Advent Leads to Christmas

Medieval Dancers

Advent marks the beginning of the church year and is still considered a time of preparation for Christmas and for the second coming of Christ.  Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Usually this is the last Sunday in November, but it can, as in this year, fall on the first Sunday in December.

In the fourteenth century, Advent was a time of fasting. This meant that no animal meat was eaten. For most people little changed, but the wealthy replaced meat with fish. The fish would be accompanied with rich sauces, just as their meat was, so there was little sense of deprivation for most of them.

For a mostly rural society, midwinter was a very quiet time.  The ground was resting. Having been ploughed and sown during autumn, it would be ploughed and sown again in spring. There was very little that could be done outside, given that there were so few hours of daylight each day. I’m in the south of England, where there’s a bit more daylight than in places further north during winter, but it is still dark at 7.30 in the morning at the moment and growing dark again at 3.30 in the afternoon. On wet days like today we have to have the lights on at midday if we want to see what we’re doing. It’s not a good time of year for doing things outside and it would have meant burning expensive candles to do anything too complicated indoors. Advent itself must have been pretty miserable for everyone in the fourteenth century.

Christmas, on the other hand, must have been fun. Today Christmas seems to begin in September, but in the fourteenth century it didn’t begin until Christmas Day itself.  It went on for twelve days until the feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.

Christmas was celebrated as a feast and most people shared a communal meal in the hall of the lord of the manor’s house. They might not have eaten exactly what the lord was eating, but it would have been better than what they would have eaten in their own house. For those who could afford it, the main Christmas meal was swan, goose, beef, ham or bacon.

There would, of course, be dancing and singing. I had a conversation with another blogger about Christmas carols this week and was dismayed to discover that many of the carols I had always considered to be medieval really date from Tudor times or later. There were carols, however, most of them in Latin.

Then as now, games were very popular in celebrating Christmas. People at all levels of society enjoyed disguising themselves as part of a game. This was known as mumming. Edward III was very fond of this and often ordered masks, cloaks and tunics for the court to play mumming games. For Christmas 1347, after his successful campaign in Normandy which led to the fall of Calais, he ordered fourteen masks with women’s faces, fourteen with the faces of bearded men, fourteen with the silver faces of angels, fourteen painted cloaks, fourteen dragons’ heads, fourteen pheasant heads, fourteen pairs of wings for these heads, fourteen tunics painted with the eyes of pheasants’ wings, fourteen swans’ heads, fourteen pairs of wings for the swans, fourteen painted linen tunics, and fourteen tunics painted with stars.

In great households roles could be reversed at Christmas, with those at the top of the social ladder doing menial chores and servants taking the part of the lord or one of the senior members of the household. It was a reminder to all that the Wheel of Fortune could turn at any moment and they could swap roles in reality.

Christmas was a popular time for jousts. I’m not sure why, since it must have been very cold for those watching.

Sources:

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

A Social History of England, 1200 to 1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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A Medieval Childhood

Cradle

A couple of weeks ago we had a bit of a discussion in the comments about medieval children and their sleeping and playing arrangements. As a result, I’ve been reading about children this week.

One of the things that I already knew is that childhood was precarious. In the fourteenth century, you were just as likely to die before your twentieth birthday as you were to reach it. If you did reach it, you would probably live another twenty-eight years. It wasn’t unknown for people to live into their 80s, but 50 was a good age, regardless of which part of society you belonged to.

If you survived being born, you were already doing well. A pregnancy often ended with the death of mother and/or child. I’ll be looking at pregnancy and birth next year.

The world was a dangerous place for medieval babies. They often shared their parents’ bed and many were suffocated as a result. There are examples of sermons telling parents to put their children into cradles so that they would be safe.  Then, as now, mothers sang lullabies to their babies.  In well-off households older children slept in truckle beds: beds that were stored under their parent’s bed and were pulled out at night.

Medieval babies were swaddled, that is bound in cloths so they couldn’t move. One of my sources said that babies might be left alone all day while the parents went out to work. I suppose they thought there was no chance of them coming to any harm if they couldn’t move.

The high mortality rate and the swaddling and the leaving them alone all day might lead you to think that parents didn’t love their children, but they did. There are heart-breaking accounts of parents searching for lost children, of a father who drowned trying to save a child who had fallen into the river, and of grief at a child’s death. Even the king wasn’t immune. When Edward III’s second daughter, Joan, died during the Black Death at the age of 14, he wrote movingly of her loss.

