The countryside

The peasant cottage

The house was the mediaeval "atom", the primary cell wherein the master, father or husband, asserted his authority. The accumulation of material possessions conferred a sacred character on the home where humans and stock lived together. With its production system relying on family labour, the cottage was in both economic and moral terms a micro-seigniory within the wider domain.

Although this is the generally accepted scheme of things, such examples have rarely been studied in any depth in Normandy. The villages of the High Middle Ages, with their hut bases dug into the ground, and the deserted villages of the Hundred Years War have come in for much more extensive archaeological research.

Several features may be highlighted. The wooden construction owes nothing in particular to Scandinavian models. Similar needs produce similar models: long buildings on posts protected by a strut shaped like a ship's prow. Likewise, the assembly techniques are very different from the late medieval half-timbered houses. Wood was not the only material used. The village of Grentheville in the Calvados, occupied from the late 12th to the 14th century, shows houses with a rectangular plan form built of flat pieces of limestone bonded with clay, and with just one door opening, through which passed both man and beast.

The only example of a farm with the walls still standing is at Ouville-la-Bien-Tournée (Calvados) and dates from the early 13th century. Only the lords' unfortified residences, two-storeyed buildings with fine stonework, are better known. Part of the building at Beaumont-le-Richard (Bessin) is preserved, while that to be found at Barneville-la-Bertrand in the Pays d'Auge had a mixture of limestone and flint in the stonework, and the roof was made of sheets of slate.

Knowledge of the Norman peasant cottage in the 11th-13th centuries is a field that remains open to further archaeological research..


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