Medieval Demographics

Okay, so here’s a bunch of data on demographics.

Population Age Distribution

Okay, so the population age distribution shifts quite drastically with the living conditions of a country. When times are harsh over 50% of the entire population is 15 or below, dying off along an exponential curve. In very good conditions, we reach an almost linear age distribution, where there’s an equal amount of people of most different ages.

Here’s an attempt at a distribution:

Age Population
0-15 45%
16-30 30%
31-55 15%
56+ 10%
pop curve
Some kind of population percentage per age in years.

I cut it down into a small table, because the one with the distribution by groups of five years got pretty long. If anyone is interested I can add it to the end of this post or something. This data is based on the few pieces of info I could find on the matter, as well as the age distribution of developing countries, who in some cases still face a similar situation to the middle ages.

Social Class Distribution

Soo… this is a much more difficult question. If you asked “what percentage of the population were nobles?”, the answer would be “where are we talking about?”. From what I’ve read, the amount of nobles varied from 10% to 0.1% of the population depending on when and where.

But first, a primer on feudal social classes. Note, that there’s a big difference in holding and owning land. Also, there’s a ton of noble ranks that I’m discreetly going to dodge due to vague differences, and this is based mostly on England, because there’s a lot of data.

  • Nobility: people of noble bloodline and major influence.
    • Royalty: part of the ruling family of a kingdom.
    • Duke: traditionally the highest rank below royalty. Might control an independent duchy, or a duchy that’s part of a kingdom.
    • Count/Earl: middle ranking noble. Traditionally, an earl received 1/3 of the tax collected for the king.
    • Baron: the lowest members of true nobility.
  • Gentry: low nobility with a family line, that can live entirely from rent.
    • Baronet: a slightly higher rank than Knight, though with the same title (“sir”). Baronets were in some cases required to field 30 soldiers.
    • Knight: a member of the gentry that was theoretically supposed to be a warrior. Knights are titled “sir”.
    • Gentleman: lowest rank of the gentry, yet standing above yeomen.
  • Freeman: holds land and rights, but pays taxes to their lord.
    • Yeoman / franklin: free from servitude and owns land, but is not nobility.  Often supposed to hold at least 100 acres / 40 shillings of land, they could serve on a jury, and were often found working as constables or bailiffs.
    • Free tenant: holds and works land, pays a lower rent to their lord than serfs, and have more rights.
  • Serf: bonded directly to a lord.
    • Villein: a peasant holding some land from their lord which together with owing taxes and some labor provided them with the lord’s protection.
    • Bordar / cottar: a peasant allowed to use just enough land to feed a family (5 acres, apparently), and required to work on the lord’s land certain days of the week.
    • Slave: works for the lord exclusively, and is given just about what they need to survive in return.

Below is an attempt at social rank distribution, together with land held. Note that total land area held is over 100% as several people may hold the same land (someone holding some of their lord’s land).

Population Land held
Nobility* 3% 75%
Freemen 16% 20%
Villani 40% 45%
Bordars 33% 5%
Slaves 8% 0%

* This also includes gentry and higher clergy.

Of those that have true noble title, around 5% are dukes, 20% are earls/counts, and 75% are barons, according to my calculation. Of the total population, perhaps 1% are knights  in war-heavy times, making them one-third of all nobles. Based on some data, I’m assuming a that another 1% of the population make up the clergy, so maybe 1/3 of nobles are actually clergy (that is 1/3 of the 2% that are not knights, 0.66%). Though they’ll be grouped with their representative noble rank below. The 2% nobles also includes gentry, which leads to more assumptions… sigh.

In frontier-heavy places, the amount of nobles goes up, as they were some of the foremost practitioners of warfare in the early middle ages. But overall, we end up with something like this, shooting from the hip:



Of population


12 Basically zero
Duke 11



10 0.2%
Baron 9



8  0.5%
Knight 7



6  0.5%
Yeoman/franklin 5


Free tenant

4 12%
Villani 3



2  33%
Slave 1




Likely not counted above


Implementing meaningful social class in my game is starting to look really interesting. I’m likely going to try it for my next campaign. As for PC starting social class, it’d most likely be skewed more towards the middle part of the spectrum in traditional adventuring scenarios.

2 thoughts on “Medieval Demographics

    1. That’s really interesting! I would guess that the somewhat flatter age curve in Lichfield may be due to better living conditions than those in the sources I looked at (I think it’s quite a bit later than the times I looked at). And more data is always good, so thank you!


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