A Little Research on Medieval Castles

Some thoughts on English castles.

I have been doing some arm chair studies of castles in England…ironically while my sister takes a cruise around the British Isles… and have rapidly come to three initial conclusions.  Medieval castles were dark, cold, and smelly.


Dark… My first obvious observation is in the construction of castle windows.  Since castles were built primarily as fortresses against attack, the windows on the lower levels by necessity had to be very narrow to keep invaders or their weapons out.  Higher up, the windows were considerably wider and allowed in more natural light.  All the same, the lighting was an issue, exacerbated by England’s penchant for cloudiness.  At night, huge fireplaces and dozens of strategically placed candles gave uneven lighting where needed.


Cold… This, too, varied.  Unlike in my northern state, England hasn’t the extremes that we experience here, and preliminary research suggests that the weather during the Middle Ages was milder in England than it is now.  Nevertheless, acquiring fuel for fires was a constant job; warming the stone fortresses ever only partly successful.  In living quarters, tapestries were for more than adorning the walls…they kept out the cold, as well.


Smelly…  Needless to say, our modern flushing toilets were centuries away. Higher-ranking castle-dwellers had their garderobes, which resembled stone outhouses, built over shafts in the castle wall.  The waste was periodically cleaned out of the cesspool by mudator latrinaurm or‘gong farmers.’  Oddly, the odor was thought to kill germs, and the garderobes were used to store clothing, for sanitation purposes.

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