Weird History
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What Life Was Like In Medieval Castles

Updated December 23, 2020 2.1m views18 items

Don't be fooled by all the films that portray medieval castle life as an embarrassment of riches. Living in medieval castles wasn't just about indulging in non-stop feasts, being entertained by jesters, and watching flamboyant jousts. Castle life, even for the upper class, would not have been all that glamorous. Dark and gloomy rooms, lit and heated by suffocatingly smoky fires, were par for the course.

While the upper class did indulge in some of the finer food and drink of the Middle Ages and were afforded a little more privacy than the serving class, there were still certainly very few creature comforts in medieval castle living. However, with such cramped and cold quarters, some castle dwellers did find comfort through chaste-as-heck medieval sex. Life during medieval times was no treat. 

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  • Photo: nicola.albertini / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Prisoners Went To Dungeons And Were Often Tortured

    Prisoners were often kept in the deepest, darkest depths of a medieval castle - and the conditions were often deplorable, as there were certainly no prisoner rights advocates in the Middle Ages. Prisoners were often held for political reasons and should the lord or lady of the castle deem it fit, the prisoner could be tortured.

    Trigger warning: The next part is rather disturbing. There were a number of ways medieval people tortured their prisoners, but one that stands out was the act of inserting a rat into the person's body, allowing it to eat through a victim's intestines in order to make it's way out of the body.

    One German researcher found that the torture method was not only meant to torment, but to also purify the soul. Many believed that the only way to purify the body of its sins was through pain.

    So, you might want to think twice before you break the law in a medieval town. Unless you're into that pain for purification kind of thing.

  • Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    You Shared Your Home With Rats

    Dark, damp, and cold environments are the perfect breeding ground for more than a few horrible things - and rats are one of them. Thus, if you lived in a castle, you by default lived with rats. 

    While castle dwellers might have gotten used to sharing their home with rats - as they were rather ubiquitous in medieval times - they were still typically afraid of them. The beady eyed little rodents always struck fear into the hearts of their unwilling roommates; plus rats were one of the cheapest and most effective forms of medieval torture

    Can you imagine befriending a furry little critter, only to find out later that he'll be front and center for your demise? Nah, it was best to just hate the dirty little buggers.

  • Photo: Unknown, Normandie / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Booze Was Readily Available, And Always Preferred

    Alcoholic beverages (whether wine, beer, or ale) were the preferred drinks of choice during meals in the Middle Ages. The upper echelon of medieval society had their choice of wine, beer, or spirits, but the lowly peasants were more likely to take whatever they could get their hands on. Interestingly, alcohol was sort of a necessity during this time, because the water was often unclean and therefore undrinkable. While people knew they could simply boil water to purify it, it was still regarded as a low-prestige drink. 

    So, just like today, the rich get Patron and the rest of us get whatever is on sale in the liquor aisle. 

  • The Day Began At Sunrise

    With only fire to light your way in the evening, sunshine was crucial to actually getting things done around a castle. What little light was allowed in through the small windows had to suffice for many of the indoor chores. And the outside work began right at sunrise to allow the castle workers the maximum amount of light possible. The servants would often actually rise before the sun, to make sure fires were started in the kitchen so that breakfast could be served right away. 

    There were essentially five main jobs one could do in a medieval town. You could be part of a clergy, be a noble, or simply royalty if you were of the upper class. The lower class had the choice between being merchants or craftsman and laborers.

    So, unless you were of noble decent or royalty, you were getting your butt up at the same time as the sun because your job was to run the town for everyone else.