Cover image for Medieval children
Medieval children
Orme, Nicholas.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 387 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ792.G7 O74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HQ792.G7 O74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HQ792.G7 O74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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What was childhood like for medieval boys and girls in England? Nicholas Orme draws on a vast range of sources to create the most complete and vivid picture of childhood in the Middle Ages ever written.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Children in the Middle Ages had far less time for the pleasures we associate with childhood. Marriages came earlier, and death from war, plague, and other perils was always at hand. Orme begins by exploring the definition of childhood and, managing that elegantly, proceeds to a surprisingly moving examination of the daily lives of medieval children from diverse classes and backgrounds. Since neither innocence nor the loss of it is confined to any single century, the similarities of those children's lives to the lives of children today prove as striking as the differences. The twin doors of birth and death, and the often short distance between them, were the focal points of the young lives Orme discusses, yet play and wonder had their time, too. Orme's exacting research gives the book weight, and his affectionate, eloquent prose carries its immediate manner from history to sociology to philosophy and back again. Evocative period illustrations complete this beautiful tour de force of historical scholarship. --Will Hickman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his classic Centuries of Childhood (1962), historian Philippe Aris argued that the view of childhood as a distinct period of life emerged only in the 16th and 17th centuries. Medieval adults, Aris said, often viewed children as miniature adults. Building on others' subsequent research, Orme (From Childhood to Chivalry; etc.), professor of history at Exeter University, challenges Aris's widely accepted views, demonstrating in exhaustive detail that medieval culture indeed distinguished between child and adult experience, and that children occupied a special place in society. Orme carefully examines each stage of childhood from birth clearly an auspicious event in the medieval world to adolescence. Since birth in the Middle Ages was fraught with dangers, the Church provided women with relics to assure a safe delivery. Royal women undergoing labor borrowed the girdle of Virgin Mary; poorer women laid objects such as jasper stones or drawings of the cross across their stomachs to ensure a healthy and uneventful birth. Parents remembered children's birthdays by associating the day with a saint's feast day, but apart from records kept by royal families, there were few written birth records. Children devised songs, rhymes and games using cherry pits and hazelnuts, for instance; toys ranged from simple peashooters hollowed from balsam wood to more elaborate dolls and mechanical toys made for royalty. As children grew up, boys did manual labor alongside their fathers while girls helped their mothers with domestic tasks. Orme's fascinating study reveals medieval society through a keen look at its youngest inhabitants. Meticulous detail and 125 luscious illustrations, 75 in color, make this an elegant and definitive study. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-In this scholarly work, Orme re-creates the lives of children of all classes and ages in England. Many medieval writers defined childhood as stretching from infancy to about age 28, and this study covers that age range. Beautiful illustrations, inclusion of rhymes and storytelling, and organization by subject rather than chronologically, will help mature teens understand a period in history (1000-1500) in which personal accounts of daily life were few, much less first-person accounts written by "children" as defined above. A comparable work, Shulamith Shahar's Childhood in the Middle Ages (Routledge, 1990; o.p.) covers the same period for the whole of Europe and also uses storytelling, but its dense text and lack of illustrations make it less attractive. Both works demonstrate that, especially from birth to preadolescence, there are more similarities than differences in the treatment of children then and now, especially in their relationships with parents, teachers, relatives, and friends. Teens will also be made aware of the challenges of research into periods when few written records exist.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vi
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prefacep. xii
Introductionp. 1
1. Arrivingp. 11
2. Family Lifep. 51
3. Danger and Deathp. 93
4. Words, Rhymes, and Songsp. 129
5. Playp. 163
6. Churchp. 199
7. Learning to Readp. 237
8. Reading for Pleasurep. 273
9. Growing Upp. 305
List of Abbreviationsp. 342
Notesp. 343
Bibliographyp. 367
Indexp. 375