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.