Another expression of their love was strong discipline. The fourteenth century was a cruel time and children were beaten with sticks, by both parents, to enforce discipline. It was seen as a way of teaching them not to break the law. This was important in an age when a child as young as 7 could be hanged.

Life for most children changed when they reached 7. At that age they were expected to work, although they only payment they earned was their food and a roof over their heads. Boys who were going into a trade would begin their apprenticeship. The sons of noble families went to the household of a maternal uncle to learn how to be knights and the sons of people who lived on the land went into the fields with their fathers.

This is not to say that they hadn’t been working before this. It was the task of young children to keep the birds away from freshly-sown seed and to forage for firewood, nuts, berries and shellfish. Girls were already learning how to spin and boys were learning how to shoot with a bow and arrow.

There was a very basic education for everyone. The parish priest would have a weekly class to teach the children about the seven deadly sins. For most this was the only education they received. The boys from wealthy families could go to one of the many schools attached to cathedrals, Benedictine monasteries, friaries or convents, for which their parents had to pay. The main object of the schools was to teach them Latin. Those going to university went at 14.

Boys came of age at 14 and girls at 12. This was the age at which they could be married, although most girls weren’t expected to consummate their marriage until they were 14.

When the question about medieval children was raised, it was more about how they played and what kind of toys they had. I was surprised to discover that there were toys that could be bought in the fourteenth century. These were mainly spinning-tops and lead knights. Children of the poor played outside in the street, much as I and the other children in my road did in the 60s, when it was still more or less safe to do so. You didn’t really need toys if you had a bit of imagination.

One last point about the cruelty of the age: cock-fighting was regarded as a children’s game.

Sources:

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

A Social History of England – ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Catching a Cold in the Middle Ages

medbed6

In the novel I’m currently working on, the hero catches a cold. This was partly to enable the heroine to visit him while he’s in bed (it’s a bad cold) and also to give him the opportunity to notice that she cares about him. Since she’s picked up a bit of knowledge about what to do with sick people, I thought I’d find out how she might look after someone with a cold.

Although it’s unlikely that my heroine would be aware of what the great medical minds of the Middle Ages thought about colds, I started with Medieval Medicine: A Reader. This book contains texts on medical subjects from the sixth to the sixteenth century.

I often read blogs while I’m having breakfast. If that’s what you’re doing and you’re at all squeamish, I recommend you come back later.

In the early Middle Ages, the main objective of someone treating a cold was to remove the mucus from the head (according to the Natural Remedies of Pliny). An infusion of cabbage leaves was recommended for this. A mixture of the juice of black beetroot and honey administered through the nose would also do the trick. In summer you could decoct clover by mashing it and boiling it in water. The patient would drink the result.

The writer also recommends gargles: one made of mustard, turnip seed, pepper, nasturtium seed, rocket, oregano and celery seed mixed with honey and hot water; and one made of mustard seed, sweetened vinegar, stavesacre ( a poisonous delphinium), hyssop heads and honey. I think honey might have been considered a bit of a cure-all in the Middle Ages, although it was more likely included in the gargles to disguise the taste of the other ingredients.

On top of this the patient was to avoid wine and baths and being out in the cold. In some ways this resembles the remedies of my childhood, in that we were given honey in hot milk and told to ‘wrap up warm’. In the days before central heating, not having a bath when you had a cold was a very sensible idea, so we didn’t.

By the thirteenth century things hadn’t changed much. In On the Properties of Things Bartholomew the Englishman suggested a decoction of roses in rain-water to be applied to the nostrils, except when there was a lot of sneezing going on. Alternatively, laudanum, frankincense, storax and castoreum might work.  Storax was a resin obtained from tree bark. Castoreum is secreted from the anal sacs of the beaver and was mostly used to induce vomiting. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s used today as part of a substitute for vanilla flavouring and to flavour cigarettes. Yes, I did suggest you read something else while you’re having breakfast.

On the Properties of Things was a very popular work and was translated into English and French in the second half of the fourteenth century.

My heroine probably has a couple of recipes for gargles and she has a herb garden at her disposal. I doubt that administering an infusion of cabbage leaves to him would endear her to the object of her affections, though.

