What Life Was Like In Medieval Castles

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. 

  • Castles Smelled Really, Really Bad
    Photo: ohyeaphoto / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Castles Smelled Really, Really Bad

    Maybe it's because of the bench toilets, or the general lack of hygiene among the lower classes, but castles smelled really awful. And it certainly didn't help that the toilets offered no privacy and that there was really no where to dispose of waste besides a cesspool beneath the toilets. 

    It wasn't always easy to clean yourself, as fresh water and a bath tub were often harder to come by for the serving classes. Furthermore, sickness was prevalent among the lower classes, and while the wealthy could easily afford the best medical care, the average castle dweller would have to rely on herbal medicines, if anything at all. 

  • Toilets Were Often Just A Bench With A Hole In It
    Photo: Jose and Roxanne / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Toilets Were Often Just A Bench With A Hole In It

    In medieval times, you had to go do your business on a long bench with many holes for many bums. Your waste fell down below to a literal cesspool, and that was the end of it. Again, there were no partitions and no privacy, so you would likely be in full view of all your friends and neighbors while you were doing your thing.

    Maybe it was nice to have someone to talk to while you used the bathroom, and maybe people even socialized at the ol' cesspool. Still, ew. It's hard to say exactly how people felt about the process, because today's standards for privacy and hygiene just didn't apply back then. 

  • There Was Little To No Privacy
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There Was Little To No Privacy

    Castles might appear to be fortresses from the outside, but the large and open floor plans on the inside left little room for privacy, especially if you were a servant. The lord and lady of the home would almost certainly have private chambers in which to dress and bathe, but all others who dwelled within the castle walls were forced to spend their days and nights in the constant company of each other. 

    It was so dark and dingy in most areas of the castle that it might have been nice to have others close by for body warmth. Or perhaps they found other ways to stay warm; however, during the Middle Ages you could get it on with your spouse only for the purpose of procreation.

    This meant even having inapproriate thoughts of your own partner was considered a sin.

  • A Typical Castle Could House Over 100 People
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A Typical Castle Could House Over 100 People

    If you aren't a people-person, then maybe living in a castle wouldn't have been for you, not that anyone really had a choice. There were many servants needed to tend to castle chores, as well as generations worth of the lord and lady's families living in any given castle.

    It took that many people to tend to the daily running of a castle. This made for cramped quarters - all the servants and extended family meant a total lack of privacy.

  • Prisoners Went To Dungeons And Were Often Tortured
    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.

  • You Shared Your Home With Rats
    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.