The Medieval period saw the difference between the lives of rich and poor grow ever wider, as the class system enforced by the nature of the feudal society made it difficult for those born into a certain station to rise above it. Feudal lords lived in manors at the centre of large estates, most of which were farmed by peasants who paid with their labour and produce for the right to farm the land.
There was a disastrous period, around the end of the 1300s, when a series of bad harvests resulted in famines across Europe, and this was followed by outbreaks of plague which devastated the countryside and towns. The Black Death, while causing horrific casualties, may have led to a shift in power as the workforce available to the feudal lords decreased in size – giving the peasants a little more power.
The landscape of Essex comprised hedged fields, dotted with individual farms, and small agricultural hamlets and villages, linked by a network of tracks, roads and green lanes. Some of these villages had a market function, as at Felsted and Great Bardfield.