Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

The Medieval Bailiff


Whilst I was finding out about stewards last week, I was also reading about bailiffs.  The bailiff was the senior person living on the manor if the lord was absent.

Whereas the position of steward was one of honour, demonstrating the regard in which a man was held by his lord, that of bailiff was much lowlier. He was likely to be a younger son of the gentry or the member of a better-off peasant family and was appointed on the steward’s recommendation. That means that somehow or other he had to have come to the attention of the steward. In the worst cases this might be through bribery,  but you can also imagine pushy parents putting their sons in the way of local stewards, or stewards appointing their own illegitimate sons. Often, of course, the steward would simply come across a young man who impressed him.

The bailiff was an employee of the lord of the manor and he collected the rents, so reading and writing were necessary skills. As the lord’s permanent representative on the manor, he didn’t just represent the lord to its inhabitants, but also to strangers and visitors. When the lord was absent, the bailiff lived in the manor house. His life would have been fairly comfortable, except that he was usually hated by the tenants and villeins.

In many ways, his duties were the same as those of the reeve, the chief villein on the manor. There were major differences between them, however, not least that the bailiff was paid and the reeve was not. The reeve was compensated in other ways, and occasionally helped himself to compensation, but the bailiff was paid with money.

The bailiff’s first priority was the demesne, the part of the manor that was solely for the support of the lord. It was the bailiff’s job to manage the livestock and the crops, and to make sure that as little as possible was stolen. He was also responsible for buying in from outside things that couldn’t be grown or made on the manor, such as salt, iron, tar, parchment or nails.

The bailiff was supposed to view the whole manor every day so that he could decide when the land was to be manured, and when the threshing, ploughing sowing and harvesting were going to take place. He also had to watch over the shearing of the sheep. The sale of wood and skins from the manor was his responsibility. The money from these would have been an important part of the lord’s income. He decided which of the lord’s livestock should be bought or sold.

The bailiff also had non-agricultural duties. He was chief law officer and business manager for the manor.

Lords were advised not to appoint friends or relatives as their bailiffs, but the mere fact that this advice is recorded indicates that it was a fairly common practice that must have led to many problems.


A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams

Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

The English Manor by Mark Bailey

Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies


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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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

The Medieval Steward

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn exterior

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn Exterior

In the novel I’m currently working on there’s a secondary character who’s a steward. I got a little confused about whether he would be called a steward or a seneschal, so I decided to check.

It turned out to be even more confusing than I thought. There were also two different roles with the same title. In the domestic sphere, the steward was the official in charge of the daily running of a castle or house. In the administrative sphere, the steward was responsible for the lord’s estates.

The difficulty of whether it was steward or seneschal was easily solved. A seneschal was a steward of a great estate.

Essentially, the steward was his lord’s deputy. It was his job to defend his lord’s rights and to look after his property.

Legal knowledge was an important qualification, since he had to represent his lord in court. This was not as hard to come by as you might think. Many people were familiar with the law in the fourteenth century, because it was a very litigious time.

If he had many estates under him, the steward was supposed to visit them and liaise with the bailiffs. The bailiff was the lord’s permanent representative on the manor. The steward had to instruct and guide these men. Lords were advised to appoint older men to the position of steward, because they would know a bit about managing others and they would have some experience of life. Lords were also advised to appoint honest men, although that was more difficult. As well as being a very litigious time it was also a fairly corrupt time.

The steward was supposed to audit the manorial accounts, so being good with numbers was also a requirement. He went to each manor two or three times a year and stayed for a day or two. He supervised any large building projects, such as mills or barns. He gave permission (or not) for any larger than usual expenditure.

The steward presided over the manorial court. He was not the judge, as the decisions were made by villagers acting as jurors. His role was to give weight to those decisions.

The stewards of great lords were usually knights. Not all lords of estates were laymen, many of them were abbots. In the latter case, their stewards were usually clerics. An abbey’s steward might be known as the cellarer.


A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams

Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

The English Manor by Mark Bailey


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.

