force in the community in A Medieval Life. Judith Bennett’s book paints the church as ”parishes drawn to care for Christian souls” (12). This is contrary to Manchester’s work that presents the church in a punitive manner. A Medieval Life specifies the Church as keeping the community together and resolving conflicts within that society.
    Judith Bennett's work stands out for the fact that it followed the life of a peasant instead of that of an elite member of society. Most history texts on medieval life emphasize the role of the elite in society. A World Lit Only by Fire illustrates how important the elite in society are by focusing on the hierarchy of the urban elite and religious leaders while neglecting the role of the peasants. Yet, A Medieval Life covers Cecilia’s life extensively from birth to death without ever bowing before a lord or lady of Brigstock. Bennett’s work succeeds where Manchester’s fails in giving sufficient information on the life of a peasant and the roles the peasants played in society . A Medieval Life will complete the information missing from other sources on medieval life especially on peasant life .
    A Medieval Life is much more moderate in its descriptions of the crime of the time. For example, Manchester describes in an extreme way citing , “the level of everyday violence –deaths in alehouse brawls, during bouts with staves or even in play football or wrestling was shocking” (6). Meanwhile, A Medieval Life only discusses petty crimes of the time period. This aspect of the book will cause readers to question the stereotypes put out about medieval life as a time when advancement stops and violence was gruesome.
    A Medieval Life is creative as it dares to go against the grain on what is commonly taught about life in the medieval times. It also uses a peasant to present its story which is contrary to other famous texts like that of Manchester’s on the medieval time period that would most likely present it from the standpoint of society’s elite. This novel by Judith Bennett stands out for its unique style, and is a great read for any person seeking to attain knowledge from a different perspective on medieval life .

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

    ¿A Medieval Life,¿ Not a Medieval Read. Worth Reading!

    I’m not a history major, a professor, or anyone interested in studying medieval peasantry. However, after reading Judith Bennett’s A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344, I feel I have a more professional, in-depth look into the world of a common person from the Middle Ages. Bennett says, “Cecilia’s story is exceptional for its documentation but ordinary in most other respects.” Her statement is true; this case-study on the lives of medieval peasants provides us with an amazingly accurate snapshot. Bennett touches on many important topics in the life of a peasant, including manor community life, the feudal system, and households. It was interesting to me when Bennett highlighted the church. I expected to read about powerful churches commanding every decision, so it surprised me to read about more unique traditions for families. Altogether, the book provides lots of important, relatable knowledge on how the world might’ve been centuries ago. I felt that Bennett’s purpose was to inform while connecting to help readers better understand concepts. I think that she totally accomplished this goal. Through some common knowledge and specific facts, a reader gets a very detailed depiction of peasant lifestyles. Comparing to Penifaders themselves brought a new level of personality and connectability. Through incorporating how specific events affected the Penifader family, it’s easier to grasp how actual families were affected. Reading a textbook, it’s easy to stare at the page and not think about connections, but Bennett’s book smoothly transitions between facts and specifics, making the experience interesting AND informational. The perspective makes knowledge easier to connect and retain. One problem is that showing a family and town that’s somewhat exceptional, the reader isn’t 100% looking at the average. Though describing Cecilia’s story as “unexceptional,” there are times where she mentions how Penifaders weren’t necessarily the case for average peasants. Brigstock itself was slightly unique. People could lease land from the landlords and most could, “emigrate, work, marry, and take grievances to the king’s court.” Although these circumstances were somewhat unusual, Bennett is very clear in pointing out exceptions. Another small problem, more of a perspective really, is that she doesn’t really look into the other aspects of another social class, like a knight or a royal. It’s still looking at a medieval life, just a specific one, described in great detail. I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in the Middle Ages or looking for information in a class. Obviously, if you’re looking to study about every aspect of medieval life and social class, this isn’t the book for you. I can’t imagine many sources being better for information on the peasants. The book’s difficult, but it’s not impossible to read. I was completely able to comprehend the information provided. Altogether, I do think that Bennett’s A Medieval Life is a fantastic resource for any student hoping to succeed in European history, but still an excellent tool for anyone interested in the medieval times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2012

    Unrecognized Complexity

    A Medieval Life, by Judith M. Bennett focused on life as a peasant in the Middle Ages. The main character was Cecilia Penifader, a well-off single woman. Bennett chose to do a case study on Cecilia Penifader, who was atypical, to show the complexity of medieval life. Bennett explained from the beginning of the book that Cecilia’s life differed from most peasants before her. Born in the late thirteenth century, the custom of passing surnames from one generation to the next was just beginning. Cecilia also differed from other peasants because of her family’s wealth. Compared to kings and ladies, Cecilia’s family was not wealthy, but to peasants around her; Cecilia’s family was well off. Cecilia’s life differed from lives of nobles, such as Lady of Clare’s. Although Cecilia was wealthy enough to hire help, she did not have authority over people with a lower status. Bennett included many facts about Cecilia’s life in the beginning of the book, and a great amount at the end. This method was effective because the personal detail helped me compare Cecilia to people around her. Although Cecilia was more independent than most women, she shared one aspect of life with all women: restrictions based on gender. Bennett explained how women were restricted in various ways. Women couldn’t join tithings, their wages were lower, they could not make broad social connections, and were restricted in political affairs. Cecilia’s sisters, Agnes and Christina, who were married, could not combine, sell or buy land without their husband’s permission. Cecilia, however, was treated like a full adult in court because she was not married and was, therefore, head of her household. Bennett successfully explained how gender restrictions would have affected Cecilia. She explained how Cecilia dealt with restrictions in three different stages of life: Infant, adolescent, and adult. I thought it was very telling when Bennett explained how Cecilia’s brother-in-law, Henry Kroyl’s life differed in terms of creating social and political bonds. Henry served as a pledge and made social bonds with hundreds of people within Brigstock. Cecilia could not serve as a pledge, meaning she could not help her friends who needed her, and could not compensate when she was pledged for. By holding many offices Henry made a career out of public service, while Cecilia could not. I recommend this book to people who are interested in studying the Middle Ages. This book is not formatted to be a leisurely read. However, Bennett used an effective strategy when organizing the book. Rather than explaining events chronologically, Bennett organized the book by topic. This system was successful because by explaining each topic individually, I could focus on the complexity of medieval life. Bennett dedicated a section to each topic in order to clearly explain the intricacies of medieval life faced by Cecilia.

