Once upon a time castles were full of life, laughter and crowds of people. You would find lords, knights, servants, soldiers and entertainers inside the castle. It would have been ordered and organised, full of pomp and ceremony, but also very cold and smelly!
You can probably guess that life in the early castles were far from comfortable. Certainly, if we were to go back in time we would be incredible uncomfortable. They did not have all the comforts that we are so used to, for example, the wind would have whistled through the wooden shutters in the windows and most people slept on benches or on rough mattresses in the great hall.
Medieval life in a castle would have been harsh by modern standards, but much better than life for the majority of people at the time. It wouldn’t have been easy living a life in a medieval castle (or anywhere in medieval times really), sure you might not have had all the great technology that we have today, but it would still have been very busy.
When you’re exploring a castle today, it’s hard to grasp just how busy and how bustling that same castle would have been at the height of medieval times. But hopefully this post will help give you a better idea of what life was like in a medieval castle!
When Did the Day Begin?
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 first of the two main meals of the day for the nobles was not served until between 10am and noon (must have been nice for some)!
After breakfast the castle inhabitants would begin their daily assigned functions. The Lord would take meetings regarding diplomacy, trade, warfare, or legal and financial matters and the Lady would often meet with her guests or pursue her personal projects such as needlepoint.
Knights and squires would have lessons in fencing and other martial arts. Children would be given lessons in various subjects including religion.
Many other people would be performing their normal morning functions. The grooms would be caring for the horses, the cooks would be preparing the days meals, and the tradesmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, and masons would all be performing their normal daily work.
Daily Life in a Medieval Castle
Daily life in a medieval castle was filled with a constant hubbub of busied work in the kitchens, preparations for celebrations in the Great Hall, and religious worship in each castle’s own chapel.
However, of course, life in a Medieval castle would have also included military activities. On many days, knights would have practiced their skills to defend their lord – and his king – in battle. Preparations were made to defend the castle in case it came under siege, and machinery was made to defend the castle in times of attack.
When they weren’t planning for a battle, feasting and enjoying food was an important part of medieval life.
Tournaments often went on for several days. The activities included jousting, archery competitions, sword fights, and wrestling competitions.
The main event was a joust. Two men charged on horse back with wooden lances and tried to knock each other off. Both men wore armour and their horses wore richly embroidered cloth. The lances took a lot of skill, because they were long and heavy. It could also be rather dangerous, so not exactly a sport I would be happy to take part in.
What Was Domestic Life like in Medieval Castles?
When we look at the castle ruins that we can see today, you need to have a good imagination to know what domestic life would have been like back in their prime. But castles were partially built to demonstrate the power and significance of their Lord and master, and would have had a vast retinue of servants who would have catered to the needs of the noble family.
Castles would have been filled with people, they of course, needed people to help around the place. How many people would have worked or lived within a castle though? Well, it evidently depends on the size of the castle, but, for a site like Goodrich Castle in England, you could expect around 100-150 people to surround the Lord’s family.
These would have included everything from cooks to gardeners, grooms and horse-men, and all important treasurers, who would look after the finances of the entire estate.
The focus of domestic life in a medieval castle would have been the Great Hall, which was a common feature to almost every castle in England. This large hall was the focus of hospitality, celebration and the pleasures of life in a medieval castle – including dances, plays or even poetry recitals.
The Lord and Lady of the Castle
The most important person in a castle was the owner —the king, lord, knight or lady. But they didn’t live there all the time. Kings of England owned dozens of castles, and could never have visited them all.
Castle owners always had private ‘apartments’, or at least a bedroom with an en-suite loo and a chamber where they welcomed visitors. There was often a private chapel too. These were usually in the safest part of the castle, and only trusted servants or honoured guests were allowed in.
Some castles had their lordly living rooms in a completely separate building; a castle within a castle, which could be defended even if the rest of the fortress fell. The Earls of Northumberland’s Great Tower within Warkworth Castle had its own wine-cellars, kitchens, hall, chapel and bedrooms.
Often, Lords would be summoned to supervise or even participate in military activities further afield, too.
Generally, the Lord’s servants – such as his groom or chamberlain (master of his bedroom and expensive properties) – would travel alongside him, and return to the castle when he did. This meant, when the master was away, the castle became a quiet place indeed.
In his absence, the lady of the castle would often be in charge of the day-to-day domestic affairs – but the nitty-gritty of running the castle would generally fall to her own servants.
When the Lord and Lady were in residence at the castle, they would have had a number of chambers exclusively for their use.
Feudalism, and the Structure of Life in a Medieval Castle
Feudalism came about when castles arrived in England and Wales, this meant an entirely new social order. Basically, the king owned all the land, but he “gave” it out to his trusted knights, the could keep the land as long as they remained loyal to the king.
But of course, these knights couldn’t farm the land all by themselves, so the obvious solution was to use the peasants, who were at the very bottom of the social pyramid!
The entire Medieval economic and military system was a very complex pyramid of reciprocal duty – with the King, and his Lords, at the apex of the pyramid.
The castle was symbol of the Lord’s power, and therefore cemented the entire Medieval social system firmly in place. Life in a Medieval castle – with its hierarchical structure, noise and festivity – was a microcosm of life in the wider Medieval society.
So there you have it, the basics of life in a medieval castle! I feel like I might have missed out on a lot, so I will probably do a part two at some point, and look more at the soldiers, servants, maybe even about living in a cold, damp, dark castle, I’ve got loads of ideas.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed! Let me know if you learned anything new, or if I missed out on something really important – I always love learning something new, so please feel free to let me know in the comments!
If you enjoyed reading this post, then why not pin it!