Available now:











Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

Geoffrey Chaucer

Canterbury Tales

It’s a rare thing for me to do a biographical post, but I had a discussion with Toutparmoi, whose excellent blog is The Earl of Southampton’s Cat, about Shakespeare scholars and, by extension, Chaucer scholars, embellishing the life of their subject of study. I said that Chaucer’s life was pretty exciting without the need for embellishment. It was so exciting that I think it’s worth sharing.

Chaucer’s father, John, was a wine merchant based in London, and Geoffrey was born there in about 1340, which means, amongst other things, that he lived through the Black Death. From 1347 to 1349 John Chaucer was the king’s deputy butler in Southampton, supervising wine shipments from Bordeaux to the king’s cellars. I like to think that Chaucer spent some time with his father in Southampton and knew the wine merchant’s house I use as the representation of this blog.

In 1357 Chaucer is recorded as being a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster. Elizabeth was the wife of Lionel, the third son of Edward III. Born in 1338, Lionel wasn’t much older than his wife’s servant. Two years later, in 1359, Chaucer was serving in Lionel’s retinue in France. It had been Edward III’s plan to have himself crowned King of France at Rheims cathedral, but his armies were weakened by bad weather and poor supply line, and they were unable to continue the siege. Chaucer went on a foraging raid and was captured by the French. Fortunately, he was of some value and was ransomed for £16.

He married Philippa de Roet in 1365 or 1366. She was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, but her main claim to fame is that her younger sister was Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt, Edward’s fourth son.

Chaucer was in Navarre in 1366. He might have been on a pilgrimage to Santiago, or on a diplomatic mission. He was recorded as being a king’s esquire in 1367, so he could have been doing something for him. In the same year his son, Thomas, was born.

In April 1368, Lionel, now a widower, travelled to Italy to marry Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Milan. Chaucer was one of his esquires. In Milan he would have seen Sir John Hawkwood, the renowned English mercenary, who served the Lord of Milan. Chaucer would have been below his notice, however, even though he was well-known for writing many songs, mostly bawdy, about love. These were sung widely in England. This wasn’t the last time Chaucer was to visit Italy, and Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio were his greatest influences.

By the end of 1368, Lionel, still celebrating his marriage, was dead. It was said by some that he was killed on the orders of his father-in-law. Chaucer was able to move into the household of Lionel’s younger brother, John of Gaunt.

On 12 September 1368 Blanche, John of Gaunt’s wife, died of the plague, inspiring Chaucer’s first major work: The Book of the Duchess.

By 1369 the war with France was picking up again and Chaucer went there in John of Gaunt’s retinue. Chaucer was in France again the following year, although it’s not clear what he was doing.

By 1371 he was an esquire of the king’s chamber, Edward III’s inner household, and he was sent back to Italy in December 1372. He visited Genoa as part of a diplomatic and trading mission sent to negotiate with the Doge of Venice and to hire Genoese mercenaries for the war in France. There was another, secret, mission for the king in Florence. Chaucer carried this mission out alone and returned to England in May 1373.

On 23 April 1374 Edward III granted him a pitcher of wine a day for life. 23rd April is St. George’s Day and it was Edward III who adopted him as his own saint, leading to him becoming the patron saint of England. A few days later Chaucer was given a rent-free dwelling above the gate at Aldgate. Of the two, I suspect he appreciated the latter more. In June of that year he was appointed Comptroller of the Customs of Hides, Skins and Wools in the port of London. This would have been a lucrative position, since wool was England’s main export. I don’t know what Chaucer did to warrant all this preferment, but I like to think that it was a reward for concluding the king’s business successfully in Florence the year before.

Despite his new post, he was frequently in France in 1376 and 1377. On one of these visits he was a member of a diplomatic mission to negotiate a marriage between Richard of Bordeaux, Edward III’s grandson and heir, and Marie, daughter of the King of France.

