Harrowing in the Luttrell Psalter

c. 1325 - 1335

Peasants work the land


  • Intro

    This picture is from the Luttrell Psalter, one of the British Library's most celebrated medieval manuscripts because of its rich illustrations of everyday rural life in the 1300s. The manuscript shows the varying seasons and the different work carried out on the land throughout the year, from the preparation of the ground, and the sowing of wheat to its harvest and transport. The images include wonderful details, such as this one in which a man uses a slingshot to hurl rocks at crows, thus scaring them away from the freshly ploughed field.


    In the Middle Ages, the majority of the population lived in the countryside, and some 85 percent were peasants. Peasants worked to produce food, fuel, wool and other resources. The countryside was divided into manorial estates, run by a lord or an institution, such as a monastery or college.


    As we turn the pages of the book, we see corn being cut, a woman feeding chickens, food being cooked and eaten. There are wrestlers, hawkers, bear baiters, dancers, musicians, throwing games, a mock bishop with a dog that jumps through a hoop - and a wife beating her husband with her spinning rod. Such images played a large part in fostering the 19th century romantic vision of a 'merrie Englande' peopled by bountiful lords and ladies and happy peasants playing as hard as they worked. Copies of the manuscript were published, and its pictures widely reproduced as illustrations in history books. Today scholars are more inclined to see the Psalter's scenes as idealised versions of reality - they were, after all, designed to please Sir Geoffrey, not his workers.


    Shelfmark: Add. 42130 f.17v

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