Some movies that include castles give us the wrong impression of life in a castle, although I have noticed a trend to more realistic depictions of life back when.
Don’t be tempted to over-romanticize the unpleasant realities of life in a Medieval castle. To our modern standards of living, most Medieval castles would have been incredibly cold, cramped, totally lacking privacy, and would have been disgustingly smelly (and likely home to more than a fair share of rats!).
Firstly, why were these castles so dark and cold? Well, most Medieval castles were made of stone. Although stone was a perfect material for creating strong, defensive fortifications, Medieval building techniques were basic.
This meant that most structures could only support tiny windows – which resulted in dark rooms that were constantly cold, as the thick stone could never be fully warmed by the sun.
Late-medieval developments in architecture and gothic castle design did improve on these problems, though, and castles built in the late 1200s began to have larger windows and lighter rooms.
Incredibly, fireplaces weren’t invented until the middle of the Medieval period. Until this time, all fires were open fires, which didn’t spread heat so effectively (and generated a lot of smoke!).
The invention of the fireplace made rooms warmer, as it heated the stones as well as the chamber itself. This made life in a medieval castle much more bearable.
When it came to sanitation, though, things were always truly disgusting. The link between sewerage and disease wasn’t made until the c18th, and medieval people remained blissfully ignorant about the health consequences of poor toilet hygiene.
Resultantly, most toilets (or garderobes) were nothing more than small antechambers, in which you’d find a bench with a hole in it. The, er, contents of the toilet would simply fall – usually from a great height! – into a cess-pool, or even into the moat. As the moat was generally stagnant water, it meant that the stench would have been unbearable – especially in the summer-time.
In addition to the lack of hygiene within the garderobe, there would have been a huge lack of privacy, too. Medieval societies didn’t really value privacy as we do, so most garderobes would have been a long line of benches with nothing to separate you from your neighbor as he went about his business.
Still, I guess it meant that you always had someone to chat to when on the toilet!
Life in a medieval castle would have been ordered and organized, full of pomp and ceremony, and also very cold and smelly!
Essentially, castles were at the heart of Medieval society.
Castles were built in England and Wales after 1066. They cemented a new social system of feudalism in place. Each new castle secured the power of the local lord over his vassals.
To serve the lord, most castles would have been places of frenzied domestic activity.
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.
And the layout of a typical Medieval castle tended to be influenced by domestic needs rather than defensive concerns.
I thought you might be interested in learning more about the Normans and their castles that the Welsh Prince Cochgam ap Cadwgon has to contend with in The Archer's Diary - Book Two The Journal.
It wasn't long after their conquest of the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that the Normans quickly spread throughout the country establishing their control over the land and its people by building castles in as many strategic locations as possible. All in all, it's believed they built over 1,000 castles during the Middle Ages (medieval times.)
These first castles were not the stone structures you are most likely familiar with depicted in Robin Hood movies, but were constructed mainly of wood and earth and called motte and bailey castles.
The motte and bailey castle was an early form of medieval fortification especially popular with the Normans in northern France and Britain during the 11th century CE. A single tower was built on (or partially within) the motte or earth mound while a courtyard area or bailey at the base was protected by a wooden palisade and an encircling outer ditch. Relatively quick to build, the height of the mound made the tower difficult to attack while the wall offered a place of refuge from opportunist raiders. For these reasons, the motte and bailey castle was especially useful in freshly conquered territories where the native population was still hostile to their new overlords. As stone resisted fire better than wood and defensive designs improved, castles evolved into more permanent structures with stone circuit walls and towers enclosing a more impressive inner stone tower or keep (donjon).
Evolution & Design
The earliest form of fortified camp was a simple wooden palisade, perhaps with earthworks, surrounding a camp (ringworks), sometimes with a permanent wooden tower in the centre. These had been common since Roman times and remained little-changed for centuries. Then, stand-alone wooden towers became a feature of defences in northwest France from the 9th and 10th centuries CE. These structures evolved into the more sophisticated motte and bailey castles, which were especially common in France and Norman Britain from the 11th century CE.
The castles consisted of a wooden wall, perhaps built on an earth bank, encircling an open space or courtyard (bailey) and a natural or artificial hill (motte) which had a wooden tower built in the centre of its flattened top, sometimes surrounded by its own wooden palisade. The tower ranged from a mere lookout tower or firing platform to the more substantial building used as a residence for the local lord. Some towers were built on stilts, presumably to save time and materials in their construction and to make them more difficult to scale. The motte was sometimes connected to the bailey by a type of bridge, but most had steps cut into their sides.
