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Hagbutters, Sin-Eaters, Criers And Other Medieval Jobs

The medieval jobs market was a peculiar one.

Alongside the familiar occupations of knights, peasants, and craftsmen, there existed a myriad of peculiar and unusual jobs that are now long forgotten.

Here we look into the fascinating and often bizarre occupations that were a part of daily life during the medieval era. By exploring a wide range of strange trades and professions, we gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of medieval society.

Dirty Work

Some of the jobs carried out would have mindboggling job descriptions nowadays.

Groom of the Stool

One of the most peculiar jobs in the medieval period was that of the Groom of the Stool, an individual responsible for assisting the king with his personal hygiene, particularly during bathroom visits.

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While the position may sound humorous today, it held significant importance in the royal household, as it granted the Groom of the Stool access to the king’s intimate affairs, allowing for potential influence and power.

Necessary Woman

In medieval cities, a necessary woman, also known as a “night soil collector,” had the unenviable task of collecting human waste from chamber pots and privies during the night.

These women would transport the waste to designated disposal sites, where it would be used for fertilising fields or producing gunpowder. It was a dirty and odorous job, but an essential one for maintaining sanitation in crowded urban areas.

Urine Collector

In medieval times, urine had various uses, including tanning leather, laundering clothes, and even as a source of ammonia for cleaning. Urine collectors, known as “urinatores,” would collect human urine from designated areas in towns and cities, often paying individuals for their contributions.

The collected urine would be stored and sold to different trades and industries that required it for their processes.

Medical

Some of the jobs may seem strange by todays standards but they were advanced in their day. Sort of!

Quack Doctors

During the medieval period, medical knowledge was limited, and professional physicians were scarce.

This created an opportunity for charlatans known as “quack doctors” to exploit people’s health concerns with dubious remedies and treatments. These individuals claimed to possess secret cures and magical potions, but their practices were often based on superstition rather than science.

Leech Collector

Leeches were commonly used for medical purposes during the medieval period. The job of a leech collector involved wading through marshes and ponds to gather these blood-sucking creatures.

Leeches were used in bloodletting practices, believed to restore balance and health to the body. Leech collectors were often seen as low-status individuals, performing a necessary but unglamorous task.

Sin-Eater

Sin-eaters were individuals who were called upon to perform a peculiar ritual during funerals. It was believed that they could absolve the deceased of their sins by eating a symbolic meal placed on the body.

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The sin-eater would consume bread and drink ale over the deceased, effectively transferring their sins to themselves. This unique role combined elements of spiritual belief, folklore, and superstition.

Rat Catcher

Rat catchers were employed to control the population of rats, which were common pests in medieval cities.

They used various methods to capture or kill rats, including traps, dogs, and even poison. Rat catchers played an important role in maintaining hygiene and preventing the spread of diseases carried by rats.

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Rats were a common problem in towns and cities, spreading disease, damaging food supplies, and causing general havoc. Rat catchers were tasked with controlling the rat population and keeping the streets and homes free from these pests.

Catching was a hazardous job due to the risks associated with handling rats and the potential for disease transmission.

Rat catchers had to be cautious while dealing with these vermin to avoid bites or scratches that could lead to infections. They were also exposed to unsanitary environments, including sewers and garbage dumps where rats thrived.

Weapons

Armour and arrows were slowly giving way to gunpowder. All had to be tested!

Hagbutters

Hagbutters were medieval firearm operators who were responsible for handling early firearms, such as the arquebus or hagbut. These weapons were precursors to muskets and required specialised training to operate effectively.

Hagbutters played a crucial role in warfare, providing ranged firepower on the battlefield, although their effectiveness was limited compared to later firearms.

Crossbow Tester

Crossbow testers had the unusual job of testing the strength and accuracy of crossbows.

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They would shoot test bolts to evaluate the weapon’s performance and make adjustments if necessary. Crossbow testers played a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of these formidable weapons in battle, but their occupation required skill and careful attention to detail to prevent accidents.

Entertainment

In the days before TV and the internet (I know right!) eentertainment was provided by other means. Of sorts!

Court Jesters

Court jesters were entertainers who entertained the nobility and royal courts with their wit, and comedic performances.

These individuals were skilled in various forms of entertainment, including juggling, acrobatics, music, and storytelling.

The role of court jesters extended beyond simple entertainment. They were often given the freedom to speak candidly and openly, even criticising the actions and decisions of the nobility without fear of punishment.

This unique position allowed them to offer social commentary and provide a different perspective on the events and issues of the time.

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Jesters were known for their distinctive attire, which typically included bright and colourful costumes adorned with bells, baubles, and elaborate hats or caps with donkey ears or horns. Their appearance was meant to be eye-catching and whimsical, emphasising their role as entertainers and bringing laughter and joy to the court.

Goliard Poets

Goliard poets were wandering scholars and minstrels who emerged during the medieval period.

They were known for their satirical and irreverent poetry, often mocking the clergy, societal norms, and even the nobility.

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Goliard poets celebrated the pleasures of life and composed witty verses that challenged the established order. Their works reflected a spirit of rebellion and intellectual freedom.

Town Crier

Town criers were public announcers who delivered news and proclamations in towns and cities during the medieval period.

They would walk through the streets ringing a bell or blowing a horn to gather people’s attention before making announcements. Town criers played a vital role in giving information and news to the public in an era when written communication was limited.

Ancillary

Even for medieval times some jobs are just too odd to catagorise.

Food Taster

Food tasters were employed by monarchs and nobles to sample their meals and drinks to ensure they were not poisoned.

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With the constant threat of assassination, rulers took precautions to protect themselves from potential poisoning attempts. Food tasters would consume small portions of the food and observe any adverse reactions, providing an early warning system for potential danger. Sounds great, right?

Knocker-upper

Before the invention of alarm clocks, the task of waking people up fell to knocker-uppers.

These individuals would go around the town or village early in the morning, using long sticks or even pea shooters to tap on windows and wake people up. They had to be reliable and punctual, ensuring that everyone was awake and ready for their daily routines.

Fulling Mill Workers

Fulling was an important process in the production of cloth during the medieval period.

Fulling mill workers were responsible for pounding and kneading wet cloth in water, urine, or even fermented substances to remove impurities and make the fabric softer and thicker. It was a labour-intensive job, and the workers had to be physically strong and endure long hours of repetitive work.

Professional Mourner

In some cultures, it was customary to hire professional mourners to express grief and sorrow during funerals.

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These individuals would wail, cry, and perform elaborate mourning rituals to demonstrate the deceased’s importance and the impact of their loss. While it may seem unusual to us today, it was a recognised profession during the medieval period.

Change of Career Anyone?

The medieval period was a time of diverse professions and peculiar trades, reflecting the unique needs and beliefs of the society. The jobs mentioned above represent just a fraction of the strange and fascinating occupations that existed during this era.

From royal bum wipers to urine collectors, these roles may seem absurd or amusing to us today, but they were an integral part of medieval life.

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These strange jobs offer glimpses into the complexities of medieval society, shedding light on the values, customs, and challenges of the time. They remind us that human ingenuity and resourcefulness have always found ways to meet specific needs, even if those solutions appear odd or comical in retrospect.

Exploring these forgotten trades allows us to appreciate the diversity of human experience throughout history and recognise the ever-evolving nature of work and societal roles. Anyhow, I’m off to catch some leeches now. It’s pay day tomorrow.

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