What Life Was Like In Medieval Castles (2023)


Despite what pop culture might have you believe, living in a medieval castle wasn't all that glamorous. If you were one of the lucky ruling class, you got some wine or the occasional hot bath. But with the lack of plumbing, castles smelled pretty ripe. Not to mention rats. So many rats. Today we're getting real about what living in a medieval castle was like, and it's not that pretty.

#medievalcastles #middleages #history


Movies and TV have made life in a castle.

Look like an episode of MTV Cribs, provided you're, one of the nobles.


It wasn't all feasts and festivals.

Castles were dark, dank, smelly, fortresses loaded with vermin and disease.

Today we're exploring what life was really like in a medieval castle.


You were one of the lucky ruling class, you got to indulge in rich wine and the occasional hot bath.

For, the most part.

There wasn't much comfort or relaxation to be found outside of going to church and torturing an enemy to death.


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For Europeans in medieval times, plumbing was a distant dream, which means there was no such thing as running water and absolutely no way to flush.

A toilet.

Waste just collected in a big cesspool beneath the toilets, essentially making every castle a giant, porta potty.

Now picture that porta potty on the hottest day of the summer.


That's why everyone on Game of Thrones is so angry.

All the time.


It wasn't just the perpetual stench of feces making castle life.


No running water means no baths.

Unless you were super rich.

So, all the servants in a castle were running around smelling as ripe as my old gym bag.

On top of that.

The servants couldn't afford medicine, like lords and nobles could.

So, your average castle dweller was wandering around, intensely ill and trying to make do with home remedies or praying to God.

It would go away.

And, hey, speaking of those toilets, privacy, wasn't really a thing in castles unless you owned the place.

So, when you had to run off to the bathroom to do your necessaries, you'd be doing it on a long wooden bench with several holes cut into it in full view of your friends, coworkers, and really anyone else who happened to walk by.

Again, there was no flushing.


Your business would just drop down into a gigantic pit of horrors inside the castle.


Let's hope you never accidentally dropped your wagon keys in there.


You might as well be throwing it into a septic volcano.

You know how cramped the house gets when one or two relatives come to visit.

Multiply that times 100, and that's what living in a castle was.


Castles required dozens of servants, just to maintain the day-to-day workings, not to mention the several generations of the lord and lady's families living there and all of their personal servants in attendance., It was like living in a tiny, cramped, city, all serving the needs of a single family.

We've all seen enough fantasy films and Disney cartoons to know that castles had dungeons where the lord and lady could throw criminals, political, opponents, or really.

Anyone who happened to offend them at any particular moment.

What they tend to skip in the Disney films is that these prisoners were routinely tortured in grotesque, ways., One popular method involved, letting the prisoner be eaten alive from the inside out by hungry, rats.


Isn't that fun to watch? In addition to being just plain old sadistic,? The common belief was that the extreme pain helped cleanse a person of their sins, which brings terrifying new meaning to the phrase.

"This is for your own good." And.

While we're talking about rats-- Rats can be tricky to deal with, even today.


Imagine what it was like living in a gigantic, dark, damp castle with no modern traps or pest control.

Rats were everywhere.


There really wasn't much.

You could do about them.

You, just sort of accepted rat infestation as a part of normal life, kind of like the Chevy Malibu of the day.

After, a while.

You would imagine people would get used to the rats.


Many medieval folks were deathly.

Afraid of them.

It, certainly didn't help that they were a popular instrument of torture or that around this time, they carried a plague that eradicated around half the population of Europe.


This point, it should come as no surprise that castle dwelling folk liked to stay sauced.

Because the best way to get through a day inside an overcrowded, pooh-smelling house of rat torture was with a mug of ale, firmly in hand., The lords and ladies got to drink, pretty much whatever they wanted, including fine, wines, beers, and spirits.

But, the servants, they had to take what they could get.

It was actually safer to drink alcohol than water.


Most water you could find would be so contaminated.

The TSA would confiscated it as a weapon.


All that drinking going on, you'd assume that most people in a castle wouldn't drag themselves out of bed, until, mm, at least noon.


While that may have been true for the lords, the servants had to get up to work.

As soon as the sun came, up.

Electricity, obviously didn't exist.


