You’ve probably had some rotten jobs in the past, but I’ll bet none of them were as bad as the jobs from Medieval times.
Not exactly the kind of eye-catching name to attract new-hires in the Want Ads. However, rat catchers were actually held in relatively high esteem by town-folks. Rats, mice and other vermin were often carriers of many diseases and afflictions. A rat catcher who could rid a town of these critters could be very handsomely rewarded. However, putting himself in unsavory locations and risking his own health went, as they say, with the territory, as he frequently would come in contact with diseased or rabid animals.
This field was a growth industry during the Middle Ages as war, famine, and diseases provided plenty of “raw material” for the gravedigger. Much like the rat catcher, a busy digger could earn quite a good income.
Hmmm, this doesn’t sound like too bad of a job. After all, how hard can it be delivering messages. No doubt, you’ve heard the term “don’t kill the messenger”. This kind of gives you a clue as to the main problem with being a messenger. Oftentimes, the delivered message was not well received. The messenger was the lucky victim of this wrath frequently leading to the death or imprisonment of the unfortunate messenger.
The need for gold or silver was hugely important for most kingdoms as a way to field their armies and expand their territories. While the wages of miners were above average, they had to work in very dangerous conditions. If cave-ins, lethal gases, and collapses weren’t bad enough, a miner would not see the light of day for two to three days at a time. They weren’t especially skilled, but the job did require a certain raw determination to overcome constant obstacles.
Leeches were widely used for centuries as a medical aid. The thinking was that the leeches would suck out the bad blood from an ailing person, leaving only the good blood behind. Obviously, leeches had to be found. Enter the leech collector. Easy enough job – just wade through muddy marsh water and let leeches attach themselves to your legs. When you’ve “collected” a sufficient number, return to dry land and remove them. Ah, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare once said. Not only were the leeches constantly sucking blood while they were attached, but if not pulled off properly, their teeth were left behind, still embedded in the flesh. This condition often lead to festering, infection, and not infrequently, death. Even if the extraction is done right, the sores left behind could easily become infected. I can see the ad for this job “Work outside in the fresh air, stroll leisurely through natural water, collecting valuable animals that are used in medical treatment. Will train, no experience needed”.
Even given the jobs described above, this may be the worst job of the Medieval times. To remove grease and other impurities from freshly woven woolen cloth, it had to be placed in a vat of stale urine and then stomped on for hours (kind of like crushing grapes only not so pleasant). Besides the obvious stench, the fuller had to be constantly alert to make sure that the whole woolen batch was evenly treated; if not, the entire batch was ruined and the process would have to start all over. That would really make me PO’d if that happened!
This job has a nice ring to it – after all, an engineer is a pretty prestigious profession. However, being a petard engineer was not so glamorous during Medieval times. A petard was a small bomb used to blow up enemy fortifications, such as castle walls or gates. The engineer’s job was to run as quickly as possible avoiding enemy arrows, all the while carrying the lit petard that he would eventually place next to the fortification (assuming he made it that far). If the fuse was a little “short” or faulty, then the petard would detonate before it was put in place, gently lifting the hapless engineer up into the air for a much better view of his surroundings. Thus the term “Hoisted with his own petard” is used to describe a situation in which a person is harmed by one’s own actions.
No, there were no health or athletic clubs in the Medieval world. Instead, think of a giant hamster wheel attached a hundred feet or so high up on a not-yet-finished cathedral. The operator would trudge for hours, turning the big wheel which moved a winch attached to a crane which then hoisted building material. In addition to the mundane nature of the job, it was also dangerous in that if the whole assembly had been poorly constructed or sudden bad weather hit – the whole device could come crashing down. Many times, blind people performed this work since they didn’t really need to see where they were treading.
Yep, there really was a job called whipping boy. When the prince misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling, only the king had the divine right to administer punishment. But, alas, the king was often away, doing whatever kings do when not in their castles. So, no king, no punishment for the prince. But someone had to pay. Enter the whipping boy. Normally, he had been raised and educated with the prince since birth. Often, a bond of friendship developed between the two. The thinking was that since they were such good friends, when the whipping boy received punishment, the prince felt at least emotional pain for his friend.
This job seems similar to that of a fireman. A lot of sitting around, waiting, and them – bam! – you’re on the job. No word on what happened to the whipping boy once the prince became king. Maybe he became the whipping man, although that title just doesn’t really rock.