The whole castle structure was further protected by an encircling ditch, which could be with or without water. There was no specific design blueprint to follow as castles took advantage of local terrain and other factors, as the historian N. J. G. Pounds here notes:
With variations in dimensions, layout, towers, walls, and foundations, some castles had two mottes while some mottes had two or even three baileys. There is also sometimes the difficulty, given the lack of surviving structural remains, of distinguishing a fortified private home built on a mound from a castle used as an administrative centre. The latter were generally larger and the bailey therein typically contained domestic buildings, stores and supplies, workshops, stables and, crucially, a well.
Cartwright, Mark. "Motte and Bailey Castle." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 17 May 2018. Web. 25 Jul 2020.
The day of my sixteenth birthday was the day I killed another person for the first time.
They attacked us without warning; riding fast upon us from the south along the valley through which the Afon Gwy flows, the slight rise in that direction hiding them from those working the fields about our village until it proved too late to shout warning to the rest of us. A good number of folk had come from neighboring villages to join ours in celebrating my day and the market was filled with song and dance and copious drink when our world was torn asunder.
A platform had been erected for the festivities by my father, Lord Iorwerth of Llanfredd in Cantref Uwch Mynydd, and it was on there I stood together with him and mother, able to look over the heads of our kinsmen when I saw the horsemen at the fringe of the village. At first I refused to believe that such a group would venture this far from Offa’s dyke but a moment later I recognized them for what they truly were—Norman knights. Their conroi numbered fifteen and wore their distinctive hauberks and conical helmets with the nose guard, and carried the kite shields.
I looked on in horror as they couched their lances. Then came the screams. Until that moment I had never heard so much pain and terror packed into a single cry. Imagine that sound rising from dozens of throats as people, of all ages, attempted to flee the attack only to be spitted on a Norman lance. I swear at one point I witnessed a young child lifted high above the crowd writhing in agony on the end of a knight’s spear before being tossed aside. The slaughter intensified as each knight took up his broadsword, standing high in the saddle for more leverage and freedom to strike at the innocents. Some folk escaped the blade only to fall to the ground to be trampled to death beneath the powerful destriers ridden by the horsemen.
The market became a killing ground; the ground awash with spilled blood and innards, bodies writhing in agony, wounded clawing the earth seeking safety, a father here shielding his boy with his body from a sword that merely cut through them both with a single blow, a mother there holding her child tight to her bosom only to have a lance pierce them both through and through, and a miraculous moment when a babe, crying pitifully beside the body of its parent, is snatched away to safety by someone fleeing the carnage.
All this and far more did I witness in what seemed the blink of an eye, but in fact was many minutes. I must have stood like a damn stump, overcome by the scene unfolding around me, for it took my father’s strong hand to shake me back to my senses.
“Take your mother and any others you can and flee to the woods, son,” he shouted at me. We stood face-to-face and I could see clearly the red rage in his eyes. He shot a glance at my mother. “Go with Cochgam, woman. Save yourselves. Go!” The last he screamed when my mother hesitated.
I knew full well she meant to stand at his side against the horsemen, but Father seized our arms and spun us about and shoved the two of us towards the stairs leading off the platform. Again Mother faltered, but I dragged her along by her wrist as I slung my birthday gift over my shoulder. The last I saw of my father was when I chanced to look back to see him, sword in hand and with a howl of rage, leap off the platform at a horseman. They both tumbled from the horse to be lost amidst the bloody turmoil.
A Special Announcement to all the members of my Merry Band of Readers, as well as those following me.
I have just begun working on Book Two - The Journal, the sequel to The Archer's Diary - Book One.
And I also take this opportunity to reveal the cover design for Book Two.
I cannot give a release date yet for the sequel, but promise to keep you all updated on its progress.
And keep watch for a SPECIAL CONTEST COMING SOON that will give 2 people a unique opportunity to live and fight alongside the welsh prince, Cochgam ap Cadwgon (aka Robin Hood)!!
I am giving serious thought to extending the branding of my new book by designing this sticker that can be used to 'spread the word' of our Merry Band of Readers.
If I were to make this available to members at a fair price, would you be interested in using on your vehicle, etc to help promote our group?
The sticker would be printed on clear plastic @ 3 x 5 inches and would be water resistant, etc.
Your response will help make the decision to boost the exposure of our group. To that end, please send me your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your time and support.
"No Forest is equal in beauty to an oak forest and no such oak forest is to be found elsewhere to match the Royal Forest of Dean. It is the 'Queen of Forests'."