So sunlight was crucially important.

Castles are dark places, even during the day.


The servants had to capitalize on every second of sunlight, just to get their work.



If you didn't work in a castle, unless you were wealthy, odds, are you worked as a merchant, or a craftsman, or a laborer,? So you had to be up at the crack of dawn if you expected to make any money.

Contrary to popular belief, people liked taking baths in medieval times, as much as they do.


It's just that clean water was hard to come by, especially for the lower class.

We, really can't stress how important plumbing is.

The tub itself was a cartoonishly giant wooden bucket that could be carried from room to room in the castle for people to bathe, in.

Didn't approach, the definition of either hygienic or private.


At least you got to scrub off some of that castle.


Castles were essentially giant basements with nothing in the way of insulation.

They were designed primarily as fortresses, rather than dwellings.


Everything was made of cold stone.


What few windows there were didn't, let in much sunlight., The lords and ladies, would have the nicer rooms with fireplaces and windows.


The servants' quarters were often located in the lower interior of the castles, frigid, lightless warrens, that were breeding grounds for diseases that thrive in the damp cold.

At that point, I think I'd rather sleep, outside.

There was always something going on in a castle, whether celebrating some festival or holiday, or entertaining a visiting noble, family.

So consequently, huge, extravagant meals were the norm, rather than the exception.


You were one of the cooks.

You got to spend all day, preparing the feast and then have your own meager meal in the kitchen.


The lords and ladies of the house would entertain their guests at a long wooden meal table with people seated according to their importance.

The important people would be seated at the head of the table, while the servants would be tucked all the way in the back out of sight.

Because, nothing ruins a meal like having to look at poor people.

It's like going to the Waffle House after your wedding, but sadder.

Meals were taken in the great hall of a castle.

And as we mentioned, you were seated in the hall.

According to your status.

But, your status.

Didn't only affect where you got to sit, it also determined what you got to eat.

The lord and lady, and their family and guests would be served, gourmet dishes with exotic spices and lavish ingredients.


You were a servant, however.

You got to watch them eat this food while tucking in some stew or a meat pie at the dim end of the table.

But hey.

It could be worse.

At least you're eating.

More than 85% of a town's residents were considered peasants and weren't allowed inside the castle.

So, even though they were working the land for the lord or the lady, it was up to them to feed themselves and their families.


Lord and lady of a castle were responsible for governing the land, which included regularly making a bunch of difficult decisions and engaging in fierce political negotiations.


They couldn't be bothered with trivial matters like preparing their meals or making sure the castle didn't fall into disrepair.


Why every castle had a huge staff of servants.

In addition to the standard housekeeping duties required to keep the castle running,? They also had to attend to the every need and whim of the lord and lady and their families.

Nobody's job was easy.

But, at least the lords and ladies got to kick back once in a while.

As we've established by now, castles were essentially reeky stone, garbage, heaps., Part of the never-ending effort to keep the castle relatively clean was the spreading of rushes, reeds, and herbs across the floor.

The plants would absorb the unsightly spills and hopefully, cover up some of the more unbearable stenches.

Switching out.

The old rushes for clean ones was not unlike moving a body, as beer, grease, fragments, bone, spittle, excrements of dogs and cats, and everything that is nasty would be revealed.


Wherever you went in the castle, you were walking on a layer of barely concealed filth.

Sounds, like my college, dorm room.

In the time before microwaves, George, Foreman, grills, and Sur la Table.

All cooking was done over open flames, which could be a problem if you're cooking in a building full of timber and hay.


The first half of the Middle Ages, most Kitchens, were built out of wood for reasons that history has not yet adequately.


Consequently, your entire kitchen catching fire over a stray ember from today's lunch service was a constant possibility.

Everyone and everything were flame.


It wasn't until later that stone became the building material of choice and hearths were constructed to keep cook fires.


Oh, OSHA just liked this video.

Every castle had an on-site chapel.

So the lord and lady could attend morning.


In fact, along with the great hall, the chapel, was the defining structure of the castle.

Everything else was constructed around those two primary rooms.


You lived in a particularly fancy castle.

The chapel would be two stories so that the lord and lady and their families could sit in the upper level and literally look down on the servants.

