DAILY LIFE OF A MEDIEVAL CASTLE
Life during the Middle Ages began at sunrise, when one of the guards trumpeted the day's start. Servants had already begun to stir, ensuring the fires were lit in the kitchen and great hall and getting the morning meal underway. Since dinner was not served until between 10 am and noon, they had at least a few hours to fulfill their other chores while the stews or soups bubbled in the iron pots. All floors had to be swept, cleared of debris,and basins washed out .
Peasants were sometimes forced to eat only food that was made of barley(like bread) or food that included barley(like soup and pizza). As much as they could, the poor people found other things to eat with their barley to make it less boring. They grew carrots and onions and cabbage and garlic to put in their soup, and they made cheese to eat with their bread and melt on their pizza, and they gathered apples and pears and mushrooms as well, so they could make apple pies or baked apples. And they tried to get honey or sugar to sweeten their treats. They grew herbs like parsley, chives, basil and rosemary to flavor their food. Mostly poor people drank ale (kind of like beer) or beer in England and Germany, wine in France and Italy and Spain. Even the beer was made from barley!!!
Rich people also ate a lot of bread, but they made their bread out of wheat so it tasted better. They also had more choices of other things to eat with their bread. Rich people ate meat, pork, roast beef and stew, lamb chops, deer, rabbit. They had spices to put on their food, expensive spices that had to come all the way from India like pepper and cinnamon. Even salt was often too expensive for poor people, and only rich people had it. In fact, when you were eating in a medieval castle, the salt would be on the table in a huge fancy salt cellar, and the rich people would sit near the salt so they could use it, while the poor people sat further down the long table and couldn't use the salt. We still use the expression, "above the salt" to mean a rich person.
Once the lord and his lady had arisen, chambermaids ventured into their apartments, swept and emptied chamber pots and wash basins, and the laundress also began the day's wash. For their part, the lord and lady of the castle made sure they were tidy before they greeted their household or any guests, washing off with water from their basins while partially clothed to keep warm.
A small breakfast of bread and drink was taken by all, and then the lord and his family entered the chapel for morning mass. Once mass was complete, the lord tackled the day's business. While relying on certain members of his household staff to manage the castle in his absence or when he had other duties to handle, the lord was the castle's chief administrator when he was in residence. Indeed, in many ways, the lord was king of his own domain, which included his castle, the estates, and his subjects, both inside the castle and in the surrounding peasant villages.
Often, the lord was granted possession of more than one lordship or earldom so had to divide his time among all of his properties. His powers were political, judicial, fiscal, and also included the policing of his territory. Like his king, he could mete out punishment, collect rent from his subjects, and even mint his own coins.
When the lord had obligations that took him away from the castle, as was frequently the case, his main representative was the steward, also called the seneschal. The steward actually had substantial power of his own, because he had to know virtually everything that went on at the castle and in the surrounding estates. So, he had to be skilled at accounting and legal matters, as well as personnel management.
Other key members of the household staff included the chamberlain (in charge of the great chamber/hall), the chaplain, the keeper of the wardrobe, the butler (also known as the bottler, he ensured there was enough drink stored in the buttery), the cook, the chandler (who made candles), and the marshal (who was in charge of the stables). Each of these individuals had their own staff to manage.
The lady of the castle was served by ladies-in-waiting and chambermaids. She spent much of the day overseeing their work, as well as supervising the activities in the kitchen staff. The lady also kept an eye on her large group of spinners, weavers, and embroiderers who had the enormous responsibility of keeping everyone clothed, and offering the lady companionship. In addition, the ladies were responsible for educating the young pages who, at the age of 7, came to the castle to learn religion, music, dance, hunting, reading, and writing before moving into knight's service as squires.
At 14, young boys became squires, and the lord placed them under the guidance of a knowledgeable knight who would teach them about chivalry as well as how to wield a sword or ride a horse into battle. A youth's ultimate goal was knighthood, which could be attained at the age of 21 when the boys officially became men. Many knights became highly skilled warriors and spent peacetime traveling to tournaments to pitch themselves into individual combat with other aspiring knights. The tournaments were good training grounds for real warfare.
When a group of soldiers was stationed at a castle, they comprised its garrison. Individual members included the knights, squires, a porter (to tend the main door), guards, watchmen, and men-at-arms. All were prepared to defend their lord and his household in an instant. Each soldier had his own place in an attack and his own skill to rely upon. Some were crossbowmen, archers, lancers, or wielded swords. Medieval warfare was definitely a highly complex process, despite the simplicity of the weapons.
Castles must have been noisy - and smelly - places. Livestock roamed inside the stables, blacksmiths clanged out ironwork in the forges, the soldiers practiced their skills, and children played when lessons were completed. Various craftsmen worked diligently in the inner ward, including cobblers (making shoes), armorers, coopers (who made casks), hoopers (who helped the coopers build the barrels), billers (making axes), and spencers (who dispensed).
The interior walls were used to support timber structures, like the workshops and the stables, and, sometimes, stone buildings also leaned against the walls. Fires burned. The well and cisterns offered water. Servants were constantly bustling, taking care of the personal needs of the household, but also finding time for gossip and flirtation.
At mid-morning, dinner was served. This was the main meal of the day, and often featured three or four courses, as well as entertainment. After dinner, the day's activities would resume, or the lord might lead his guests on a hunt through the grounds of his nearby deer park. Recreation was never ignored!
The evening meal, supper, was generally eaten late in the day, sometimes just before bedtime. While not as formidable as dinner, this meal ensured residents would never be hungry when they settled down to sleep off the day's labors.
We can only imagine that, though the people worked hard during the Middle Ages, they also compensated by playing hard. Holidays were times for letting loose of inhibitions and forgetting the stresses of life. The peasants as well as the castle's household found time for pleasure, and made up for their struggles as best they could. In this modern age of technological convenience, we must admire their perseverance.