Our fascination with all things medieval comes from two places. There are the very popular medieval faires where hundreds of people dress up in what is perceived to be medieval garb and feel like they are transported back to the middle ages for a day. Other than that, the movies and television give us much of our imagery from this time in human history. From Robin Hood to King Arthur, our vision of what life was like in medieval times is highly romanticized and influenced by the fictional stories we enjoy.
There is nothing wrong with setting a book, movie or TV show in medieval times and taking some liberties with the truth. That is what entertainment is all about, after all. But its also a good idea to use historical information about what medieval life was really like so we have some perspective on a time in history that has been called “the dark ages” for a reason.
One reason our perception of medieval life is romanticized is that most stories that are created about that time center on royalty and on castle life. As is true in all societies, the majority of the people living in medieval times did not live in castles and enjoy the luxuries we associate with Lords and Ladies of that time in history. The merchants and peasants of medieval times had a much rougher lot in life.
Life in a medieval village or at the castle level was quite different if there was warfare underway compared to peacetime. Conflict had a dramatic and often disruptive effect on a medieval community far more than what we are used to in modern times when our wars take place in far away places that are remote from the daily lives of citizens.
Within the structure of castle life, there is both the order and an economy that gave those privileged ones who had jobs in that system a better lifestyle. There was a well-defined authority system that started with the Lord and Lady of the castle and then broke down into groups to handle the military duties and others to deal with domestic chores that were needed to keep the castle operating smoothly.
Life inside a medieval castle on a daily basis was routine and well understood by the castle citizens. From the moment the residents got up, there was a prescribed order to the day. The days started early with the military units allowing the night guards to go off duty and the domestic staff preparing breakfast and getting the castle ready for a busy day of work. Religious activities were a vital part of castle life so before breakfast, chapel was held. Then breakfast was served after which each tier of castle society got busy with their duties that they knew very well how to execute.
The castle functioned like a small city with every area of commerce, religious life and social utility covered. The Lord of the castle engaged in meetings concerning security, trade, agriculture and relationships with foreign powers as well. The Lady of the castle was primary concerned with the care of the children and with receiving guests of rank along with preparing for other social activities that were coming up.
Dinnertime was a highlight of castle life because if the Lord and Lady were entertaining, that would result in a sumptuous banquet. While that was a time of delight and fine dining and conversation for the royalty of the castle, it was also the focus of the work for the cooks and those charged with preparing the hall and the castle for the event. When the event was underway, the revelers might continue relaxing and enjoying drink, delicacies and fellowship well into the evening. But for the workers of the castle, duties were always abundant including chores that took up their evening hours as well.
Life in the castle was hard work for many who not part of the royalty system at the top tiers of castle society. But considering the difficulties at many tiers of medieval society, those who enjoyed daily life in the castle were the privileged few no matter what level of rank they enjoyed.
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