Castle Life


Castle Life Essay, Research Paper

Castle Life

Supported by the brawn and taxes of the peasants, the feudal

baron and his wife would seem to have had a comfortable life. In many

ways they did, despite the lack of creature comforts and refinements.

Around the 12th century, fortified manor dwellings began to give

way to stone castles. Some of these, with their great outer walls and

courtyard buildings, covered around 15 acres and were built for

defensive warfare. Even during the hot summer months, dampness clung to

the stone rooms, and the lord and his entourage spent as much time as

possible outdoors. At dawn, a watchman on top of the lookout tower

blasted out a note on his bugle to awaken everyone in the castle. After

a small breakfast of bread and wine or beer, the nobles attended mass in

the chapel at the castle. The lord then went about his business. He

first may have heard the report of an estate manager (a manager of plot

of land). If a discontented or badly treated serf had fled, without a

doubt, the lord would order special people called retainers to bring him

back. This is because serfs were bound to the lord unless they could

evade him for a year and a day. The lord would also hear the petty

offenses of the peasants and fine the culprits, or, he might even

sentence them to a day in the pillory. Serious deeds, like poaching or

murder, were legal matters for the local court or royal “circuit” court.

The lady of the castle had many duties of her own. She inspected the

work of her large staff of servants, and saw that her spinners, weavers,

and embroiderers furnished clothes for the castle and rich robes for the

clergy. She and her ladies also helped to train the pages, who were

well-born boys that came to live in the castle at the age of seven

years. For seven years pages were taught in religion, music, dancing,

riding, hunting, and some reading, writing, and arithmetic. When they

turned 14, they became squires.

The lord directed the training of the squires. They spent seven

years learning the practices of chivalry and, above all this, of

warfare. At the age of 21, if they were worthy enough, they received

the distinction of knighthood.

Sometime between 9 AM and noon, a trumpet called the lord’s

household to the great hall for dinner. Their, they wolfed down great

quantities of soup, game, birds, mutton, pork, some beef, and often

venison or boar slain in the hunt. In winter, the ill-preserved meat

tasted fiercely of East Indian spices, bought at enormous cost to hide

the rank taste. Great, flat pieces of bread called trenchers served as

plates and, after the meal, were tossed to the dogs around the table or

given to the poor. Huge pies, or pasties, filled with several kinds of fowl or fish, were

greatly loved. Metal, or wood cups, or leather

“jacks” held cider, beer, or wine. Coffee and tea were not used in

Europe until after the Middle Ages. Minstrels or jokers entertained at


Hunting, games, and tournaments delighted nobles. Even the

ladies and their pages rode into the field to loose falcons at game

birds. Indoors, in front of the great open fire, there was chess,

checkers, and backgammon. Poet-musicians, called troubadours, would

often chant and sing storied accomplishments of Charlemagne, Count

Roland, or Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Dearest to the

warrior heart of the feudal lord was the tournament, an extravagant

contest of arms. Visiting knights and nobles set up their pavilions

near the lists, or field of contest. Over each tent, a banner fluttered

to show the rank of a contestant–here a count, there a marquis or a

baron. The shield of each armor-ridden warrior was emblazoned, or

decorated, to identify the bearer. The first day of the tournament, or

tourney, was usually devoted to single combats, in which pairs of

knights rode full speed at each other with 10-foot (3-meter) lances.

The tournament’s climax was the melee, when companies of knights battled

in adventurous mimic warfare. A tournament cost the lord a fortune for

hospitality and rich prizes given to the victors by the “queen of the


Tournaments had a cold and forbidding value–as practice for

feudal warfare. Some battle or raid erupted almost daily, since

medieval nobles settled their quarrels simply by attacking. If a lord

coveted land, his couriers called his vassals to make a foray, or raid,

of it. The peasants, in quilted battle coats, trudged along to fight on

foot with their pikes and poleaxes. Despite the incalculable outbreaks,

casualties were surprisingly few, as long, exhausting battles, were

rare. Warring lords usually just burned the fields and villages of

their enemies. After an encounter, the defending lord and his vassals

usually fled to the safety of the castle. The castle could withstand

many a stubborn siege.

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