Look at that poor person.

So, gross., The Middle Ages were tough, so much so that even the best case scenario of living in a castle was pretty much a miserable experience.


Would you like it in a castle? Let us know in the comments below.

And, while you're at it, check out some of these other videos from our Weird History.


What life was like in medieval castles? ›

Life in a castle in medieval times was very dark and cold. Windows were narrow, open slits. Toilets were benches with holes in. The waste would drop into a stinky cesspit or the moat.

What did people do in medieval castles? ›

Castles could serve as a centre for local government, administration and justice. They were also used by powerful lords to display their wealth and power through lavish architectural styles and decoration.

What do castles tell us about life in the Middle Ages? ›

Life in a medieval castle was filled with a constant hubbub of busied work in the kitchens, preparations for celebrations in the Great Hall, and religious worship in each castle's own chapel. And the layout of a typical Medieval castle tended to be influenced by domestic needs rather than defensive concerns.

Did people live in medieval castles? ›

1. Not many people lived there for much of the time. While castles were homes, they weren't permanent residences – the lord, lady and household moved from castle to castle and took their things with them – beds, linen, tableware, tapestries, candlesticks, chests and perhaps even plants in pots!

How did people live in medieval times? ›

The majority of people living during the Middle Ages lived in the country and worked as farmers. Usually there was a local lord who lived in a large house called a manor or a castle. Local peasants usually worked the land for the lord. The peasants were called the lord's "villeins", which was like a servant.

Were castles nice to live in? ›

Despite what you might think, a castle was not the most comfortable of places to live, even in a castle that was built primarily as a home, instead of as a defensive structure. Castles were large, dark, draughty and cold.

Did medieval castles have living rooms? ›

In terms of heating and insulating, we can see how under-developed these early times were by the fact that inhabitants of wooden castles built their living rooms above the sties, trying to benefit from the natural heat that the animals' bodies emitted.

Who lived inside medieval castles? ›

During the late Middle Ages, from the 10th to the 16th centuries, kings and lords lived in castles. As well as the lord, the lady (his wife), and their family there were lots of staff. Some were important officials, such as the constable who took care of the castle when the lord was away.

What was the most important thing for a castle to have? ›

The drawbridge is one of the most important parts of a castle and one you've probably heard of before! A drawbridge was a type of bridge between the gatehouse and the opposite side of the moat. During raids, the drawbridge would be raised to keep invaders out.

How did people stay warm in castles? ›

Peasants of theses ages normally used a fire pit in the middle of the room to keep warm. Smoke would blow out of a hole in the middle of the roof. The home was usually quite smoky, but that was a small price to pay to keep their families warm. Other than having a fire, people had animal heat to depend on.

What were the 4 main reasons that castles were built? ›

Medieval Castle s were built from the 11th century CE for rulers to demonstrate their wealth and power to the local populace, to provide a place of defence and safe retreat in the case of attack, defend strategically important sites like river crossings, passages through hills, mountains, and frontiers, and as a place ...

What kind of people lived in castles? ›

During the late Middle Ages, from the 10th to the 16th centuries, kings and lords lived in castles. As well as the lord, the lady (his wife), and their family there were lots of staff. Some were important officials, such as the constable who took care of the castle when the lord was away.

Where did people eat in castles? ›

The most important room in a castle was the Great Hall. This is where all the members of the household sat down to eat at tables set up for every meal. It was where feasts were held for special days, or when there were guests.

Where did people sleep in castles? ›

Most of the servants and military folk would sleep on pallets or trundles, if they were lucky. These were mats of either woven straw and rushes or mattresses stuffed with straw that were laid on the floor. Nobody was assigned a private sleeping area or spot on the floor.

What was daily life like in the medieval ages? ›

Life was harsh, with a limited diet and little comfort. Women were subordinate to men, in both the peasant and noble classes, and were expected to ensure the smooth running of the household. Children had a 50% survival rate beyond age one, and began to contribute to family life around age twelve.

What was life really like for a medieval peasant? ›

Peasants worked hard every day except Sundays and holy days in blazing sun, rain, or snow. Most peasants lived in tiny one- or two-room thatched cottages with walls made of wattle and daub (woven strips of wood covered with a mixture of dung, straw, and clay). They owned nothing themselves.