In May 1378 he was negotiating for a different bride for Richard, now King of England, in Milan.  This time it was Caterina Visconti, the daughter of the Lord of Milan (not the same lord of Milan who had been Lionel’s father-in-law). Chaucer had another secret mission. He arrived in Milan in late June and stayed at least 6 weeks. He met John Hawkwood, this time as a valued representative of the king. It’s possible he read Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato on which Troilus and Criseyde is based while he was in Milan.

Another son, Lewis, was born in 1380. It was around this time that Chaucer wrote Parliament of Fowls, about birds choosing their mates. He also wrote Palamon and Aricite, which is the tale later told by the knight in The Canterbury Tales. Between 1381 and 1386 he wrote Troilus and Criseyde.

In the 1380s he had to get permission to appoint deputies to carry out his customs duties, presumably because he was so busy with his writing. By now he was also a member of Richard II’s household.

Philippa Chaucer died in 1387. About the same time Chaucer started work on The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer’s advancement in the civil service continued and on 12 July 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works. This wasn’t an altogether happy experience, however. In September 1390 highwaymen stole his horse and the king’s money that he was carrying. He was robbed twice more before the end of the year. The following June he resigned from his position.

In 1391 he wrote A Treatise on the Astrolabe for his son, Lewis.

Information is sparse after this point.  On 24 Dec 1399, three months after the coronation of John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, Chaucer took a 53-year lease on a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. There’s no contemporary record of his death, but the date usually given for it is 25th October 1400.

I think you’ll agree that Chaucer’s life was pretty exciting. If we knew about his secret missions, it might be even more exciting.



The Canterbury Tales edited by Jill Mann

Chronicles by Froissart

Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman by Frances Stonor Saunders

Richard II by Nigel Saul


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.

Available now:











Filed under Fourteenth Century

Christmas Pottage

Christmas Pottage

Christmas was a feast, so I doubt that pottage would necessarily have been part of the main meal, but this is a series about pottage and that’s what I made. Many people celebrated the feast in the hall of the lord of the manor and that probably means that they ate the lord’s meat.

I’m a vegetarian, so meat isn’t an option for me, but I wanted this month’s pottage to be a bit of a celebration. Since whatever the people sitting in their lord’s hall ate was probably made with meat stock, I allowed myself vegetable stock in my pottage.

Sonya from Losing the Plot sent me some soup mix from Northern Ireland which is rather pottage-like in its makeup. It contains pearl barley, red split lentils, green split peas and yellow split peas. Medieval Gardens tells me that lentils weren’t commonly available in the Middle Ages and I thought that would make them something suitable for the Christmas feast.

I soaked the dry ingredients overnight, rinsed them and boiled them for 10 minutes. After that they simmered for 40 minutes. I rinsed them again and added them to some vegetable stock together with some leeks from the garden and some carrots. That cooked for another ten minutes.  It was very tasty and had the advantage over some previous pottages of looking nice in the bowl.

For poorer people who didn’t get to eat at their lord’s table, ham probably featured in their more humble Christmas feast. It’s a tradition that continued at least into my childhood. One of the smells I associate with Christmas is a ham boiling in the pressure cooker on Christmas Eve.


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.

Available now:











Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food

Fasting With Fish

Cupboard decoration

Last week I mentioned fasting during Advent and said that it wasn’t necessarily a deprivation.  I’m reading The Road to Crécy at the moment and this week I came across the list of what Edward III ate on the day he landed in Normandy in July 1346.

On Wednesday 12th July the king and his household sat down to 93 cod, 16 salted salmon, 24 stockfish (dried cod), 11 conger eels and 4 lampreys (from the Kitchen Accounts quoted in The Road to Crécy). They also ate some geese and hens, since poultry was permitted on Wednesdays. The fish were served with sauces of garlic and mustard.

Two days later, on Friday 14th July, the king’s household ate 38 cod, 16 stockfish, 8 salted salmon, 100 quarters (a weight) of pimpernels (small eels),  200 lampreys and 7 ‘shaft’ eels. I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what type of eel these are. Again, they were served with sauces and peas. On Fridays the rules for fasting were stricter and no meat at all was allowed.

