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Most peasants in medieval Scotland worked on farms, growing food for themselves and for the owners of their land. Before the highland clearances of the eighteenth century, sheep farming did not predominate. Rather, most peasants lived in isolated areas with little arable land, raising mainly oats and barley, some cattle, chickens, and usually a small vegetable garden. Fishing, hunting, and gathering were ways to supplement their food supplies. Getting adequate food was a constant struggle, and most peasants were malnourished.
Women were responsible for making and cleaning clothing, cooking and housekeeping. Women and children would be involved in fetching water from nearby wells or rivers and gathering peat and firewood; there was no indoor plumbing or central heating. Both genders, especially during the winter, would be involved in home repair. Peasant children did not attend school, but started household chores and work as soon as they were physically capable of doing so.
Other than farming, a limited number of peasants might have jobs in crafts, with guild membership and trades often running in families. Some of the main trades would include being a blacksmith, cobbler, butcher, barber (which included doing surgery), herdsman, or stonemason. Work in a skilled trade, however, was often a feature of a small middle class rather than a property of peasants per se.
The average life of a Scottish peasant in the middle ages was cold, hungry, dirty, and short, with a high infant and maternal mortality rate. Religion played a major role in the life of medieval peasants, as it gave them a hope for something better after death.
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