Life in a castle

Cross-section of 1300s castle with a moat, great hall, minstrel's gallery, solar, Lady's day room and garderobe.

Layout of a castle

  • Many nobles lived in castles. The great hall was the centre of a castle and the walls were decorated with tapestries. Everyone except the lord sat on benches. There was a minstrel gallery for musicians and singers. At night, the servants slept on the floor.
  • The great hall would have at least one fireplace with a chimney. This was a Norman invention and stopped the room filling with smoke.
  • The lord had his own room, called the solar, and his own four-poster bed, with curtains for privacy.
  • At the top of the castle, the lady would have a day-room for herself and her maids-in-waiting. This had the largest windows and the best views. After 1200, castles had panes of glass in the windows.
  • The toilet, called the 'garderobe', was usually a chute straight into the moat. One way to capture a castle was to climb up the chute, keeping your fingers crossed that the toilet wasn't occupied!

Life inside a castle

  • A young nobleman would join the household of another lord. He would serve there as a page, learning how to carve and fight on horseback. He would then serve as a squire until he was about 18 years old, when he would go through a religious ceremony and become a knight.
  • Meals had many courses. Each course consisted of many kinds of meats including swan, peacock, magpie, porpoise and boar. This was served on a thick bread 'trencher' and eaten with a knife and the fingers. Nobles ate few vegetables. If the lord was entertaining guests, he might impress them by gilding the food with gold leaf, or serving a pie full of live frogs.
  • Contrary to Hollywood films, a tournament was usually a mock battle known as a melée. Knights did take part in jousts, but these only became common after the 12th century. Almost every lord loved hunting.
  • Fashions became more extreme as time went by, and included huge sleeves, shoes and codpieces. Men's fashions were just as colourful and gaudy as women's.
  • Towards the end of the Middle Ages, knights were obsessed with chivalry and courtship.