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Medieval Castle Life

Medieval life and Times

Daily Medieval Castle Life
The Normans were the victors of the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The English population had been conquered and the strategy of building the vast network of Norman castles ensured that the Normans maintained control. Life for the Normans was good. Their successful invasion of England meant wealth for the Norman invaders.

Lands were divided between Norman Lords and they built a new Life for themselves and their family in a new Norman Castle. The first castles were wooden but they were later converted into stone castles, or they built new stone castles from scratch. The Daily Life in the Castle Bailey was Busy with serfs and armed men following their duties. Norman castles were noisy with people shouting orders, making weapons etc and the noises made by livestock. They were also dirty as the Bailey was built on a mound of earth. Medieval Castle Life was also boring.

Medieval Castle Life in a Square Keep Castle
The Norman castles featured a square castle keep. The word 'Keep' means "that which keeps or protects - the strongest and securest part of a castle, often used as a place of residence by the lord of the castle". The word 'Keep' also means "To hold, not to let go of, to retain in one's power or possession". The  Norman square keep castle is thus explained. Medieval Castle Life depended on the rank of the people who inhabited the castle. The Lord or Knight of the Castle and usually his family would live in the most protected part of the castle - the Tower or the Keep.

Medieval Castle Life - Description of a Square Keep Castle
The following facts and information provide a description of a stone square keep castle built as part of a Motte and Bailey Castle

  • A Norman square keep castle which was made of stone was usually built on the ground of the Bailey - rather than on top of the mound
  • A square keep castle ranged from two to four storeys in height
  • A stone square keep Norman castle had thick strong walls which were often further strengthened by buttresses
  • Stone curtain walls were constructed anywhere between 20 and 40 feet high and 7 to 20 feet thick 
  • A stone square keep castle had a gateway to a staircase leading up to the first storey of the castle 
  • Each storey was divided by walls into separate rooms
  • Higher storeys were accessed by spiral staircases built at the corners of the stone square keep castle interior
  • The First Floor storey housed the Great Hall ( the Great Hall was optional and would only be built if the location was of significant political or military importance and semi-permanent occupation of the castle was envisioned ) 
  • A Garderobe was provided
  • The second storey housed the Knight's apartments
  • Windows were set in thick walls in the upper storeys
  • A Chapel was usually built into the Square Keep Norman Castle
  • The ground floor acted as a storeroom
  • The top floor of the castle keep often contained the kitchens and ovens. Should the Norman castle keep come under attack boiling water, burning oil, or hot sand could be conveniently prepared

Medieval Castle Life of a knight
Life in the Norman Castle was better for the Lord or Knight and his family than for anyone else. Like the Feudal system itself, life in a Norman castle was a pyramid shape with the Lord, or Knight, at the top of the pyramid - literally living the high life. The quality of life decreased according to the position or status of each inhabitant. The castle as a fortress it was also a residence for the knight and possibly his family - they all lived in the most secure part of the castle - the Tower. Life for a knight in the Tower would be noisy, dirty, busy and smoky - there was little privacy for any of the inhabitants. Servants would be expected to provide food for the Nobles and soldiers. A day in the life of a knight in a castle would follow the following routine:

  • A day in the life of a knight in a castle started early, at cock crow
  • A Knight would hear mass in the chapel or at a portable altar in the Great Hall
  • The first meal of the day was breakfast at about 8 o'clock
  • The Knight would then attend to business matters in relation to his land, or fief. He might even preside over judicial matters relating to his tenants
  • The next meal was at mid morning
  • A day in the life of a knight in a castle continued in the afternoon with weapons training, hunting or inspecting the manor
  • The evening supper would be served to the knight in the Hall - with occasional entertainment. The richer the Lord the better and more varied the entertainment

Medieval Castle Life - Daily Medieval Castle Life for the Soldiers or Men-at-Arms
The knight had loyal soldiers. The Soldiers were well paid and lived within the Bailey of the castle. The objective of the Norman castle occupants was to control the fief or manor. The Norman Castle was not used as a refuge or a retreat where men cowered behind walls - it was there to dominate the indigenous population. The Norman soldiers therefore spent a lot of their daily life patrolling the surrounding area and district. Norman foot soldiers could cover up to 30 miles in one day and horse soldiers could cover much wider areas. A day in  life of the soldier would have centred around the Bailey - patrolling and practising and improving their weapon skills. Their leisure time would have been spent resting, some gambling and praying.

Medieval Castle Life - Life of a serf
Servants had to provide meals and undertake menial tasks for their lord and his family. Many of the serfs who worked in the Norman castles were women. They worked in the kitchen and were expected to cook, clean and wait on the lord. Other occupations within the Motte and Bailey Norman castles were the Blacksmiths- to keep a supply of arrowheads, the Stable hands to help with the horses, kitchen staff and stable hands. The serfs in the Bailey were expected to ensure the life of the knight and his soldiers was as comfortable and orderly as possible. The Blacksmiths were expected to make the weapons and ensure that enough arrow heads were produced. The horses were extremely important to the Lord and Knights - the horses had to be fed, groomed and their stables kept clean.

Medieval Castle Life - the Food
The kitchen serfs and servants would be expected to feed the Knight and the soldiers. The Bailey would house small animals which would require slaughtering during the autumn as it was not economic or practical to feed animals during the winter. The meat was then preserved in salt. Bread was a mainstay of everyone's diet. Corn, grain, cabbage, ale or cider was obtained from the local area. The foodstuff all needed to be stored - enough was required to not only feed men on a day-to-day basis but also the withstand a siege situation in a Norman castle.

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