Cooks (6)

Welcome to episode 6 in the Medieval England History series. Last time we looked at medieval castles and their general sort of purpose and structure. Now we dive into the personnel, medieval cooks! If you enjoy this series please be sure to read the other episodes and listen to the voice cast on Spotify.


Medieval cooks, one of the most vital roles in the medieval times! People might not have been eating what we eat today, but I can say this, it was not that bad. A medieval cook would usually prepare the food over an open fire. Castles and noble houses later on had stoves and ovens of there own. Below are some of the cooking equipment, pans, that they would use.

A typical staple diet in medieval times didn’t quite match out 21st Century expectations. But it contained some good grub, for the time. Medieval ages saw a basic diet or food of bread (produced at Lord’s mills). Bread was not the only diet, although the most accessible and most used food source, due to the ease of production.

People of course ate a variety of meats, like chickens, geese, beef, venison and pork. Venison is considered a luxurious meat today (at least that is the impression I got) and would probably cost more than bread in the medieval ages. Back then it was mustard who took the lead as the most popular ingredients, beating salt, as salt was too expensive! Salt was reserved for the wealthy, a bit like the more expensive meats.

A cook working in the royal kitchens would live in the castle or a small village near it (either inside the walls, or just outside). As mentioned in the previous post on castles, it was a busy place and everyone had a role. Cooks were in charge of preparing meals and cleaning the kitchen. They would learn their families recipes and pass them on, as opposed to writing them down, although they probably did at some point (the first medieval cooking book appeared in the 13th Century). Preparing a meal over an open fire was commonplace, a cook used a fireplace or something called a central open ‘hearth.’ Kitchens would have stone floors, as was most common in castles. An open hearth also gave the room heat, thus the cooks would benefit from it. A hearth was usually placed in the center of the living rooms, as opposed to a separate kitchen, which came later on in the medieval ages. As the times progressed and people learned more, they realised the benefits of keeping the cooking separate from the guests, due to the smoke and potential smells etc.

the cooking pot on the fire

Cooks used a variety of tools and pans and were not short of supplies. They had knives, iron cauldrons and pots (picture above), open ovens and hearths etc. wooden spoons, pothangers, dishes, pans and platters. All of these are still available to use today. We see open fires in many living rooms today, and it resembles the cooking methods of medieval ages. Cooks were also distinguishable by their clothing. They would wear clean clothes and woolen aprons. Cooks were highly valued in the medieval ages, especially those a part of the noble or royal kitchen staff.

cooks were highly valued in medieval times!

Cooks were only one of many types of kitchen staff though, and I will briefly outline them, they are: pantlers, bakers, waferers, sauciers, larderers, butchers, carvers, page boys, milkmaids, butlers and scullions! These staff were in the hundreds and would all form part of the kitchen quarters. They were highly valued. You would not see a castle without a cook.

Back in the medieval ages things worked significantly differently, although many techniques have lasted through the ages in terms of food preservation techniques and food transportation. Back then, both preservation and transportation were extremely difficult. Nobles had access to more foreign foods like exotic spices and alcohol because they had the money and the man power to transport quickly. Decrees however would outlaw the consumption of certain foods among certain social classes because the poor or the manual labour of the town or village were considered to need cheaper more poor quality food. The class divide in the medieval times was extremely wide and it is a topic for another episode. But in terms of transport, from the 12th Century, there were improvements in international trade and wars meant dissemination in new food choices to the upper-middle classes of society. Those included things like access to wine and vinegar, black pepper and ginger. The rich or elite all had similar taste in food and drink.

As mentioned bread was a staple diet for many as it was widely available and the cheapest option available. Bakers would produce bread, and they were able to sell to cooks for castles and noble or royal kitchens, but the kitchens in the castle usually had their own bakers. Poor people ate things like barley, oat and rye. Beans and vegetable were eaten by all members of society. The rich would be prepared more expensive meals like swans or peacocks, venison and pork. Because meat was more expensive it was always seen at the dining table of nobles or elite. Fish like cod was popular. Elites usually ate fruits preserved in honey or served in pies, although fruit like apples, oranges, lemons, peaches and berries were more commonly eaten by the poor.

A cook would be paid daily but would not have the job security that a Marshall would have for example. This was due to the fact that a noble could travel and therefore would not need the cook. This was a rough time for holding down a consistent job for many, and back then they probably didn’t have contracts of employment.


Thanks for reading episode 6 – cooks! if you enjoyed this then like, comment, reblog and follow and of course keep a look out for regular episodes coming up in the Medieval England History series. Next time I’ll be talking about another crucial medieval occupation, the baker!

