Castle Life in the 12th century

Essay by Luke Philips April 1997

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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...