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How Was Life in a Medieval Castle? 9 Interesting Things About It

How did people spend their days in a medieval castle?

When we say the word “castle,” we always associate it with royalty, a good, luxurious life, and a ton of other benefits. In reality, things were a bit different—at the opposite pole from what we saw in the movies and TV shows.

So what I am about to tell you in today’s article is the reality of how life was in a medieval castle. Typical surroundings were dull and mostly dark, and overpoweringly smoky flames heated dismal chambers. If you were part of the upper class, there may have been a few upsides and you could have gotten more privacy, but the overall atmosphere wasn’t a thriving one.

Now grab a snack, my dears, ’cause I am about to tell an awesome story, but spoiler alert: life in a medieval castle wasn’t a treat!

medieval castle
Photo by Holger Kirk from Shutterstock

Rats were all over

Did someone say rats? Well, in a place that was mostly wet, dark, and pretty much cold, rats were more than happy to live in. Rats were rather common in medieval times, so those who lived may have developed a tolerance for having them around, but they were still usually terrified of them.

In addition to being one of the most affordable and efficient means of torture in the Middle Ages, the beady-eyed tiny mice always instilled terror in the minds of their unfortunate companions. This was probably one of the main “perks” of living in a medieval castle, among other things, of course, that I am about to share in the following lines.

Toilets? Imagine a bench with a hole in it

Don’t even think about toilets in medieval times! In fact, you should have considered yourself lucky if you had a bench with a hole in it to call a toilet, because that was luxurious. Others had to do their thing somewhere in a bush!

Living in a medieval castle meant that you had no privacy whatsoever because, even while you were in the toilet, people could see you while you were doing stuff. What about a door? You know, for privacy? Heh, the doors were overrated!

Maybe people even chatted at the old cesspool, and maybe it was wonderful to have someone to talk to while using the restroom. Still, disgusting. It’s difficult to figure out exactly how individuals felt about the entire process since, at the time, privacy and hygienic practices just weren’t as common as they are now.

The kitchen was a fire hazard

I bet you never imagined how bad a medieval kitchen looked. In the first half of medieval times, kitchens were built out of timber, which wasn’t exactly the smartest idea ever. A flammable space in which you were supposed to use fire to cook your meals? Nah, I am fine. I better stick to raw fruits and vegetables.

If your kitchen was in a medieval castle, it probably burned down frequently. Stone eventually replaced other construction materials as the preferred material, and stoves were constructed to contain the fire.

A medieval castle smelled really bad

Since back in the day, incense sticks weren’t exactly available, medieval castles smelled terrible; maybe the root cause was the bench toilets or the overall unhygienic conditions of the lower classes. The fact that there was almost nowhere to dispose of waste other than the sewer beneath the restrooms and that the restrooms provided little privacy also didn’t help.

Cleaning up after oneself wasn’t always simple because those who were serving sometimes had a tougher time finding clean water and a bathtub. In addition, the lower classes were prone to illness, and although the affluent could easily afford the greatest medical treatment, the typical castle resident would have to make do with herbal remedies, if any at all.

Temperatures were very low no matter the season

Stones were used to build castles, and throughout the Middle Ages, protection against attackers was put first over comfort. This resulted in enormous stone castles with slender windows. The majority of the castle’s chambers were chilly and gloomy because the stone wasn’t exactly ideal for allowing heat in, and the little windows allowed in very little of the sun’s light.

Because all the servants lived in even darker and moister places, they easily got sick, and a lot of them died.

Stairwells were all built clockwise

This was another defense mechanism for all the castle inhabitants in case of an attack. The staircases, for example, were built clockwise, and climbing them would restrict an enemy’s ability to wield a sword in combat since the wall of the castle would prevent any right-handed swordsman.

However, the guards descending the stairs would be in full force and could dispatch the opposition with more ease. To avoid tripping anyone who is not familiar with the specific footing, even the stairs themselves varied in size.

Can you imagine a day in the medieval castle where everybody was drunk and trying to climb these stairs? I am happy it wasn’t me!

A medieval castle was home to more than 100 people

Have you ever complained about the fact that your family is too big and all the family events seem like a hassle, especially if you’re an introvert? Well, you better start being grateful because you don’t have to share your home with 99 other people like in medieval times.

Both servants and royalty lived under the same roof and since the medieval castle was pretty huge, there were a lot of chores to do. Because of that, many servants were hired, and this resulted in extremely small living spaces because there was no privacy at all.

I hope reading about how life was in a medieval castle made you curious for more details about the Middle Ages. And if the answer is yes, I have a cute suggestion for you. The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages, written by Kathy Allen, is a great book for both kids and adults curious to explore medieval living, which could be quite unpleasant when we think about how our lives are now.

It costs just $7.95! It would be a pity not to buy it now. 

medieval castle
Photo by Piotr Piatrouski from Shutterstock

Life may have been hectic but at least they got booze

There is nothing a goblet of booze can’t cure! In the Middle Ages, drinking water was often contaminated and unsafe. As a result, alcohol became the most popular beverage of choice. It was the only reliable way to quench thirst without risking illness. But what about alcoholism? Beer, ale, and wine were the favorite choices during meals.

While the elite classes of medieval society could choose among wine, beer, or spirits, the common people were more inclined to accept whatever was available to them.

Dinners were served in the great hall and everybody sat according to their status

Oh, things haven’t changed much since then! Gourmet dishes with unusual spices and delicacies were presented first to the lord and lady, who were seated at the head of the table. The less popular guests would have been seated at the longer, darker end of the table and would have received significantly less elaborate cuisine. But at least they had something to eat and a spot at the table with the royalties, right?

What do you think about living in a medieval castle? Would you like to experience it for one day? Tell me in the comments.

If you enjoyed reading about how life was in a medieval castle, you’re going to love reading about 8 Weird Foods That Were Considered “Junk” in Medieval Times


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