What did medieval people do for a living? ›

Typical jobs during the Medieval Age included blacksmiths, stone masons, armorers, millers, carpenter, minstrel, weaver, winemaker, farmer, watchman, shoemaker and roofer.

Why were castles uncomfortable living in? ›

Living in a medieval castle was often uncomfortable and even hazardous, particularly for those who were not part of the nobility or royalty. For example, despite their grandeur and imposing appearance, many castles lacked basic amenities like running water, central heating, and proper ventilation.

What do castles smell like? ›

Castles and manor houses often smelled damp and musty. To counteract this, herbs and rushes were strewn across the floors.

Were castles hot in the summer? ›

Medieval Castles kept cool during the summer due to their thick walls and high ceilings.

What was castle life really like? ›

Once upon a time castles were full of life, bustle and noise and crowded with lords, knights, servants, soldiers and entertainers. In times of war and siege they were exciting and dangerous places, but they were homes as well as fortresses.

Where did maids sleep in castles? ›

Most domestic servants would have slept in shared chambers in either the cellars or attics of the castle buildings. There might also be simple buildings outside the castle for herdsmen, mill workers, wood-cutters, and craftspeople such as rope-makers, candle-makers, potters, basket-weavers, and spinners.

What are three facts about castles? ›

Everything about a castle was built to keep the people inside safe.
  • Everything about a castle was built to keep the people inside safe. ...
  • The main building inside the castle is the keep, which was protected by walls and towers.
  • The first castles were built by the Normans and were called motte and bailey castles.

What was inside a castle? ›

Inside the castle walls there might have been a magnificent hall, comfortable chambers and a beautiful chapel. Larger castles had their own fish ponds, orchards and vineyards, as well as gardens which supplied vegetables and herbs. Cattle sheep and pigs were kept on surrounding farm land.

What is a fun fact about castles? ›

One of our favourite fun facts about castles: square-shaped castles were easy to attack as the enemy could dig tunnels under the corners to make them collapse. 5. Windsor Castle is England's largest castle. It was originally built out of wood by William the Conqueror between 1070 and 1086.

What was life like in a medieval town? ›

Towns were often unhygienic because of the larger populations and the lack of proper sanitation . Modern toilets and plumbing were a long way in the future and waste was thrown into the streets. Animals such as pigs and sheep roamed and butchers often threw waste meat into the street or river.

What was life like in a medieval village? ›

Medieval Village Life

Village life was busy. Much of this life was lived outside, wearing simple dress and living on a meager diet. Medieval villages consisted of population comprised mostly of famers, and most of the time was spent working the land and trying to grow enough food to survive another year.

Who cleaned medieval castles? ›

A steward, also referred to as a seneschal was much more likely. His job was to take care of the estate and supervise the staff, as well as take care of the events in the great hall.

What is the strongest part of a castle? ›

keep, English term corresponding to the French donjon for the strongest portion of the fortification of a castle, the place of last resort in case of siege or attack. The keep was either a single tower or a larger fortified enclosure.

Who protects a castle? ›

Usually the duties of a castellan consisted of military responsibility for the castle's garrison, maintaining defences and protecting the castle's lands, combined with the legal administration of local lands and workers including the castle's domestic staff.

What was the most important part of a medieval castle? ›

The medieval gatehouse was one of the most important parts of the castle. Since the entrance was the most vulnerable area, the gatehouse was structured to be the most formidable element with its portcullises and murder holes. It was usually flanked by twin towers on either side where a guard was stationed as a lookout.

How did people bathe in castles? ›

Laborers, who made up most of the population, probably used ewers and shallow washbasins. Castle dwellers might have access to a wooden tub, with water heated by a fire. And yes, they used soap—in fact, soap was often made at home and widely available as a trade good as early as the 9th century in Europe.

How were prisoners treated in castles? ›

Not all prisoners were treated well. They might be chained up and forced to wear heavy iron a collar and cuffs around the hands and ankles. This iron collar, from Loches, France, weighs about 16kg (35lb)! Some prisoners were tortured as well.