 

Sources:

Medieval Medicine: A Reader – ed. Faith Wallis

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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November Pottage

Frumenty

November was always going to be a tricky month in this experiment. It’s the month when the pigs were killed in the Middle Ages. Most people kept pigs and they would be killed in November. Neighbours would stagger the slaughter and share around the meat that couldn’t be salted and had to be eaten immediately. The rest would be salted and eaten throughout the winter.

Since I’m a vegetarian, and I’m not going to be putting a piece of pork in my pottage, I thought I’d try something completely different. This month’s pottage isn’t really a pottage, but frumenty. It’s a bit like porridge. For the wealthy, it was a side dish made with meat stock and saffron. For the poor, it was made with water. Sometimes they could add milk or egg yolks. I decided not to use milk, as it was probably more useful being turned into cheese, but, like most fourteenth-century housewives, I’ve got chickens, so I’m sticking an egg in.

I followed a recipe from The Medieval Cookbook. It’s very simple. I boiled some cracked wheat in water for 15 minutes, then let it stand for 15 minutes. After that I was supposed to add meat stock, but I added more water, some sage and parsley from the garden and some salt. I thought I could allow myself some salt this month since there would be salt around for the pigs. When the water was absorbed I stirred in the egg yolk over a low heat until it thickened a bit. The recipe suggests adding saffron, which is still very expensive today. Even though I know that saffron can be grown locally, my fourteenth-century housewife would not have grown it for her own use. Each plant only produces three stigmas, which have to be handpicked and dried. It takes thousands of plants to make one ounce of the spice.

More than anything, once it was in the bowl, it reminded me of homemade fried rice. It was very tasty and very filling.

If you’d like to see a meaty pottage being prepared, here’s a video from English Heritage. It’s a Saxon pottage and it’s made with hare, not pork, but it will give you an idea of how it might have been done.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Castle – Furniture

Table in hall 2

One of the things that has always struck me about castles is how small the rooms are.  There are two main reasons for this. The first, and most obvious, is that building a castle was incredibly expensive. The reasons for the cost were that it took time, sometimes more than a decade, and sometimes imported stone was used. The masons who built castles were very skilled and demanded a higher rate of pay than ordinary labourers, who were also required.

The second reason is that castles didn’t have to be large. Even a small castle put awe and fear into the hearts of the local populace. The largest building many people knew was their parish church. Even a small castle would dwarf a church.

Another reason why they didn’t need to be large was because there wasn’t very much, apart from people and stores of food and fuel, to put into it.

People in the Middle Ages had few possessions, unless they were fabulously rich.  If you could afford to build a castle, you fell into that category. The things that you might have, however, wouldn’t necessarily take up a lot of space. An expensive horse, for instance, wouldn’t need any more space than an ordinary horse. Tapestries were a good way for a man to show his wealth, but they hung from a wall, at least while the lord was in residence.  He might own a few jewels, a few gold or silver chalices and good quality knives, but none of these needed much more space than cheaper versions of the same thing. A wealthy man probably had a few books. They would need to be kept securely in a locked chest to prevent theft.

Apart from tapestries and jewels, the main thing that a wealthy man had that most others in a castle (or anywhere else) didn’t have was a bed and a chair. At the top of the post I’ve put a photograph of the reproduction furniture in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. It’s not a castle by any means, but it will give you an idea about medieval furniture. There’s one chair. At mealtimes everyone sat on benches like the one you can see in front of the table. The table was a trestle table, which could be taken down and stacked against a wall when it wasn’t in use at meal times. The same thing applied to the bench. Unless they were sitting as part of their employment or at meal times, people mostly stood. If they were allowed to sit, they probably sat on a stool like this.

Stool in front bedroom 3

The stools could also be folded and put away when not in use.

Few people in a castle had beds. Most of the household slept in the hall. The lord had a bed in his solar and there might have been another bed for important visitors. When the lord moved on after spending two or three weeks in his castle, the bed would be dismantled, put on a cart and taken to the next place.

There were cupboards to store the lord’s gold and silver cups, if he had any, and clothes were kept in chests or on rails along walls. There wasn’t much need for interior space in a society that didn’t even know what privacy was and lived, for the most part, communally.

