People in the Middle Ages lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle, thechurch, the village, and the surrounding farm land. These manors were isolated, withoccasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers fromother fiefdoms.In this "feudal" system, the king awarded land grants or "fiefs" to his mostimportant nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiersfor the king's armies. At the lowest echelon of society were the peasants, also called"serfs" or "villains." In exchange for living and working on his land, known as the"demesne," the lord offered his peasants protection.Peasants worked the land and produced the goods that the lord and his manor needed. This exchange was not without hardship for the serfs. They were heavily taxedand were required to relinquish much of what they harvested. Nobles divided their land among the lesser nobility, who became their servantsor "vassals." Many of these vassals became so powerful that the kings had difficultycontrolling them. By 1100, certain barons had castles and courts that rivalled the king's;they could be serious threats if they were not pleased in their dealings with the crown.
During theMiddle Ages, or the medieval period, which lasted roughly from the5th to the 15th century, Western society and education were heavily shaped byChristianity, particularly theRoman Catholic Church.The Church operated parish,chapel, and monastery schools at the elementary level. Schools in monasteries andcathedrals offered secondary education. Much of the teaching in these schools wasdirected at learning Latin, the old Roman language used by the church in its ceremoniesand teachings. The church provided some limited opportunities for the education of women in religious communities or convents. Convents had libraries and schools tohelp prepare nuns to follow the religious rules of their communities. Merchant and craft1