Castles (5)

Welcome to episode 5 of the Medieval England History series. You can access all the episodes by going to this link here. I hope you are enjoying this nostalgic adventure into the heart of what England was during the time of the black death. If you do like what you read then be sure to follow because new episodes are posted regularly. Today this episode is about medieval castles!


Castles in medieval England served a very important purpose, they were designed and built primarily as the homes and fortresses of a monarch or noble. Early castles would have been built from earth and wood, but as the times moved on, by the 12th century most castles were built from stone.

The roof of the castles were built or covered with slates, clay tiles or wooden shingles. The castle had to be well guarded and defended both by men and in terms of the position and structure, because a poorly built castle meant almost certain doom for the occupants. That is why they built castles on steep hills or at the top of rock cliffs, sometimes beside the sea. The positions meant that the castle automatically had an advantage from attack, as potential invaders had to get up the hills or cliffs before getting into the castle. It was still possible though, and the use of other weapons like catapults certainly helped this.

If the castle was not built to house a monarch or noble then it could have secondary uses or purposes. Notable is the use of castles as barracks to house soldiers (spearmen, militia, swordsmen, archers, crossbow men, knights, billmen etc). They could serve as prisons, armories, treasure houses, and the center for local government… yes, they still had a government in medieval ages, albeit under the rule of the monarch. Other less violent uses included using castles as brew houses, laundry, workshops, dovecotes, and stables. It was not uncommon to have a few of these things mixed together in a castle grounds, along with a barracks for example.

The castle would be surrounded by a huge wall which would be many meters high and dense. They were not just walls, they were 3 layers thick consisting of; a rough stone inner shell, a thick solid filling of flint and rubble, and an outer layer of stone called ashlars. The wall would have a flat walkway which would allow guards to keep watch and to notify the other guards should an intruder be noticed. The archers if there were any would be able to use a embrasure, which would allow them to shoot whilst protected by the wall. And, don’t forget the medieval ages was brutal, so the openings in the wall allowed boiling water or stones or even waste at times to be thrown down onto any attacking enemy. Most castles had a moat too, which was an added level of protection, a stream of deep water that surrounded the castles. Castles built near lakes or rivers could use that water by digging or channeling water to the moat. A drawbridge would allow access across the moat and would be raised if an enemy approached.

Stokesay is the most well preserved castle sites in England. Worth a journey to spend a day looking around.

Inside a castle was a little different to outside. They did not have what we have today, but did have quite a lot of things that we might be surprised at. They didn’t have central heating of course, they had alternative more costs effective means of keeping warm (that is a joke, it didn’t cost anything to light a fire back then). Only the Lord and Lady of the castle had used a main fireplace, along with thick, heavy blankets, mattresses made of feathers, fur covers etc. So the Lord and the Lady (nobles) or the Monarch (I suspect a lot more than just blankets, including women for kings). The workers, or anyone not a noble had to sleep in the towers which were cold and damp, and you can imagine the winter. In summer though, the castle would still remain cold for the workers.

A castle hall was the biggest, grandest room in the entire fortress. The middle ages saw it common place to sleep in the hall. It was the place to dine and to drink and socialise. Lords of the castle would host social gatherings and people gathered in the hall for a massive feast and listened to music (yes, the played musical instruments, played by minstrels, or wandering singers). Occasionally the Lords might also host a jousting event in a field outside. There were laundry too, and bedding and clothes were washed, and everything was maintained. Everyone in the castle had a job, even if it was to provide entertainment and this resulted in castles being loud and busy.

Attackers could use moveable towers to climb over the walls, could tunnel under the walls, and of course use catapults, which were employed later on. Attackers could stop the supply of food and water and other resources and even kill assisting soldiers coming to the castle.

Waste disposal in castles was not as good as the personal hygiene. Castles did not have plumbing which means the waste would remain in one place until it was cleaned by chamber maids (they still did it, and for a pittance), although a poor sanitary waste system was a lot better than a lower class citizen. People in medieval ages had regard to personal hygiene and washed their hands, took baths and brushed their teeth! They brushed their teeth using something called a miswak, brushing or scrubbing the teeth until they ‘felt’ clean. Others could use a cloth or their fingers. Personal hygiene was advocated for as early as the Vikings, who encouraged use of combs and act of washing. People would get their hair cut by a barber, who also performed minor surgeries to the teeth and pulled out rotten teeth, talk about a worthwhile visit.


Thank you for reading episode 5 castles in the Medieval England History series. If you enjoyed this then stay tuned by liking, commenting, reblogging, following and more! The next in the series will be a little more about the life in castles, particularly focusing on the roles within it, starting with the cooks! Cooks are a very important roles in the castle of medieval times.

