Introduction to Life in a Medieval Castle
Medieval life in a castle was harsh by modern standards, but much
better than life for the majority of people at the time - in French
the expression "La vie du chateau" denotes a life of luxury.
The civilisation of the ancient pagan world had disappeared. Along
with theatres, libraries, schools and hippodromes went luxuries
such as running water, central heating, public baths, public lavatories,
and sophisticated lighting. Christians did not need baths and they
used dark corners for lavatories as God intended. Castles had basic
called garderobes. Light was provided by candles or oil lamps,
rarely by the sort of effective torches depicted in Hollywood films.
In early medieval times fires were still placed in the centre of
Great Halll, often with a sort of lantern tower above to let
the smoke out. Later castles featured fires against the wall with
a flue to carry the smoke away.
in a medieval castle, at least in later times, included solars
,a sort of early drawing room, and private cabinets
(for men) and Boudoirs
(for women). As in modern Royal castles today, large medieval
castles were generally divided into apartments
so that each noble individual (including children) would have
their own suite of rooms and their own household staff.
Life during the Middle Ages began at sunrise, when a guard trumpeted
the day's start. Servants would have already risen, ensuring that
fires were lit in the kitchen and great hall and preparing a small
breakfast for the lower orders. The fist of the two main meals of
the day for the nobles was not served until between 10am and noon.
Food & Cooking was generally healthy,
what we now describe as "organic". Food was
prepared in large Kitchens,
often in a separate building in order to reduce the fire risk.
Food include cereals,
and other seafood , and plenty of meat
and bread. Off the kitchens
were specialist areas for storing and preserving food, including
There were also storerooms,
undercrofts & cellars.
and Spices were used extensively. Dairy
products were popular, but fruit
less so (fruits were often smaller, tougher and less sweet than
modern varieties). Puddings
(Sweets and Desserts) on the other hand were always popular.
Meals was regulated by some basic rules
of etiquette, recognisable as the precursor of modern rules
of etiquette. Diet was also regulated by Church
teaching which prohibited the eating of various foods at different
times of year, prescribing an annual round of fasts and feasts.
Drinks included wine,
Each morning floors had to be swept, cleared of any debris, and
basins washed out. Once the lord and his lady were up and dressed,
chambermaids entered their bed
chambers, swept the floor and emptied chamber pots and wash
basins. Laundresses began the day's wash.
If devout, the lord and his family entered the castle's
private chapel for morning mass. Once mass was complete, the
lord started the day's business. He was the castle's chief administrator
when he was in residence, and sovereign in his own domain, exercising
absolute authority over his castle, his estates, and his subjects.
Under the feudal
system, the lord would need to carry out administrative functions,
accepting homage, carrying out ceremonies of commendation
and collecting rents, fees and Medieval
Taxes. A lord might be granted possession of more than one manor,
barony or earldom so he had to divide his time among all of his
properties. His powers were political, judicial, fiscal, and included
the policing and defence of his territory. Like his king, he administered
justice, inflicted punishment, collected dues from his subjects,
and in some cases minted his own coins.
A great lord would need a vast array of officers
& servants to run a medieval castle When the lord had obligations
that took him away from the castle his main representative was the
steward. The steward had substantial power of his own, because he
had to know virtually everything that went on at the castle and
in the surrounding estates. He had to be skilled at accounting and
legal matters, as well as personnel management. Other 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,
where the butts of drink were stored), the cook, the chandler (who
made candles), and the marshal (who was in charge of the stables),
and a chief-gardener to take care of the castle's Medieval
Gardens. Each of these individuals had their own, often large,
staff to manage.
Food production would need to be managed: forests for hunting,
farms for meat, vegetable and fruit, ice
houses for year-round ice, dovecotes
for young pigeons and pigeon eggs.
Rivers & fishponds provided fish. Mills
were originally water
Mills and later windmills
The 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 continually
produced a range of more or less fashionable medieval
Ladies and sometimes clerics were responsible for educating 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. People enjoyed a range of medieval
games & pastimes.
At 14, young boys became squires, and the lord placed them under
the guidance of a knight who would teach them about chivalry, how
to wield a sword, how to ride a horse into battle, and so on. A
squire's goal was knighthood, which could be attained at the age
of 21 when boys officially became men. Many knights became highly
skilled warriors and spent peacetime ravelling to tournaments to
pitch themselves into individual combat with other aspiring knights.
Training for medieval
warfare was important. Jousts
armour provided invaluable experience. Tournaments
especially were good training grounds for real warfare, and could
be enormously profitable.
Soldiers were needed to provide a castle garrison. They were stationed
and guardrooms. Individual members included the knights, squires,
a porter (to tend the main door), guards, watchmen, and men-at-arms.
They might need 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 swordsmen.
Livestock roamed inside the stables, blacksmiths banged out ironwork
in castle forges, soldiers practised their skills, and children
played when lessons were completed. Various craftsmen worked in
the inner ward, including cobblers, armourers, coopers (who made
casks), hoopers (who helped the coopers build the barrels), billers
(making axes), and spencers (accountants who dispensed money).
Interior walls were used to support timber structures, like the
workshops and the stables. Sometimes, stone buildings also leaned
against the walls. Servants were constantly bustling, taking care
of the needs of the household. Fires burned, and needed regular
mending. Wells and cisterns offered water. At 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 deer park.
The evening meal, supper, was generally eaten late in the day,
sometimes just before bedtime. While not as large as dinner, this
meal ensured residents would never be hungry when they settled down
to sleep off the day's labours.
Holidays - literally Holy Days - 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.
The castle always had to be ready for an attack. If the lord of
the castle found out there was going to be a battle, he brought
more food to the castle in case of a siege.
If the battle started and the lord was not at home, the lady organised
the army. A siege was an army strategy; the attacking army surrounded
the castle to stop supplies from coming to the castle. Usually a
siege only lasted a few weeks, but could last months or even years.
In 143 BC the city of Carthage withstood a siege for 3 years.
Tilting at a Quintain
The Dance of Death
Gravensteen Castle (1180), Ghent (Belgium):
An abbey cellarer testing his wine. Illumination
from a copy of Li livres dou santé by Aldobrandino
of Siena. British Library, Sloane 2435, f. 44v.
A Medieval Garden