In addidtion to the ones listed above, the types of fish that were available from the sea were plaice, bream, sole, haddock, turbot, halibut, sea bass, mullet, sturgeon and mackerel. Crabs and lobster were also considered fish, as were whelks, oysters, mussels and shrimps. Slightly more surprisingly so were seals, whales and porpoises. River and lake fish included trout, pike, grayling, bream and tench.

Given that England has a lot of coastline and many rivers, to say nothing of fishponds at monasteries and some large manors, you would think that there would be plenty of variety for people, even if they did have to fast for about half the days in the year. This was not the case. The definition of a fish – something created at sea or in water – could include many different creatures. Barnacle geese and puffins counted as fish, as did beavers, because they had tails like fish.

Although salting fish was a way of making it available to people who lived more than a day’s journey from the coast, fish could also be transported live in barrels of water for those who had the money to pay for it.


The Road to Crécy by Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel

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

Food and Cooking in Medieval Britain by Maggie Black


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.

Available now:












Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

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.


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.

Available now:











Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life, The Medieval Church

A Medieval Childhood


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.


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.

Available now:














Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Family, Medieval Life

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.

Available now:











Filed under Castle, Fourteenth Century, Medieval Buildings, Medieval Life

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.


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.


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.


Some months after I posted this, Viral History, a YouTube history channel, included drone footage of Old Sarum in one of their videos. The video also shares some of the recent research into the site.


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.

Available now:











Filed under Castle, Fourteenth Century, Medieval Buildings, Medieval Warfare

Anatomy of a Castle – The Hall

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In many ways, a castle is just like any other medieval house with more than a couple of rooms. Houses and castles usually have a hall: a large room for meals and receiving visitors. As a result, they were the largest enclosed space in the building. They were also where the servants slept.

In a castle, a hall is obviously much larger than it would be in a house and more grandly decorated. There are some other differences. John of Gaunt’s Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle, pictured above, is very large. It also has huge and intricate windows. The hall was so impressive that it’s the only part of the castle left untouched by the Earl of Leicester when he took over Kenilworth two hundred years later.

Somewhat unusually, the hall had six fireplaces. You can see one of them in the photograph below, which also shows the vaulting of the cellars below the hall.  The wall above the fireplace was probably covered by a tapestry. These were very expensive and displaying them was a way of showing how wealthy someone was.


Fireplace in the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

The walls would also have been painted and would have been colourful even when the tapestries were taken down.

Halls were usually on the first floors of castles, unlike in houses, where they were at ground level.

Richard II's Hall diagram

King Richard’s Great Hall, Portchester Castle

As you can see from the photograph of Richard II’s Great Hall at Portchester Castle above, the hall is close to the kitchen, allowing food to be served easily. This hall also had large windows in the wall facing the inner bailey. The wall facing the outer bailey has no windows at all for reasons of security. Halls in houses rarely had large windows. When your only source of heat was a fire in the middle of the floor and windows were usually unglazed, your windows would be quite small in order to retain as much heat as possible during the long, dark winter nights.

Richard II’s windows at Portchester were glazed. It’s recorded that the glass was decorated with coats of arms and heraldic devices. Richard also had a large collection of tapestries, some of which would have been hung on the walls when he visited the palace.

When a visitor to either of these halls entered the door at the top of the steps, they were still not in the hall. They would find themselves in a screened area, mainly used by the servants. An invitation to enter the hall itself was a great honour.

This is a photograph of one of the two halls at Wolvesey Castle, one of the palaces of the medieval bishops of Winchester.


East Hall, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

The palace had a private hall and a larger, more public hall. The latter (the one in the photograph) was used for ceremonial occasions or when more space was needed. Originally the hall was on ground level, but it was remodelled and raised to the first floor about twenty years later.

Like the rest of the castle, the hall was used to impress upon the visitor the importance, wealth and power of the man who owned it.


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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Filed under Castle, Fourteenth Century