Social Class in the Middle Ages
The social class in the Middle Ages was primarily defined by two factors: wealth and education. Wealth was the most important factor in determining a person's status.
Although the social class in the Middle Ages was fairly flexible, there were some common characteristics. For example, women remained at the bottom of the hierarchy. Their status mirrored their birth family. Occasionally, a person would be elevated to a higher estate.
Some people were recognized for their good works. Others were rewarded with generous credit. Many businessmen turned to investing in land. As a result, many European workers found good jobs in the countryside.
In addition to the middle class, there were the poor. They constituted another 20 percent of the urban population. These included ill-paid laborers, unemployed servants, journeymen and their families, and widows with young children.
During the Renaissance and Reformation periods, conflicts over church authority reached a crisis. During this time, the religious and civil authorities attempted to establish a rational poor relief system. But, in the face of disaster, this system was often unable to provide financial security for the outcast.
Social class in the Renaissance and Reformation period was divided into three estates. The First Estate was reserved for the nobility. During this time, the nobility was divided into noblemen and kings. Nobility members exhibited their prestige through grand castles and expensive clothing.
The Second Estate was composed of members of the Third Estate. Members of the Third Estate accumulated wealth and acquired status through land ownership.