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The Medieval Times was an extremely rough era for many people. The people in Medieval Europe had to work outrageously hard. Those that were considered to be common people of this time lived in very poor housing with little to no luxuries, and those of nobility lived in castles. While castle life is believed to be extremely luxurious, residing in a castle during Medieval Times was very difficult.
Castles have been a dominant symbol of the Medieval Era for many years and have been used throughout history, from the Roman forts to the complex structures in the 15th century (English 158). Castles were built on artificial hills surrounded by a moat. Those who built the castle would dig a ditch around where the castle would stand and put the dirt on it to make the artificial hill (Johnson 93). When castles were first built they were made mostly of wood (Castle Architecture). The reason for wood being mainly used in the construction of a castle was because wood was found easily in Europe, along with it being less expensive and easy to transport (Castles in the Middle Ages). The early castles also had layers of clay and stone, this was to ensure that castles were strong enough to hold up in a time of war (Johnson 93). However, castles soon were built with just stone because the wood was too flammable (Castle Architecture). Using stone actually worked out better because this made the castles stronger than before. However, it was harder to build the castles how they desired considering stone is less flexible than wood, and this dilemma resulted in the early castles being less elegant (Castles in the Middle Ages). Since stone is very strong, if the castle was to be damaged or destroyed the materials from the castle would be used to make a new castle or repair the current one (Castle Architecture).
During the times of the Medieval Era, there were many changes in the way they did architecture to make castles stronger. Those who built the castles of the Medieval Time took the concept of arches from the Roman Empire and created a pointed arch to make the structure stronger. The change made the force of all the stones go down and out which locked the stones into place resulting in a very strong and beautiful castle, along with a strong foundation (Castles in the Middle Ages).
When arriving to a castle, one would have to cross a moat and a drawbridge (Life in a Middle Ages Castle). Some moats were filled with water and others filled with spikes (Johnson 94). Upon crossing the drawbridge one would come to a door which had towers on both sides (Life in a Middle Ages Castle). Theses towers were used to watch for oncoming enemies or signs of rebellion, also these towers were used to shoot enemies that might be at the gate (Johnson 93). As one enters the castle the first sight would be the courtyard which is where those who live in the castle would be in times of war. Also, one would see the Great hall, the chapel, and the kitchens (Life in a Middle Ages Castle).
The main part of the castle was the Great Hall (Thomas). This is where the Lord or King stayed when war was not present (Life in a Middle Ages Castle). The Great Hall was basically a big room with a loft ceiling. Sometimes the Hall was on the bottom floor, but for better security it was usually built on the second floor. This room was setup like a church will posts or pillars in rows supporting the roof. In order to get to the Great Hall on the second floor one would have to enter by using the outside staircase (Thomas). When under attack, the staircase would be removed to protect those in the castle (Johnson 93). Castles in the early part of the Medieval Era were very bulky and not pleasant for those who lived inside of the castle (Castles in the Middle Ages). The castle had small rooms, not including the Great Hall, heated only by fireplaces, and also had bad ventilation (Life in a Middle Ages Castle). Eventually, the heating by fireplaces improved greatly the fireplaces were structured to heat the wall so that it could then warm the room and the smoke could be carried out (Thomas).
The kitchen was nothing extravagant, it was made originally with wood and the food was cooked by several fireplaces. If there was going to be a big feast, extra kitchens would be setup for that feast. Today we clean utensils in the kitchen; however, in the Medieval Era utensils were not cleaned in the kitchen but outside (Thomas).
The Lord and his family slept at the upper end of the Great Hall. Each bedroom usually was separated by a piece of fabric (Thomas). The bedrooms of the Lord and his family were called solars (Johnson 97). Sometimes, the Lord and his wife would have separate solars. Their rooms would have peepholes in the wall decorations so they could see what was going on in other rooms (Thomas). The grown children of the Lord did not always get their own solars; a lot of times they had to share rooms with siblings, or even servants (Johnson 94). The main items in a solar would be a wooden framed bed with springs made of ropes or leather, a feather mattress, sheets, quilts, fur coverlets, and pillows. The bed had curtains that could be pulled back in the day and closed at night for privacy and for protection from the cold. The remaining furniture in the room was a chest, a wooden peg to hang clothes, and a couple of stools (Thomas).
Castles had a central drawing point of water for washing and drinking on about every floor (Thomas). Most castles also had cisterns which would catch the rainfall (Johnson 97). The cisterns would be connected to pipes and carry the water to other floors. There were also many other pipes that would control the flow of water and carry off the waste water. People of those times would use wooden tubs surrounded by tents, for protection, and padded cloths for comfort. The bathroom was as close to the sleeping quarters as it could be. In other words, it was an opening in the wall where waste would escape from the castle wall and secrete into a river or moat (Thomas).
Castles were not only homes for nobility, but it was also a defense mechanism against enemies (Life in a Medieval Castle: The Smells and Sights of Castle Life). During this time, it was also thought if an area did not have a castle, they were going to be defeated by their enemies. This pushed many areas to build castles (Coulson 31). The ideal location for a defensively strong castle was either on rocky ground, mountain passes, isolated peninsulas, lake islands, and hills (Castle Architecture). Wherever the castle was built, consideration was taken as to how the land would help defend the castle (Johnson 92). These castles were built in order to control territories and prevent people from taking over important parts of land (English 159). Also, they were built to protect the peasants and the economy. However, if the area was under attack, peasants were required to bring their animals and produce to the castle. In order for these things to be safe, it was also considered a payment for the communities’ protection (Johnson 92). The payment was somewhat deserved; it was very trying to live in a castle during times of war. Enemies would attempt to cut off water supply along with throwing things at the castle, such as, dead bodies. This would spread disease and force them to surrender (Medieval Life).
While castles can be a place of protection, castles were considered to be home for many Lords and Kings. The Great Hall was where the Lord and his family would spend a large amount of time. This hall was a place where the family, along with those invited to the castle, enjoyed some of the things life had to offer like dancing, plays, poetry and many other things (Life in a Medieval Castle: The Smells and Sights of Castle Life). The Great Hall was also where meals were eaten. In the hall there was a large, oak, dining table and around the table were benches and stools where the guests would sit (Medieval Castle Life). The Lord and his family would be seated at the head of the table on a raised dais. This symbolized that they were above everyone else (Life in a Medieval Castle: The Smells and Sights of Castle Life). The dinners in the hall would usually be at five in the afternoon. “It was a popular saying in the Middle Ages that to live to the age of 99 years old, you have to wake up at five, dine at nine, have supper at five and go to bed at nine!” (Medieval Castle Life). Other than the banquets that would be held in the castle, there was not much to do inside but play chess, listen to music or jokes from the jester. Outside of the castle people would usually, hunt for deer, bears, and wild boars, however, the main activities were weapons training and fighting, so they could be ready for battle. This was thought to be a “great game” (Life in a Middle Ages Castle).
Living during Medieval Times was a lot harder than living in today’s society. Although life in a castle may not have been the most difficult life during Medieval Times, it was still not as luxurious as it is pictured to be. Protecting the community was the job of the castle and the job of those that lived in the castle, which was why castle life was a very harsh life.
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