This question might be a little broad, but I would like to know about child rearing practices in Mediaeval Europe. To narrow this down, the time and place that I am particularly interested in are those regions that today comprise France and Germany, and specifically from the 11th century onwards. The sorts of questions that I am interested in concern:

  1. How involved were men in the raising of children?
  2. Did people co-sleep, or place babies in separate cribs?
  3. Did babies wear some kind of napkin to catch their excrement?
  4. How frequently were babies washed? (I know that people in general didn't wash frequently, but adults are better adept at keeping themselves reasonably clean)
  5. Were babies carried throughout the day or were they left to play? What sorts of toys did they play with?

And probably a dozen other questions of that nature. General information about this would be interesting, even if it doesn't address the five questions above.

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    There's a chapter on medieval child-rearing in one of George Duby's books, Phillipe Aries also wrote a book on this (they disagree on a few aspects). Don't think I'll have the time to re-read and write an answer anytime soon, also not sure they specifically adress your questions.
    – mart
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 9:23

1 Answer 1


There was no real concept of "childhood" until the 18th-19th c. Children were small adults and they were expected to contribute to the family, especially in rural areas. They would be given tasks to do that were akin to their age. As young as 3 years old girls were taught to sew or knit to make clothes. Men didn't tend chidren but did teach necessary tasks. I seriously doubt if any children in the 11th c had "toys" other than nobility and royalty. Older children would watch the youngest so the mother could perform her many jobs. She would have nursed all of her children, possibly more than one at once as birthrate was high and it was cheaper to nurse than feed them food. They were dressed in smaller versions of what adults wore and un-pottytrained babies would have not had a "diaper" of any kind.

My comments are the result of reading a wide range of sources; I don't have any one to add, but I'll look. The main reason I suggested children didn't play with toys is that they were put to work of some kind at a fairly young age. However, I'm sure they made up games as children are wont to do anywhere when they had time and opportunity.

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    Thank you, Debbie! Do you have a source for any of that? And why do you doubt that kids might have had toys? Maybe "toys" is the wrong word - I don't necessarily mean manufactured products that parents would have had to pay money for, but even games that kids might have played with objects (animal bones, acorns, etc).
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 3:55
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    The standard text when I studied education in the 1990s was Phillipe Aries' "Centuries of Childhood" (and apparently it is still standard today). This was basically the first (more or less) scientific book to explore the emergence of the modern concept of childhood, and the claim that in medieval times there was no idea of childhood originates here. Back in my study days the main criticism of Aries was that he drew sweeping conclusions from non-representative sources (i.e. paintings show sunday clothes rather than everyday wear etc.)
    – user3769
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 14:29
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    @Debbie While I agree with the general thrust of your answer (children as little adults), chapter two of Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" lists toys that children played with in the Fourteenth Century.
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 23:08

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