Did you ever dream about living in a castle? Sure you did. Most people pictured themselves a valiant knight in a shining armor or a beautiful noble lady wearing an elegant dress at least once in a lifetime. But when we fantasize about luxurious life in a castle in the Middle Ages, we often do not realize that it was nothing like we imagine. When I’ve got a task to write my essay for college, I tried to shed light on a real life in a castle.
First of all, let’s find out what a medieval castle consisted of. One room was an absolute must – the large hall, which had a very high ceiling, sometimes – partial ceiling, covering only the area where lord, lady and high guests would be seated, and sometimes no ceiling at all. Halls were often isled and had one row of windows with wooden shutters on two sides of the room. In the 11th and 12th century, there were almost no glazed windows. In the 13th century, only the richest lords or kings could afford several glazed by greenish glass windows. Only by the 14th century, glazing windows became a common practice.
The floor most of the time was beaten earth or timber, rarely stone or plaster. Carpets in English medieval castles covered anything, but floor – tables, benches, walls. The light was mostly candles and rushlights, in richer houses or during feasts oil lamps were used almost throughout all Middle Ages.
The late Middle Ages brought almost no improvements with lighting, but major heating improvements – a fireplace. Before the invention of it, an open hearth was used for the purpose of heating.
One could not avoid having a kitchen as well. The kitchen was generally made of timber, had several fireplaces or a central hearth. For the time of celebration, additional kitchens could be set up. The kitchen usually had an access to the garden with fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs.
In the early Middle Ages, the lord and lady were sleeping in the hall, separated from it only by a curtain. The castle family sleeping quarters appeared later and were usually situated near the hall. But in some cases, the great chamber was moved to another wing on the second floor. Chambers of the eldest son, guests and a castle steward were close to the great chamber of the lord and lady of the castle. Each chamber had a big wooden bed, covered with not only linen but also furs and some pieces of warm cloth. The bed has curtains, which gave a draft protection as well as privacy.
In the chamber, there was also a bed or a bench for personal servants, garment chests, a couple of wooden pegs for hanging clothes. Some people had a wardrobe – a small adjusting room for clothes, jewelry and other valuable items.
Castle life in medieval times demanded to have not only servants but soldiers and some administrative personnel sleeping in basements, towers, some adjoined structures. In the later Middle Ages, some castles had large garrisons and in such cases barraks and separate kitchen were built.
There were no wide corridors, only a few small passages in the kitchen area. Most rooms were joined by a staircase with minimum space around or opened in one another.
Each castle had a chapel, big or small, it was necessary for every lord. It was common to built two story chapels. The second floor was for a castle family with an access from their chambers, the first one was for servants.
There was no water in the rooms, there were no bathrooms either. Water was available in the center area of each floor. There always was a well, and sometimes a cistern on the upper floor with a pipe system that carried water to lower levels. Usually, there was a basin or a laver for washing in one corner of the hall. Wooden tubs, which can be placed in a chamber or in summer time in a garden, were used for taking baths.
The latrines were placed in the wall’s deepening and were covered by a screen or a curtain. Stone or wooden seats were not a protection from wind, howling through the stone pipes. No wonder the night pot was much more popular.
There was no shortage of hardships in daily life in a medieval castle. Castles were big, damp cold, with no central heating. Usually, only castle family was warmed by hearth or fireplace, others had only small lights or lamps and were cold most of the time. Even having blankets and furs, lord, lady and high guests had no privacy, for their house was full of servants and all they had, was a tent or canopy for sleeping, clothing and bathing.
As for castle personnel, personal servants were the luckiest ones, because they could sleep in the warmer chambers of their masters, others were condemned to sleep on the cold floor, many in one room. Day for nobles began at sunrise. Servants had to wake up even earlier to stir the fires and prepare breakfast for their masters. Moreover, all these halls and chamber had to be swept and cleaned almost every day, for lots of people and their living conditions did not imply cleanliness.
The lord and lady had to make a great effort to look tidy before they go out to greet their household.
The castle family was not idle, they were all busy with their versatile responsibilities. The lord had to administrate the castle, take care of his villages, perform a role of a judge in all discords, between lesser lords or servants and peasants. Besides, there was always some political business to his attention. The lady and even her children had their duties, depending on the position and the situation of the family.
After all you’ve learned from this article, are you still dreaming about living in a medieval castle?