October 21, 2022

Medieval artwork of two men.When you think of a “peasant,” your may mind naturally gravitate to depictions in movies and TV shows of a dirty man or woman clothed in a tunic or woollen hose. Duncan Hardy, associate professor of history, explains in his essay on History Extra that the portrayal of ordinary medieval people in modern media is inaccurate.

“Most films set in the Middle Ages treat peasants as mere window dressing: a powerless, servile mass. Extras with dirt on their faces pose in crowd scenes while the real protagonists – royals, nobles and clergy – drive the plot forward,” Hardy says.

Throughout his essay, Hardy explains that people living in the middle ages were complex individuals and seldom victims of the biological, economic and political hardships that they faced.

“We should neither romanticise [peasants] nor write them off as an undifferentiated mass of abject lower orders, but respect them as complex and fully rounded historical agents. And we should seek to capture the echoes of their voices in our fragmentary source material wherever we can.”

Read Hardy’s full essay on History Extra.