1. Most medieval people were not knights, kings, churchmen, or merchants. Most (more than nine out of ten) were peasants who eked out hard livings from the land. This book tells the story of one such peasant.
This comment, located in the first paragraph of Chapter 1, “Introduction,” redirects readers’ focus from the traditional association of medieval history with noblemen, kings, and clergy, to a view of medieval history that accounts for the overwhelming majority of people who lived through those times: the peasantry. In this light, Bennett bluntly offers the mission statement of her book, a detailed picture of medieval rural society constructed around the life of one peasant. In a more subtle way, Bennett exposes the irony inherent in medieval history by drawing attention to the fact that the kings, knights, and clergy who reside in mainstream history are the very people who exist at the margins of medieval society, while the peasants, who comprise mainstream society, exist in the margins of history. Bennett’s clear insight in this passage not only helps to prime the reader for her alternative view of peasant society but also lends credence to her focus on the subject of a female peasant, a substantially more marginalized historical figure than the male peasant.