Friday, 14 March 2014

Castle life

After the conquest, castles developed into administration and judicial hubs, and came into the hands of the
greatest families of the realm. For a long time, these were noblemen from Normandy who came with William the Conqueror. A castle became the grandest residence you could own: an “inheritances” in its own right. The monarch generally licensed applications for castle construction, though at certain times over the centuries, the Bishop of Durham, the earl of Chester and the earl of Lancaster also issued licenses.

What went on in castles? Essentially a castle was a great household divided into two parts. The steward oversaw the practical management of the household, ie preparation and distribution of food. The chamberlain attended to the public, ceremonial side of the castle. These people were predominantly male. The third, lesser strand was clerical, with responsibility for divine service and maintaining household accounts. In the royal household, this post would be held by the Chancellor of England.

Outdoors, the horse was important for so many reasons – travel, hunting, farming, and war, so stables were important and some animals lived in stony splendour while others made do with planked accommodation.

Livery held a different meaning in medieval days. All followers received “liveries” – and in 1130 this included money, food and goods. The King’s Chancellor received a livery each day which consisted of five shillings, one fine and two salted simnels (wheat bread), a sextary (probably four gallons) of sweet wine and another of ordinary wine, a large wax candle and forty candle ends. This was seen as a pretty good deal. (Eight gallons of wine a day may seem a lot but neither tea nor coffee had been discovered, and the water was often undrinkable. Herbal teas would have been available, but try as I might I cannot picture a man in armour demanding a rosehip tea.) From 1200 it became common for the livery to include clothing. By the fourteen hundreds this had become so complex that it was virtually a uniform that identified the employer and the capacity in which the servant was employed.

The household moved at regular intervals, partly to visit remote estates and use the resources there, and partly for sanitary reasons. The lord's possessions went with him, including bedding, furniture and utensils. Royal households had in effect two separate households, one for the king, and one for the queen. The Earl of Northumberland had a household of 166 people, but when he took off to his estates, his household was reduced to 36 – the “riding” household. With all this in mind, a castle had to house vastly different numbers of people at different times. Spaces were flexible, and often changed use.

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