There are many things that still baffle me about castles, though, not least the question about where knights and soldiers kept their armour. They slept in the great hall, or some other communal space. Their armour and their weapons were expensive and couldn’t be folded up out of the way. Nothing that I’ve read or seen gives any indication about where these were stored. If anyone knows, please tell me.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Bailey

Outer bailey and Roman wall from keep

Outer Bailey and Roman wall from the Keep, Portchester Castle

The grassed area that you can see in the photograph of Portchester Castle above is about a third of the outer bailey.  The original Roman fort was built in a square and the medieval castle retained the Roman walls. The castle itself is built in one corner of the site. A church and a graveyard occupy the corner diagonally opposite.

By comparison, the inner bailey is very small.

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

The word ‘bailey’ derives from a very similar Old French word meaning ‘enclosure’. A bailey is simply an enclosed space within the walls of a castle. The original castles built by the Normans were ‘motte and bailey’ castles. The motte was a hill, sometimes man-made, on which a wooden tower was built. The space around it was the bailey, which was enclosed by a wooden palisade.

The outer bailey at Old Sarum is also huge. Old Sarum’s foundations are much older than Portchester’s. The castle was built on the location of an Iron Age hillfort. There are indications that people lived in the outer bailey there.

The only photograph that would give you a true idea of its size is an aerial one, but I don’t have a drone. The best I can do is to tell you that a cathedral, along with its attendant monastery,  was built in a small part of it.

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Whereas Portchester Castle is a square, Old Sarum is a circle and the outer bailey forms a circle around the walled part of the castle.

The outer bailey was used for ceremonial occasions. In 1086 William the Conqueror had all the land-owning men in England come to Old Sarum and swear an oath of fealty to him. This meant that if their overlord rebelled against William, their loyalty would be to William rather than to their overlord.

When I took this photograph at Kenilworth Castle, I didn’t know that I was standing in what had been the tiltyard. Jousting took place here, although that was in the later Middle Ages.  This particular stretch isn’t very wide, but it’s wider behind me.  Earlier tournaments and jousts needed much more space. The former, in particular, were more like mini battles.

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The Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle

During the early Middle Ages there was a fair amount of open space within the walls of Kenilworth Castle. When the Earl of Leicester took it over in the sixteenth century, however, he went on a bit of a building spree. He is responsible for one of the more memorable features of the castle. At least, I found it memorable. It was the thing that stuck in my mind from my first visit twenty years ago. His Elizabethan garden has been recreated by English Heritage, but on my recent visit, it wasn’t at its best after a long, hot summer.

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Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle

You might be wondering by now why castles needed so much outside space. Even allowing for the churches, stables, kitchens, bakehouses, mews and other buildings, there was a lot of empty space.

I mentioned last week that castles were garrisons. They were full of soldiers. The soldiers didn’t just spend all their time standing guard at various entrances or exits, or looking out for possible trouble from the tops of towers. They had to be able to cope with any trouble that arrived. That meant training.

They fought one another outside to improve their technique, and thus their chances of surviving. They learned how to scale ladders in a siege situation. They practised archery. They learned how to work together when under attack. The knights and squires practised fighting on horseback. All of this took up a lot of space.

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces

The Church, Ludlow Castle

The Church, Ludlow Castle

We’ve looked at the main spaces within the castle, but there are still a few more, smaller, places worth thinking about.

The buttery and the pantry were located next to the hall. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the buttery didn’t store butter. Instead it was where wine and ale were kept. ‘Buttery’ is derived from ‘bottle’. Water couldn’t be drunk, so people had to make do with wine and ale – at every meal. Ale didn’t travel well and was always drunk close to where it was made. There might even have been a brewster in the castle. Not only did ale not travel, but it also went off quickly. That meant it had to be brewed often.

Unless it was specifically brewed for a celebration of some kind, ale was very weak. Wine, on the other hand, was very potent. Much of it came from Gascony, where the English kings were the dukes from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

The pantry was the room where the bread was stored. The word is derived from the Anglo-Norman ‘paneterie’, which came from the Latin ‘panis’ – bread. It was a large room. Everyone ate bread every day and slices of bread (trenchers) were usually used as plates.

Outside in the bailey there were some other buildings.

Many castles had their own churches or chapels. Old Sarum had a whole cathedral.

That was a bit unusual, though. One of my favourite castle churches is the round church, built in the Templar style, at Ludlow, which you can see at the top of the post.

