Medieval Life and People - Life in Medieval DaysWe know that pilgrims were shorter than we are, so it's common to extrapolate backwards and assume that people in the middle ages were REALLY short. However, that is not true!
We of course have the skeletons from medieval people to look at. Apparently the average guy was 5'8" in the middle ages - rather close to modern average heights. It does go down after that, to reach an all time low during the 1700s. The reasons have to do with disease and climate change. It was in the 1300s that the climate began to cool, and people began to suffer as a result.
During this time women would normally get married before they hit age 20. Men, on the other hand, had to prove themselves with wealth and strength and did not marry until they were in their middle to late 20s. There was pretty much no divorce, and marriages were often done to maintain wealth in a family.
Marriages would often be arranged for this reason at ages as young as ten. However, the marriage would not be consummated until the girl hit puberty, which was at an average age of 16. As that might seem "normal" - keep in mind that as soon as the girl was ready, she would be expected to start having sex and bearing children.
There are many historical records of girls aged 12 and 13 bearing children to their husbands. Normally these are "royal" girls though - the average girl would wait a few years before subjecting her body to those traumas.
There was a reason for having children early. Individuals from the classical Greek days through medieval Britain only lived, on average, to age 30. Even in the early 1900s, people tended to live to be about 40. You wanted the mother to be around for as many years as possible to take care of her young children.
That's not to say that ALL people died so quickly. Even in Greece, Socrates hit age 70, and Plato hit age 80. Chaucer, the poet, lived to be 60. It's fair to say that people who fought tended to die young - and women who had a lot of kids tended to die in childbirth. Those who lived a more peaceable and temperate life would live to a reasonably happy old age. Part of the reason those averages look so short is that only 40% of children made it past the age of 10. 1/5 women died in childbirth. So if you instead ask how long someone who made it to adulthood lived, the average age would be 65. So as long as they survived the traumas of childhood, they had a chance at a long, happy life!
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