Why did people stop living in castles? ›

After the 16th century, castles declined as a mode of defense, mostly because of the invention and improvement of heavy cannons and mortars. This artillery could throw heavy cannonballs with so much force that even strong curtain walls could not hold up.

How long did castles take to build? ›

11 Facts About Castles That You Probably Don't Know: On average, it took about ten years to build a castle. Life in a Medieval Castle: Castles usually had only a few windows, which were very high up the walls to keep out the weather and any enemies.

Why were castles so big? ›

During the Middle Ages much of Europe was divided up between lords and princes. They would rule the local land and all the people who lived there. In order to defend themselves, they built their homes as large castles in the center of the land they ruled.

Why were castles built with so many rooms? ›

As the seat of power for lords and monarchs, medieval castles were often large enough to house a considerable staff, as well as members of the court and important guests. As a result, they needed a series of rooms, not just residential chambers like bedrooms, but functional spaces too such as kitchens and stores.

What did medieval castles look like inside? ›

A typical European castle was like a little village inside, with kitchens, workshops, gardens, stables, and a chapel. This castle is built of stone, but many early castles were wooden.

Did you know facts about castles? ›

Top 10 Facts About Castles!
  • Castles were built to defend! ...
  • Castles were often surrounded by moats with a drawbridge. ...
  • Towers and turrets were perfect for guards to keep watch. ...
  • The keep was the safest place to be. ...
  • Castles were bustling and full of people! ...
  • Knights would defend the castle. ...
  • Castles had beautiful gardens.

Where did people wash their hands in a castle? ›

We know from records that they had towels, which were changed twice a week while the water was changed only once a week. The Great Hall of a castle or manor typically had a similar large basin for visitors to wash their hands.

Did castles have kitchens? ›

The kitchens of manor houses and castles had big fireplaces where meat, even large oxen, could be roasted on spits. These kitchens were usually in separate buildings, to minimize the threat of fire.

What did knights do for fun? ›

There was no soccer or basketball in medieval Europe, a centuries-long era that ended 500 years ago. Instead, athletes tested their skills in mock combats, called "tournaments." These games were a way for knights to practice for battle in between wars, and display their talents in front of a broad audience.

Did medieval people sleep sitting up? ›

Sleeping positions were also vastly different to what most people do today. Lying flat in bed was associated with death, so medieval people would sleep in a half upright position. Andrew Boorde even suggested that daytime naps should be taken standing up, and leaning against a wall.

What is a living room called in a castle? ›

In the Middle Ages the great chamber was an all-purpose reception and living room. The family might take some meals in it, though the great hall was the main eating room. In modest manor houses it sometimes also served as the main bedroom.

What were castle floors made of? ›

In a ground-floor hall the floor was beaten earth, stone or plaster; when the hall was elevated to the upper story the floor was nearly always timber, supported either by a row of wooden pillars in the basement below, as in Chepstow's Great Hall (shown left), or by stone vaulting.

Did servants sleep in the castle? ›

Everyday tasks were done by servants, such as cooks, craftsmen, and spinners. The servants slept in the castle, too, but the farming peasants who grew food for the castle's inhabitants lived in cottages on the lord's estate, or manor.

How did they stay warm in castles? ›

Castles would be warmed by fireplaces and braziers. Some halls would have open fire-pits in the center of the room. Blankets were very heavy to keep one warm at night. Cooling, when needed was from open windows.

How hard was medieval life? ›

Life was harsh, with a limited diet and little comfort. Women were subordinate to men, in both the peasant and noble classes, and were expected to ensure the smooth running of the household. Children had a 50% survival rate beyond age one, and began to contribute to family life around age twelve.

What type of people lived in castles? ›

During the late Middle Ages, from the 10th to the 16th centuries, kings and lords lived in castles. As well as the lord, the lady (his wife), and their family there were lots of staff. Some were important officials, such as the constable who took care of the castle when the lord was away.

Did castles have baths? ›

Medieval folks loved a bath, though it was a little more work than it is today with the marvels of modern plumbing. Laborers, who made up most of the population, probably used ewers and shallow washbasins. Castle dwellers might have access to a wooden tub, with water heated by a fire.

Did castles have toilets? ›

In the medieval period luxury castles were built with indoor toilets known as 'garderobes', and the waste dropped into a pit below.

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