One of the main purposes of a castle was to house mounted soldiers. When the lord moved to another location, the garrison would stay behind. The number of soldiers remaining there would depend on the escort needed for the lord’s own personal safety whilst travelling and the type of threat, if any, facing the castle he was leaving.

The soldiers weren’t the only ones who used horses. When the lord travelled, his goods would be carried in carts, pulled by horses. The lord and his family would also have their own horses for hunting or for visiting their local estates.

Where there are horses, there are stables. Sadly, medieval stables must have been made from wood, for there doesn’t seem to be any trace of them at the sites I’ve visited. There is a brick stable block at Kenilworth Castle (now a tea room), but it’s Tudor.  The horses who resided there must have thought they were in heaven.

The mews where the hunting birds were kept would also have been wooden. Men with even a modest amount of wealth kept birds for hunting.  Rich men had many birds and a falconer to train and look after them.

In a similar vein, many castles had dovecotes. These were usually circular and housed pigeons. Many were built from brick or stone and some survive. Pigeons were bred to be eaten.

And what of Hollywood’s favourite part of the castle: the dungeon? Well, as you’ve probably come to realise, there wasn’t a lot of space for keeping prisoners. The photograph below is of the prison at Portchester Castle.  There aren’t any schoolchildren inside to give you an idea of the scale, but the plaque and the stones should be enough to tell you that it’s small. It’s just in front of the keep and, as you can see, above ground level.

Prison

The Prison, Portchester Castle

It’s the only prison I’ve come across.

Sources:

Castle by Marc Morris

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Castle – the Kitchen

With upwards of fifty people to feed every day, you would expect castles to have large kitchens and you would be correct.  Often they were separate buildings. It wouldn’t do for a fire in the kitchen to spread to the lord’s domestic apartments. Given that cooking was done over an open fire, there was always a risk of a fire escaping the confines of the hearth and burning down the kitchen, as we’ll see below. Where the kitchen was joined to the to the building housing the hall, there was usually a thick stone wall between them

The kitchen at Kenilworth is essentially that built by John of Gaunt in the second half of the fourteenth century. It’s huge.  The English Heritage guidebook tells me that it’s 66ft by 28ft, significantly larger than most aristocratic kitchens. For once I’m grateful that I couldn’t take a photograph without children on a school visit appearing in it, as they give an idea of the scale.

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The Kitchen, Kenilworth Castle, with obligatory schoolchildren

There were three fireplaces along the wall to the left of the photograph. The brickwork down the middle of the room was a drain for kitchen waste. John of Gaunt had a very large household, hence the need for a large kitchen.

It also had a bread oven.

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Bread oven, Kenilworth Castle

I’m not sure they could have baked many loaves in an oven that size. There must have been more ovens somewhere else.

Within the large kitchen at Kenilworth Castle there was a smaller kitchen: the privy kitchen. That was where the food for John of Gaunt, his family and his important guests was prepared.

The kitchen at Old Sarum was much smaller. It was divided into three and the largest part contained three bread ovens. It was probably built around 1307, when the previous kitchen burned down. That might explain why it’s in the middle of the inner bailey, far from the castle’s main buildings.

The inner bailey and bakery, Old Sarum

The inner bailey and bakery, Old Sarum

The kitchen in the palace of John of Gaunt’s nephew, Richard II, at Portchester Castle is tiny and cooking was probably done over a central, open fire, which was quite old-fashioned for the 1390s, especially in the palace of a king. This was, however, one of Richard’s many palaces and it wasn’t his main one.

As you can see from the photograph below, the food was taken up the steps and through the doorway into the Great Hall.

Entrance to the Great Hall from the kitchen

Entrance to the Great Hall from the Kitchen, Portchester Castle

The kitchen is on the left of the palace and its entrance is just to the left of the unavoidable visitor. You can see how compact the palace is. The great hall takes up the rest of the building, and the king’s sleeping quarters are in the building that sticks out at right-angles.

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

Kitchen staff, like most of the household, were men (or boys) and they were mostly unseen. In aristocratic households where boys and young men were sent to learn how to be knights, one of their first lessons was waiting on the lord’s table. They learned the ritual of a meal, so they would be able to perform it correctly in their own households.  It was considered an honour to wait on the lord.

A large household meant storing vast quantities of food, drink and fuel. This is one of the vaulted cellars at Kenilworth Castle.

