Medieval Lifestyle

What is a castle?

A typical castle
  The castle was far more than a walled and turreted fortress; it was an instrument of social control and the symbol of power, authority, and wealthy. They also served to intimidate and strike fear into the local peoples.

Did you know?!?

  • 166 houses were destroyed to build Lincoln Castle
  • The Black Death left many deaths. For example all the inhabitants of Cainhoe Castle, in England; perished from the Black Death. The castle was found abandoned some time later.
  • The biggest castle in England is Windsor Castle, one of the three homes of the Queen
Windsor castle

Who first built them?

William the Conqueror
Castles were not just used by the king. Most castles, in fact, were granted by a king to their most loyal subjects, knights or barons who fought valiantly in battle and supported their king. The king, starting with William the Conqueror, gave his loyal knights vast estates and permission to build castles. In return, he expected these men (most of whom were given the titles of earl or lord) to control their lands as the king's representative, to keep the local population from rebelling, and to force them to work and pay rent to the lord (who then passed it onto the king). He is credited with introducing fortified castle to England as well as mounted warriors and a complex feudal system.

Types of Castles

The fortified motte and expansive bailey are visible
The greatest symbol of feudal life in Europe was the castle. The castle was a protection against attackers and a center of power. (Eastwood 24)Kings and lords used their castles to defend as well as to extend their territory. (Eastwood 25) The earliest example is of William the Conqueror who crossed the English Channel and invaded England. He won a great victory at the Battle of Hastings and was crowned William I, King of England. He quickly took control of his new kingdom by building castles. The earliest European castles were usually a type called motte- and- bailey. The motte was a large, high mound of earth with a circular flat top (Eastwood 31) On top of the motte was built a wooden tower which was sometimes put on sturdy stilts. The bailey was connected to the motte by wooden steps or ladders. The lord and his family lived in the tower on the motte(Eastwood 31)

Quick Facts:

  • The main advantage of motte and bailey castles was that they were quick and cheap to erect.
  • Stone castles replaced the Motte and Bailey castles but the stone castles also changed over time.
  • Concentric Castles can be described as "a Castle within a Castle".

Inside and Outside the Castle

A Norman stone keep rises inside the innermost of three curtain walls, each of which is studded by massive towers and encloses a bailey
During the age of the Crusades, crusaders discovered much about designing castles from the Arabs and put this new knowledge into practice as they built and enlarged their own castles. The most important person in building a castle was the architect. He oversaw all the planning, including where the castle was placed, how it was designed, and what kind of material would be used. The essential part of any castle is known as the keep.(Eastwood 54) This was the wooden fort at the top of the motte. A good example of a keep can be found at the Dover Castle. 
Chapel at Beaumaris Castle

Keeps also included a chapel. Almost every castle had a chapel or other place of worship because religion was an extremely important part of medieval life. (Eastwood 55)Surrounding the central keep was the curtain wall. It was the main defensive outer shell of the castle, made of thick, high stonewalls. Soldiers patrolled along the top of the curtain wall and the towers. Starting around 1250, lords protected their square keeps with strong stonewalls called curtain walls (Eastwood 60).These walls provided better protection against new types of warfare. The only way to enter the castle was through a gatehouse in the outer wall (Eastwood 57). Gatehouses replaced the keep as the strongest place in the castle
Did you know?!?

  • The only five-sided keep in England is located in Mitford Castle
  • Spiral stairs in towers are designed to give defenders an advantage. When attackers are making their way up, the shape of the tower makes attackers expose more of their body to the defenders
  • The walls of the castles were very high making it hard for attackers to climb over.
  • Castles with curtain walls with flanking towers were difficult to capture.
  • The entrance to the castle was always its weakest point.
Tall towers


                  Large amounts of food were needed to feed everyone. Food for castle residents was prepared in a large kitchen. Some kitchens were right inside castles and others were in separate buildings so that whole castles did not burn down if fires broke out (Elliott 10). Some households cooked outdoors over roasting pits, where fires burned safely away from buildings.  Castle kitchens were very busy places. The kitchens were cluttered with long worktables, where assistants’ chopped vegetables, plucked poultry, cut fish, and carved meat (Elliott 25). Bread was baked in a separate building called a bakehouse. The bakehouse had a dome-shaped oven heated by wood. Ovens were also used to bake pastries, such as honey cakes, fig pies, and cheese buns (Elliot 33).
Because food was normally roasted or cooked over an open flame, the kitchen was often separate from the main hall to prevent possible fires from enveloping the castle
Near the kitchen were rooms where food and drinks were stored. The buttery held barrels of wine and ale, oils and vinegars, and empty containers in which liquids could be kept. Food was served to the high table first and then to the lower tables. The servers, called pages, were boys from other noble families who were sent to the noble’s household to learn how to behave like knights and lords. (Elliot 46) On special occasions magnificent banquets were held in the castle’s great hall. The food was served up in dishes called messes which were shared between several people. Honored guests had their own messes and ate off gold or silver plates. In the medieval times there wasn't much knowledge regarding ways of preserving food. Salt was the most common preservative used since it could easily make meat and fish last much longer.
Did you know?!?

  • At Exeter castle, wine was used to extinguish fire from a siege. This happened in 1136.

Lifestyles of the Rich and the Noble

Noble hunters supervise as their attendants skin a killed deer
Weddings, knightings and baptisms were some of the most festive occasions in the medieval castle. Splendid celebrations occurred for holidays too. The most important holidays were Christmas and Easter, which honored Christ’s birth and his rising from the dead (Hinds 49). Along with religious services, feasting and entertainment, judgments were passed, high councils met, and lords and vassals renewed their pledges. Shortly after Easter the season of tournaments began. These contests among knights, organized by great lords, were a sport, a form of entertainment, and practice for battle (Hinds 53). When a tournament was proclaimed, hundred of knights and their squires came from far and wide to attend. Spectators, too, flocked to the gathering. Tents were set up on open land, and the inns of the nearest town overflowed. Tournaments celebrated the military aspect of the noble life, but there was also an artistic side. The noble courts of the High Middle Ages were the homes of great poetry, music, and storytelling. Much of this art celebrated romantic love. Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, troubadour songs were heard regularly in the castles of southern France (Hinds 59)

Decline of Castles

As the prominence of castles disminished, barons began constructing fortified manor houses, although few featured surrounding walls like this residence
Castles finally began to lose their importance in Europe by the end of the 15th century. There was more peace in the land, and feudalism was gradually replaced by other kinds of government. By the end of the Middle Ages, most battles were fought on fields between armies from two countries, rather than at castles between nobles (Hinds 72).
Did you know!?!

  • Donnington Castle suffered the longest known siege. It lasted from July 1644 to April 1646.
This page was created by Dixy Rajkumar