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.