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Vaulted cellar, Kenilworth Castle

 

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October Pottage

October pottage

Autumn is a good time for harvesting food from the garden and it must have been the same for a fourteenth-century housewife. This year I’ve grown a lot beetroot and it’s time to dig them up before the slugs get used to eating them. Beetroot has featured in most of the recent pottage experiments because the crop has been good. Households in the fourteenth century must also have used more of what they had freely available.

Next to my rows of beetroot is a row of leeks. They’re still small, but I thinned them and added the ones I picked to the pot instead of onion.

The internet tells me that sage goes well with beetroot, so I picked some from the garden and threw that in as well. The other main ingredient of the pottage was barley.

I cut the beetroot into chunks and boiled it for half an hour on its own, then added the rest of the ingredients. The pottage simmered for another thirty minutes. The smell while it was doing this was wonderful.

Sadly, the problem with a dish made of things boiled with beetroot is that everything ends up red and it’s far from photogenic. I’m sorry about the photograph at the top of the post, but you should at least be able to see that it’s not a runny pottage.

The final result was tasty and filling. I enjoyed it and might make it again.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Castle – Gates and Gatehouses

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Drum Towers, Gate of Southampton Castle

Gates are important places in castles and serve two functions. They keep out people you don’t want inside the castle while simultaneously impressing the people you do want inside the castle.

The picture at the top of the post shows what remains of the drum towers by the gate to Southampton Castle. Drum towers are round towers connected to the walls of a castle. Unsurprisingly, they’re so-named because they look like drums. I hope you’ll forgive a diversion, but the pub you can see at the bottom of the alley is supposed to stand on the location of the house in which Jane Austen stayed during the three years she lived in Southampton.

Old Sarum’s gate was approached over a bridge. You can just see the gatehouse at the top of the bridge. There would be gatekeepers in the gatehouse, waiting to open gates and raise portcullises for residents and welcome visitors.

Gatehouse, Old Sarum (2)

Gatehouse, Old Sarum

The medieval bridge would have been hinged, allowing it to be ‘broken’ by swinging it up or down when unwelcome visitors arrived. It could not, however, be raised in the way that you might be thinking.

Gatehouse, Portchester Castle

The Gatehouse, Portchester Castle

The gatehouse to Portchester Castel is rather impressive. You can see in the foreground of the photograph to the left and the right the grooves for the portcullis. Through the gate you can see the outer bailey and one of the outer walls. This gate gave access to the castle itself.

Portchester Castle has four gates in the outer walls. They’re all on the sites of the original Roman gates. This is the landgate, dating from the fourteenth century. It connects the outer bailey to the land side of the outside world.

Landgate from keep 2

Landgate, Portchester Castle

There’s water on two and a half sides of the castle, so there’s a watergate at the opposite end of the outer bailey, which you can just about see on the right of this photograph. It would allow access by sea.

Ashton's Tower from keep, Portchester Castle

Ashton’s Tower from the Keep, Portchester Castle

Like the landgate, the watergate is a fourteenth-century replacement of a Roman gate. It also had a portcullis.

Below is the medieval entrance to Kenilworth Castle. It’s less than impressive now, but the towers were once two (or more) storeys high. This allowed the portcullis to be raised and lowered by means of a winch on the first floor.

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The Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle

As well as the main gates, most castles also had postern gates. If, like me, you’ve always thought of postern gates as small and unobtrusive, the one at Old Sarum will surprise you. It was almost as large as a main gate and had a recess by it for a guard. It’s also right next to the keep.

What really bothered me when I was there was that the only place you could go once you were through the gate was into the ditch. That’s a problem when you think that the postern is supposed to be a secret, but there would have been a bridge over the moat and a path leading down to another gate in the outer defences.

Postern gate, Old Sarum

Postern Gate, Old Sarum

The postern gate at Portchester Castle is so small that I missed it. In the photograph below it’s the black shadow in the Roman wall on the right of the castle. The Roman fort was laid out in a square and there was another postern gate in the opposite wall.

Castle and outer bailey from watergate 3

Portchester Castle and Outer Bailey

Postern gates were most useful during a siege, when soldiers could leave the castle in relative secrecy and attack the besiegers. True to my romantic hopes, they could also be left open to allow the enemy (or the hero, in my case) entrance into the castle.

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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