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What was life like in the middle ages for people living in a castle?

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2011-09-06 18:12:34
2011-09-06 18:12:34

Castles were of different types, all built for military defense.

The early ones were motte-and-bailey. These consisted of a hillock called a motte, with an enclosed area at the top, in which there was a structure called a keep. The keep usually had one or more rooms to store food. At the foot of the motte was another enclosed area called the bailey, which was open and could be used for anything from grazing horses to pitching tents.

The enclosures and structures in the motte-and-bailey castle were often made of wood, though with time stone came to be preferred. The purpose of such a castle was purely military, and the only people who lived there were soldiers and their families, unless there was a war or some sort of unrest going on. Life in such a thing was more like camping out than anything else, except it was probably much less fun.

In time, more permanent castles were developed. At first these were still primarily military, but some consideration was given to housing the lord of the castle and his family. Still, the usual situation was that the lord would only live in a castle if things got bad. Usually the lord and his family lived nearby in a manor. Life in such a castle was still more like camping out than anything else.

In time, kings and lords built castles with more comfortable quarters. They had water, but not running. They had facilities to store or remove waste. They had a keep with a great hall in it, so they could be more comfortable. This was not like camping out.

The great hall, in a comfortable castle, often included offices, storage areas, various kinds of work areas, and living quarters, all in the same room. The various areas were separated by partitioning screens.

The great hall was heated by a fire on a central hearth. There were no fireplaces in most castles, because the age of castles was half over when the chimney was invented, and it took a long time for chimneys to be included in them. The smoke from the fire was allowed to rise through the great hall, and was vented through an opening high in the wall or in the roof. This opening had to be open if there was a fire, so when you hear that castles were drafty, it does not mean that they windows did not close tightly - it means that the wind blew through the living quarters.

Cooking in the best castles was done outdoors or in kitchens that were vented in the same way as the great hall. Kitchens were often in separate buildings.

Later on, when the fire places were introduced into castles, people such as the great lords could sleep in their own, heated rooms, separate from the great hall. This was the height of luxury.

One other point about really great castles was that they often housed chapels, small fields with gardens, orchards, and so on. So they got to be almost as nice as a manorial village to live in. In fact, if you were in a noble family and wanted to be comfortable, you lived in a manor house.

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