Dragons (4)

Welcome to the fourth post in the medieval England series, this is the dragons section. If you have followed the series so far you will recount Alchemy(1), Knights(2) and Wizards(3) for the previous posts. Hopefully you enjoy reading and you can of course listen to the audio version via Spotify. Thanks you and enjoy this episode.


Dragons! The most feared creatures within the land during the medieval ages. A knight or group of knights known were known as Orders of Chivalry, like the knight Templar. Those orders were sometimes called upon to slay a dragon. We have legends like St George who slayed a dragon.

The story of St George is well known to England. He successfully tamed and slayed a dragon which had both demanded and consumed human sacrifices. The dragon would extort villages of livestock and trinkets, like gold. Eventually they turned to offering humans once a year, because they simple didn’t have the livestock or jewels to give the dragon. This horrific practice continued until eventually a beloved princess was chosen as the next offering. St George rescued the princess from the dragon.

St George and the Dragon! (source-wikipedia)

Lesser known is the slaying of the dragon by St Margaret of Antioch, who was swallowed alive by a dragon. Whilst inside she made the sign of the cross – which could have been using her sword – which caused the dragons belly and stomach to burst open! She used to be quite the revered saint in England during the medieval ages, and was associated with protecting women in childbirth. This destroying of the dragon using the sign of the cross ties into a religious idea about dragons, which is talked about further down. The story though was disputed by Jacobus de Voragine, who had written the Golden Legend which St George was a part of.

Enter another legend, Beowulf. Based on the epic poem. Not quite English and around the 6th century, a Scandinavian legend, but a brutal final attack about a dragon slaying. 50 years after defeating Grendel’s mother Beowulf slays a dragon, but is mortally wounded in battle and dies! A final courageous battle for a fearless man, one man alone who chose to fight the dragon solo. The people were fearful after his death, because they believed without him that they would be defenseless. It’s a great story and you can even watch the movie which was released in 2007 (I still remember watching this with my dad and brothers, it was a good time).

Beowulf slays the dragon, before dying from wounds.

Dragons still play a significant role today in society through the various multitudes of artwork, sculptures on public display and movies. Due to the dragon being associated with religion, particularly the devil, it was said during medieval times that to see a dragon was a reminder to not sin and to be a good person, particularly when saw in church. Said to have been the tempter of Eve in the garden of Eden.

All this mythology is great, but what about something close to real? Meet the Wyverns, a common dragon in medieval heraldry. Commonly depicted in artwork. Not that these are any more real, but certainly the more common types that were known in England and Wales.

Wyvern

Wormhill dragons, around 700AD named by the Anglo-Saxons. The hill at Knotlow in Derbyshire (I used to live in Derbyshire) was the base or lair of the dragon. Couple them with legends like the Longwitton dragon, of Northumbrian legend. Each dragon brought bad things. No medieval village or settlement was safe with them around.

What makes dragons so scary? Well, for one they fly with their huge wings. This gives them an automatic advantage when attacking villages or castles. In order to hide from a dragon people would have had to be inside a stone building or underground. They have extremely strong scales which are akin to armour, and a lot of knights could not kill them with their swords and stronger weapons were needed like catapults or cross bows. Fire they breathe… yes the fire is death and destruction and it could rip through a village and kill everyone very quickly. Unless you had some way to appease it, and most people didn’t, then you’d be killed. They can use their huge mouths and teeth to just simply chew you up. In the Hobbit movie, Smaug is unstoppable and has been for many years, and can only really be stopped with courage and powerful weapons.

Before we end let’s look for a final time at what a dragon symbolises, among other things: psychic abilities, honesty, fearlessness, passion, magic abilities, medieval times, uncertainty, faith. The story of St George is significant to understanding exactly what a dragon was that they all saw. Below are depictions of the dragon he is supposed to have slayed, and they all resembled jurassic creatures. Could dragons of medieval times simply have been ancient dinosaurs which so happened to fly? It is not far fetched at all, it is also possible that dragons might actually be real, or were at some point in history.

Undoubtedly the biggest threat in the medieval ages after the black death, hunger and the inquisition. Although we don’t have pictures of them from the medieval ages, you can watch many films with dragons. Dragonheart – highly recommend it to see a proper dragon. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the film is dragon from start to finish. Game of Thrones of course has dragons and so many more.


Thank you for reading episode 4 – dragons – in the medieval England history series. If you liked then please like, comment, reblog and follow and as usual, have a lovely day.