The Renaissance was a period of great cultural, social, and economic growth in Europe, lasting from the 1300s to the late 1500s. During this time, Europe saw an explosion of art and literature, as well as technological advancement.

But Renaissance history usually focuses on the monarchy, nobility, clergy, merchants and artists. But what about ordinary people and the peasantry who made up more than 80% of the population? What was life like for peasants in the Renaissance? Did the Renaissance affect them in any way?

Let’s find out if and how the Renaissance impacted peasants.

Economic Impact on Peasants in the Renaissance

For some parts of society, the Renaissance was an opportunity for social mobility. For example, merchants benefited tremendously from the Renaissance.

They were able to benefit from the trade and commercial revolution that the Renaissance brought in its wake and amass massive wealth. Many merchants, most notably, the Medici in Florence, converted this wealth into political power.

Peasants in the Renaissance
A Peasant Wedding – Pieter Bruegel the Elder
(Image Source)

However, peasants in the Renaissance did not have this opportunity. They were still subject to the same system of feudalism from the Middle Ages, where they had to pay taxes and service fees to their lords.

In a few rare cases, the commercial wealth of the upper classes trickled down to the peasants but to a large part peasants in the Renaissance were still peasants and subject to their lords.

Also, the Renaissance was predominantly an urban phenomenon and so peasants who lived in rural communities were often cut off from the changes happening in the cities.

Social Impact of the Renaissance on Peasants

The social hierarchy during the Renaissance was based largely on wealth and status. This meant that peasants were at the bottom rung of society, with little opportunity to climb up the ladder.

Many people viewed them as “lesser” citizens who were not worthy of respect or rights. As such, they had very few rights in terms of marriage, travel, education or other activities that would have allowed them to improve their lives. 

Even when it came to dressing and appearance, peasants were not allowed to copy the fashions of the upper classes or use the fabrics that only the upper classes were permitted to wear.

Although peasants in the renaissance did benefit from some of the new technologies available during this time period, such as printing presses and improved farming methods, they still remained largely in the same economic and social positions that they had been through the Middle Ages.

Cultural Impact on Peasants in the Renaissance

The cultural impact of the Renaissance was felt even by peasants. The Church, which had been a major influence during Medieval times, now found itself competing with other forms of culture and knowledge. New books and ideas spread across Renaissance Europe, even to peasants in the countryside.

The Renaissance also brought with it a renewed interest in Classical texts from Ancient Greece and Rome. Even though peasants could not read Latin or Greek, some of these ideas spread through oral stories or images. Also, the rise of the vernacular in the Renaissance meant that peasants could access works of literature in a language more familiar to them.

Life for peasants may have been harsh and hard during the Renaissance, but some aspects of their lives were impacted positively by this period. The Renaissance was an exciting time full of new ideas and possibilities, even if it did not bring drastic changes to the peasants’ daily lives.

By exploring the effects of the Renaissance on peasants, we can get a better understanding of how people lived during this period and how it shaped our modern world.

The Impact of Religious Reforms on Peasants

The Renaissance was also a time of religious reform that led to the Protestant Reformation and then the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Renaissance humanists and reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin pushed for more freedom of religion and worship, which peasants benefited from.

They believed that the laity should be allowed to interpret the Bible by themselves without relying on priests. And so they pushed to have the Bible translated into vernacular. Martin Luther, himself. translated the New Testament from Greek to German.

In some of the northern kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire, like in Prussia for instance, peasants in the Renaissance could choose their own religious beliefs and practices without fear of persecution because their monarchs had often switched to Protestantism, as in the case of Albert Hohenzollern of Prussia who converted to Lutheranism.

But religious reforms were never a priority for peasants who often struggled to survive and had other more pressing concerns. When someone is struggling to make ends meet, as did peasants during the Renaissance, what religious practices are followed is hardly a concern.


In conclusion, peasants in the Renaissance were still subject to feudalism and did not benefit from the same economic and social opportunities as those higher up in society. In some cases, talented peasants had the chance to join a guild and acquire a skill. But by and large, the life of peasants in the Renaissance would continue along the same trajectory as it did in most of the Middle Ages.