in a Medieval Castle
of us fantasize about living in a castle. We dream about the
ultimate lives of luxury, never having to fend for ourselves,
having our every whim taken care of, swimming in jewels or
swathed in silk. But, despite all the glamor we see in movies
and conjure up in our imaginations, medieval castle life was
not necessarily easy.
were plenty, and even the wealthiest individuals often found
themselves living in less than adequate quarters. There was
no central heating, except for the central hearth or fireplace,
which had to be tended to be efficient. Of course, that heat
was usually saved for the lord and his family. Servants, soldiers,
and others made due with tiny lamps and shivered a lot in
the cold medieval nights.
lord, his family and guests had the added comfort of heavy
blankets, feather mattresses, fur covers, and tapestries hanging
on the walls to block the damp and breezes, while residents
of lesser status usually slept in the towers and made due
with lighter bedclothes and the human body for warmth. The
lord and lady's personal attendants were fortunate to stay
with their master or mistress in their separate sleeping quarters.
However, they slept on the floor wrapped in a blanket, but,
at least on the floor, they could absorb some of the warmth
of the fireplace.
during the warmest months of the year, the castle retained
a cool dampness and all residents spent as much time as possible
enjoying the outdoors. Oftentimes, members wrapped blankets
around themselves to keep warm while at work (from which we
derive the term bedclothes). Baths were taken in transportable
wooden tubs, so that the summer sun could warm the water and
the bather, but the tub could be moved inside when the weather
was ensured with a tent or canopy. And for more delicate endeavors,
imagine needing to use the guardrobe (latrine) and having
a brisk wind gusting through the privy. With stone or hard
wood seats, using the latrine would certainly have been an
invigorating experience. No wonder the chamber pot remained
close to the bedside!
during the Middle Ages began at sunrise, when one of the guards
trumpeted the day's start. Servants had already begun to stir,
ensuring the fires were lit in the kitchen and great hall
and getting the morning meal underway. Since dinner was not
served until between 10AM and noon, they had at least a few
hours to fulfill their other chores while the stews or soups
bubbled in the iron pots. All floors had to be swept, cleared
of any debris, and basins washed out.
the lord and his lady had arisen, chambermaids ventured into
their apartments, swept and emptied chamber pots and wash
basins, and the laundress also began the day's wash. For their
part, the lord and lady of the castle made sure they were
tidy before they greeted their household or any guests, washing
off with water from their basins while partially clothed to
small breakfast of bread and drink was taken by all, and then
the lord and his family entered the chapel for morning mass.
Once mass was complete, the lord tackled the day's business.
While relying on certain members of his household staff to
manage the castle in his absence or when he had other duties
to handle, the lord was the castle's chief administrator when
he was in residence. Indeed, in many ways, the lord was king
of his own domain, which included his castle, the estates,
and his subjects, both inside the castle and in the surrounding
the lord was granted possession of more than one lordship
or earldom so had to divide his time among all of his properties.
His powers were political, judicial, fiscal, and also included
the policing of his territory. Like his king, he could mete
out punishment, collect rent from his subjects, and even mint
his own coins.
the lord had obligations that took him away from the castle,
as was frequently the case, his main representative was the
steward, also called the seneschal. The steward actually had
substantial power of his own, because he had to know virtually
everything that went on at the castle and in the surrounding
estates. So, he had to be skilled at accounting and legal
matters, as well as personnel management.
key members of the household staff included the chamberlain
(in charge of the great chamber/hall), the chaplain, the keeper
of the wardrobe, the butler (also known as the bottler, he
ensured there was enough drink stored in the buttery), the
cook, the chandler (who made candles), and the marshal (who
was in charge of the stables). Each of these individuals had
their own staff to manage.
lady of the castle was served by ladies-in-waiting and chambermaids.
She spent much of the day overseeing their work, as well as
supervising the activities in the kitchen staff. The lady
also kept an eye on her large group of spinners, weavers,
and embroiderers who had the enormous responsibility of keeping
everyone clothed, and offering the lady companionship. In
addition, the ladies were responsible for educating the young
pages who, at the age of 7, came to the castle to learn religion,
music, dance, hunting, reading, and writing before moving
into knight's service as squires.
14, young boys became squires, and the lord placed them under
the guidance of a knowledgeable knight who would teach them
about chivalry as well as how to wield a sword or ride a horse
into battle. A youth's ultimate goal was knighthood, which
could be attained at the age of 21 when the boys officially
became men. Many knights became highly skilled warriors and
spent peacetime traveling to tournaments to pitch themselves
into individual combat with other aspiring knights. The tournaments
were good training grounds for real warfare.
a group of soldiers was stationed at a castle, they comprised
its garrison. Individual members included the knights, squires,
a porter (to tend the main door), guards, watchmen, and men-at-arms.
All were prepared to defend their lord and his household in
an instant. Each soldier had his own place in an attack and
his own skill to rely upon. Some were crossbowmen, archers,
lancers, or wielded swords. Medieval warfare was definitely
a highly complex process, despite the simplicity of the weapons.
must have been noisy - and smelly - places. Livestock roamed
inside the stables, blacksmiths clanged out ironwork in the
forges, the soldiers practiced their skills, and children
played when lessons were completed. Various craftsmen worked
diligently in the inner ward, including cobblers (making shoes),
armorers, coopers (who made casks), hoopers (who helped the
coopers build the barrels), billers (making axes), and spencers
interior walls were used to support timber structures, like
the workshops and the stables, and, sometimes, stone buildings
also leaned against the walls. Fires burned. The well and
cisterns offered water. Servants were constantly bustling,
taking care of the personal needs of the household, but also
finding time for gossip and flirtation.
mid-morning, dinner was served. This was the main meal of
the day, and often featured three or four courses, as well
as entertainment. After dinner, the day's activities would
resume, or the lord might lead his guests on a hunt through
the grounds of his nearby deer park. Recreation was never
evening meal, supper, was generally eaten late in the day,
sometimes just before bedtime. While not as formidable as
dinner, this meal ensured residents would never be hungry
when they settled down to sleep off the day's labors.
can only imagine that, though the people worked hard during
the Middle Ages, they also compensated by playing hard. Holidays
were times for letting loose of inhibitions and forgetting
the stresses of life. The peasants as well as the castle's
household found time for pleasure, and made up for their struggles
as best they could. In this modern age of technological convenience,
we must admire their perseverance.