Forest of Dean Tourist Information and Travel Guide
Originally chosen by the Saxons primarily for hunting its abundance of wild game, this large tract of woodland was reserved as a royal hunting ground sometime prior to 1066. It wasn't until 1086 that The Forest of Denu was officially recorded in the 'Domesday Book'. Denu being old English for Dene or Dean and taken from the Denu valley situated in the north-east of the area. Some historians also believe the Forest of Dean derived its name from the ancient Norman ruins of 'Old Castle of Dene' combined with the Valley of Dene near Littledean.
In 1938 The Forest of Dean was declared England's first National Forest Park, and over the years underwent a program of reforestation until, today, the woodland now covers an estimated 24,000 acres.
The period during which 'The Archer's Diary' is set, The Royal Forest of Dean extended further north than shown by the map (above), encompassing Hay-on-Wye and straddled the border between Wales and England.
Credit: © 2018 Chris Jones
The Welsh Marches (Welsh: Y Mers) is an imprecisely defined area along the border between England and Wales in the United Kingdom. The precise meaning of the term has varied at different periods.
The English term Welsh March (in medieval Latin Marchia Walliae) was originally used in the Middle Ages to denote the 'marches' between England and the Principality of Wales in which Marcher Lords had specific rights, exercised to some extent independently of the King of England. In modern usage, "the Marches" is often used to describe those English counties which lie along the border with Wales, particularly Shropshire and Herefordshire, and sometimes adjoining areas of Wales. However, at one time the Marches included all of the historic counties of Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
In this context the word march means a border region or frontier, and is cognate with the verb "to march," both ultimately derived from Proto-Indo-European *mereg-, "edge" or "boundary". (Wikipedia)
Aerial view over Hay-On-Wye
Hay is quite a small town. It's possible to walk around the circumference of the town in about 20 minutes. Once you are here, there is no need for public transport to help you get around!
The town is a pretty and thriving market town on the Wales/Herefordshire borders and is the north eastern gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park. Situated on the banks of the River Wye in an area of high scenic value, it is set in some of the prettiest borders scenery in the area with the nearby Black Mountains offering some of the best walking, mountain biking and riding in the country. For a town of its size, it has amazing facilities, principally because of its importance as a tourist destination and has about 20 bookshops including reputedly the largest second hand bookshop in the world. These are augmented by restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, clothes, gift and antique shops and a thriving Thursday street market which provides a further attraction for tourists throughout the year. The surrounding countryside has a number of pretty and well serviced villages and a variety of country cottages, smallholdings, farmsteads and country houses.
Aerial view over the mountains across Hay Bluff
and beyond, walking and cycling for miles.
This is the setting I chose for "The Archer's Diary."
Hay-on-Wye is a destination for bibliophiles in the United Kingdom, still with two dozen bookshops, many selling specialist and second-hand books. Hay-on-Wye was already well known for its many bookshops before the festival was launched. Richard Booth opened his first shop there in 1962, and by the 1970s Hay had gained the nickname "The Town of Books".
Since 1988, Hay-on-Wye has been the venue for a literary festival, which draws a claimed 80,000 visitors over ten days at the end of May or beginning of June to see and hear big literary names from all over the world. An annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for ten days from May to June. Devised by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence in 1988, the festival was described as "The Woodstock of the mind". Peter Florence continues to be director of the Festival.
The Festival is reported to have directly generated £83 million in Hay-On-Wye's economy over the last ten years (2019).
From its inception, the festival was held at a variety of venues around Hay, including the local Primary School, until 2005 when it moved to a unified location in the West of the town, as well as classical music concerts in St Mary's Church.
A book town is a town or village with many used book or antiquarian book stores. These stores, as well as literary festivals, attract bibliophile tourists. Some book towns are members of the International Organization of Book Towns.
I thought I would begin a series of blogs to introduce you Wales—that corner of the world that is the featured location of The Archer's Diary. There will be a mixture of past and present information that I hope you will find interesting. If you have any comments or questions, I hope you will leave them here for me to follow up. Enjoy.
Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli or Y Gelli Gandryll in Welsh) is a small town with a population of about 1,900 in Mid Wales, on the River Wye, very close to the English border and within the borders of Brecon Beacons National Park.
A "town of books", with at least 41 separate bookshops (mostly second-hand / antiquarian / collectors), Hay-on-Wye is probably best known as the location of a prestigious annual Hay Festival.
Since 1988, Hay-on-Wye has been the worthy venue for a literary festival which draws over 80,000 bibliophile visitors over 10 days at the end of May / beginning of June, in order to buy books, attend book launches and to see and hear big literary names from all over the world. High profile visitors to the Book Fair have included former US President Bill Clinton.