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

    What Type of Book Are YOU Looking For?

    A Medieval Life by Judith M. Bennett is about the day-to-day life of a peasant, more specifically a tenant Cecilia Penifader, in the Middle Ages. Readers learn about Cecilia’s family, lifestyle, challenges, and rewards of being an adult. Bennett wrote A Medieval Life as a textbook for students to learn about the Middle Ages; she achieves her purpose by portraying the life of a peasant who is out of the norm for that time period. Some readers may believe that this book is a novel, but they should be warned that A Medieval Life is a textbook.
    To begin with, this book worked as a textbook in a positive way by providing illustrations that depict the content of the book. This contribution to the text was very helpful by allowing me to understand what Cecilia’s living conditions were like. Another positive feature of this book is the glossary, which is provided to help readers understand Bennett’s terminology. Bennett put a glossary in her book because she knew most readers wouldn’t understand specific words she wrote in the text, but she wanted them to comprehend her terminology. Additionally, Bennett focuses only on Cecilia Penifader so she rarely mentions kings, lords, the clergy, serfs, or tenants. In my opinion, Bennett made life easier for some readers because she only focused on one type of person. If Bennett had written about more roles, the book would be overwhelming.
    On another note, Bennett wrote about Cecilia Penifader and how she was not like the average woman in the Middle Ages; on the one hand, this can be a negative aspect because readers only learn about Cecilia and her lifestyle. On the other hand, learning only about Cecilia can be a positive feature in A Medieval Life because readers learn how different she is compared to any other medieval female. However, Bennett’s writing about how Cecilia was out of the norm can also be a negative factor. Learning about Cecilia’s characteristics do not tell readers anything about what a normal, female peasant’s life was like in the Middle Ages.
    In final analysis, I would not recommend this book to a reader wanting to learn about every role fulfilled in the Middle Ages including kings, lords, the clergy, or peasants because it does not cover any of those roles; nor would I recommend this book to someone looking for a novel because A Medieval Life is a textbook. However, I would highly recommend this book to a reader who wants to learn about the specific life of a peasant in the medieval times.

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

    Looking to learn about a medieval life other than using the boring text book? Heres your book!

    In the book A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295-1344 by Judith M. Bennett the title says it all; the book is centered around the life of Cecilia Penifader but describes the life of any peasant in the middle ages. The purpose of this book is to reflect a lifestyle that hasn’t been looked at by many as she goes into Cecilia’s life but also depicts the life of other peasants who lived in the medieval era. There haven’t been many stories like Cecilia’s, an unmarried woman, who was not the typical peasant. Bennett explains that, “Cecilia lived in a world that clearly and firmly distinguished between female and male,” (Bennett 115) which was why Bennett’s choice was such a shock; women were considered not as important as men. The author gives us vivid descriptions of the peasant lifestyles and their interactions within their community through the point of view of Cecilia Penifader. Through this book, we learned more personal information about Cecilia’s life which Bennett used to make connections to the other peasants lives. For example, her family had seven siblings and only lost two at a young age, a great accomplishment when it came to the circumstances of that time period. Bennett describes the typical family life of other peasants to help the reader grasp what it was really like to live back them. However, Cecilia’s life was not the typical life of a peasant, because she was most likely a bit more fortunate than other peasants such as serfs and unfree peasants. Bennett writes, “Many medieval peasants were personally unfree in ways that the Penifaders and other tenants of Brigstock were not.” (32). Bennett emphasizes that “the Penifaders were fecund and fortunate,” (14) talking about their large family and land ownership. The author is sure to describe that Cecilia is much more atypical, but it would have been more helpful to have another peasant character who could back up more of the evidence of the typical peasant. Apart from Cecilia’s atypical peasant life, I feel like Judith Bennett did an excellent job providing information and a story about the peasant life in a way not many authors have written about. By choosing an actual person who lived back then she gave new insight and an interesting way to look at peasants lives. The book was very informative and cited with many accurate historical court documents and other things to prove that the book was written on facts and not as a fictional book. I recommend this book to any person looking to learn more about the medieval peasant life. It gives a whole new outlook to these times covering all of the major parts of peasant’s lives and gives a face to these stories we hear of peasants and medieval times.

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