European society between the years 1500 and 1800 prove to be an interesting comparison to modern times, as can be seen in †George Huppert’s work, After the Black Death. Some important aspects of this particular historical society bore both similarities and differences to contemporary populous. In comparing and contrasting certain features of Huppert’s analysis, the reader can better understand the growth of society in the past five hundred years . It is no question that the most important aspect of a person’s life during this time period basically any event which involved the family.
Family life in Europe was considerably different in comparison to other areas of the world at the time, but had many similiarities to the family picture in today’s society. For example, marriages in urban areas were not arranged by the parents of the bride and groom, but by the couples themselves. Marriage was considered to be the most important event in one’s life, and all members of the family attended, including even business partners. The women were usually in their early or middle-twenties when they married, and afterwards the couples usually moved out of the parents’ homes to find a space of their own.
The European couples even had an early form of population control, in which women waited past their teenage years to marry, and thus shorten the time available for conception. This method was a most primitive of birth/population control, but “… the most readily identifiable one” (13). As familiar as one would find these proceding traits, there were quite a number of differences in family tradition. Before children married, they were practically enslaved to work for either their parents or another richer household. If the children worked for a different household, then those parents had absolute authority.
Freedom was obtained through marriage alone, and parents of the couples soon retired to pass their businesses down to their children. Women were generally considered to be in charge of running the household after marriage, and if a woman were to remain single, harsh judgement was pressed upon her. Such accusations included premisciousity, scandalousness and other forms of immoral behavior. “Young women whose parents had died and who lacked sufficient property to find a husband were seen as a threat to the community” (118).
Men had troubles living on their own as well. They were forced to find jobs, and were banished from the village if they failed to do so. Overlaping seasonally into rural family life, was religion. It played an important role in family and society, as it does today. Looking back, one would find many aspects of religion which have survived to present-day. One of which, was the practice of holding Sundays for rest from work, and church services. These Sunday masses brought together both rich and poor Christian families alike.
Religious worship was not exclusively reserved for Sundays, services were also held during Saturday afternoons and of course, certain holidays. Children were baptised at birth, and holidays were celebrated with feasts in which all family members attended. Certain parts of the religious facet have changed since this historical time period. One of the more surprising differences back then, was perhaps the fact that priests did not play a major role in religious activity. They spent most of their time in larger cities, thus resulting in the lack of importance that he played on the townsfolk where they occasionally resided.
The people paid more tribute the Virgin Mary and various Saints, and especially embracing those who were known or said to cure illnesses successfully. The townsfolk were known to respect certain Saints and to disregard those whom they felt did not benefit them. Religion also played a large part in education, private schools taught religion as well as the basic reading, writing and mathematics. Even the public schools were strictly watched by the Church. While religion was a backdrop for everyday life in rural Europe, the main focus daily was working to provide for the family.
The work habits were quite different five hundred years ago. The children were often apprentices in the family guild, and colleagues kept close ties. The families spent holidays together celebrating, and attended marriages respectively. If the wife’s husband died, she took his place in the guild until the oldest child became of age to then take her place. As previously mentioned, parents retired soon after their children married and passed their businesses on to them. Peasants worked their lands strenuously, and earned just enough to support themselves and their children.
In the twenty-first century, one rarely sees work and family tied in so closely together, unless of course, it is a family business. It is the differences of the past which help us to understand how far, or how little, society has progressed. By observing the similarities and contrasting various aspects of the ways of life in Europe during the 1500-1800’s, one can more deeply consider the way life had been, and how far we have come in this world. †George Huppert, After the Black Death (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998)