Yesterday we explored some of the castles of Europe, a subject that has always fascinated me, in a sort of overview…I posted some pictures of the exterior of several English castles, including Buckingham Palace, which is still used as a functional part of the British government today, Windsor Palace, where many of England’s former monarchs lived in and ruled from in the medieval times, and the infamous Tower of London, which was used as a prison and a medieval torture chamber back in the day…
We also explored some of the stunning interiors of Windsor Palace and included several shots of some famous French castles as well….The sheer size and scope of these palaces rivaled even the lavish exteriors and interiors of some of the grand cathedrals of the time…..Today I would like to delve more deeply into the actual physical layout of the castle, so as to get a better understanding of what went on in these massive drawing rooms, meeting halls, dining rooms and the actual function of ruling the English Empire during medieval times…It was a very complicated social arrangement….
According to my Google sources, “The rooms where the lord of a castle, his family and his knights lived and ate and slept were in the Keep (called the Donjon), the rectangular tower inside the walls of a castle. This was meant to be the strongest and safest place.
The outer wall of a castle was called Bailey. This was where buildings for the castle’s cattle, horses and servants lived. Some of the soldiers needed to defend the castle might live in part of the gatehouse known as the Barbican.
In medieval castles, the lord and his followers carried out most of their daily life in the Donjon. ‘Dungeon’ comes from donjon as the prisoners were kept there, though down in the darkest, dampest parts way below. There were also rooms for storing food. They had to be kept stocked with food to last for a long time in case there was a siege.
People in the castle would also need water, so there was almost always a well here too. There were kitchens and pantries where food was stored for everyday preparation. The Great Hall and the bedchambers were there too. The Donjon could be as much as 70 meters high, and often a watchtower where sentries kept watch and where the lord’s flag flew from the top.
The Great Hall was the most important room in a castle. All the members of the household sat down to eat at tables. It was where feasts were held for special days, or when there were guests. King Arthur’s Pentecost Feast took place in his Great Hall. A lord or king carried on nearly all the business of the castle there, running of his estate, listening to reports from his bailiff or his reeve (the men who managed affairs on his land for him) and hearing complaints from one peasant about another.
In the bedchamber, mice were a problem in the Middle Ages. There was a pole in the bedchamber for hanging clothes on at night so the mice wouldn’t nibble them. People didn’t wear anything in bed except a nightcap and they slept half sitting up. Nightshirts weren’t worn until the 14th Century!
In the kitchen, food was roasted or boiled in cauldrons over a fire on a hearth made out of large blocks of stone. The washing was done in a tub on the stone floor nearby. A wealthy knight, his family and guests ate well. Unlike most people, they had plenty of meat like deer, goose and rabbit.
On Fridays and Holy Days meat was forbidden by the church, so they ate fish or eels. If there was a special feast, the people working in the kitchens would prepare wild boar, roast swan, or even roast peacock, served with all its feathers as decoration. Some of these would be caught by the lord of the castle and his friends while out hunting with their hawks.
Finally, toilets and bathrooms were an integral part of any castle…Many castles had stone toilets built over holes in the outer walls. These emptied into a pit way below. The Teutonic Knights (warrior-monks of central Europe) of Poland used to murder their enemies by inviting them to be guests at the castle only to hurl them down the toilet!
Medieval castles did not have running water, yet people did like to bathe at least once a year. In some castles there was a room next to the kitchen where they bathed in groups. The lord might have hot water brought to his bedchamber and poured into a big wooden tub, where he sat on a low stool in. The water might have perfume or rose leaves sprinkled in it. Soap was made of sheep fat with ashes and soda. Teeth were cleaned by scraping them with a hazel twig and rubbing them with a woolen cloth.
”In its simplest terms, the most accepted definition of a castle is “a private fortified residence”. The only form of government was a Monarchy where the king or queen ruled by “divine right”. That just meant the people believed that God had appointed the king or queen to rule with absolute power. That King or Queen needed a safe castle to live and rule from!”
The Basics of a Medieval Era Castle:
Castles belonged to the wealthy, important, and powerful people – kings, nobles, and knights.
Castles were designed to be difficult to attack and easy to defend.
Castles protected owners from rivals, invaders and the local citizens.
Castles were symbols of status during times of war and peace.
Castles were the seats of local power and justice.
Early castles were built in the 9th and 10th centuries and were constructed of earth and wood and were usually built on higher ground.
Castles from the 11th century and later were always built of rock and stones on high ground and often surrounded by water such as a lake of wide, deep water, called a moat.
Stone castles had massive walls that were between 15 and 20 feet thick
Again, space precludes more investigation today into the daily life of a castle dweller, but a basic understanding of how castles were organized is essential to explain how they functioned…Although even this cursory glance shows that it is plain to see that the king and queen lived very well, and that his knights and advisers,whether they resided in the kings castle or their own, were also well taken care of…A castle was a very high maintenance endeavor, and required the labor of many servants…
In exchange for their labor, the servant received a small wage but more importantly, had the security of the kings protection, food to eat and a place to sleep at night, no small blessings in the wild and unruly medieval times…
The palace servants considered themselves socially way above the serfs and peasants who worked as farmers and tilled the soil and raised the crops outside the castle walls and lived in rude huts and villages themselves…It was an honor to be a palace servant and live protected inside the walls of a castle….
Then, as now, a “place at court” was to be coveted and aspired to….It was like an entry level job at a modern corporation for the most ambitious….Once you were employed within the castle, you were much more likely to be able to advance yourself and your social position…This was a driving force in medieval life, to better oneself….
For more information on castle interiors, see: Inside a medieval Castle at: http://www.medievalfayre.com/index.php?option=com…76%3Ainside
For more stories by John Whye, see http://www.johnwhye.com