Tag Archives: CASTLE

How Many to a Bed!


Following on from last week’s post about sleep, I thought I’d look at sleeping arrangements. You only have to go into a fourteenth century house or a thirteenth century castle to see that space was at a premium. These buildings took a lot of people to maintain them and, where their purpose was military, to defend them. There just wasn’t enough room for everyone to have their own bed, let alone their own bedchamber, although honoured guests in a great castle might be lucky enough to a have both.

For everyone who wasn’t a king or one of his barons, sharing a bedchamber or a bed was the norm. Even in reasonably well-off houses an entire family might sleep in one room, with the parents in one bed and the children in another, or on a mattress on the floor.

In one of my novels, The Winter Love, I give one of the characters a bed to himself, but he is unmarried and it is his house where he lives alone. Towards the end of the novel Eleanor is given a bedchamber of her own, but it’s clear that this is a particular honour and it is in the house of another bachelor. In The Traitor’s Daughter and His Ransom, however, Alais and Richard respectively share beds with other members of the household.

There was very little living space in houses and castles, and most of what there was was dual purpose. The hall, for example, was the place where meals were eaten, celebrations, including dancing, were held, guests received and the servants slept. It was the largest room, often of impressive, or even imposing, dimensions. Food was eaten off trestle tables and the household sat on benches to eat. All of these were easily cleared away. If there was entertainment, stools could be brought out for those who needed to sit, while everyone else stood. When everyone else had gone to bed, the servants slept on the floor, separated from the beaten earth by rushes, or possibly rush mats, and blankets.

The solar was a first storey room, usually at the end of the hall, in a great house or castle. It was here that the lord slept. During the day it was more like a drawing-room for his family and a place where they could be private. In this room the women embroidered and span and members of the family read or wrote. It would be a very comfortable room, often with a fireplace.

Apart from the lord, and, sometimes, his wife, no one had their own bedchamber. Since there was no concept of privacy, this was not a problem. The sexes were segregated, but that was the only concession.  Beds were expensive and not everyone could afford one. Really good ones were dismantled when the owner travelled and put together again when he arrived at his destination.

When travellers stayed in an inn they could find themselves sleeping in a room containing up to a dozen beds, each holding three or four people. They might share a bed with one or more strangers. There were occasionally separate rooms for women, but they rarely travelled alone and were usually accommodated in a bed with their husband even if it meant throwing a single man out.




Filed under Fourteenth Century

Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Two

In Castle Square Again

Catchcold Tower

When Jane Austen moved into the house in Castle Square, the castle that she knew was not the medieval castle, but a modem gothic building built by the Marquis of Lansdowne, who had purchased the site in 1804. It was from this building that she reported seeing the marchioness leave in a carriage being pulled by 8 small ponies and attended by liveried staff.

The marchioness must not have looked very appealing, for Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in February 1807 about the painter from the castle, Mr Husket, who had allowed her and her mother to make a dressing table out of a kitchen table belonging to the castle, “I suppose whenever the Walls want no touching up, he is employed about my Lady’s face”.

As Austen knew, the marquis was in bad health and he died in November 1809. The castle was demolished in 1819. Even the castle mound had been levelled and flats now stand where the castle used to be.

The son of the Earl of Shelburne, the Prime Minister who negotiated the Peace of Paris and recognised the independence of the United States, John Henry Petty had been an MP. On his father’s death he became the Marquis of Lansdowne. The purchase of the castle site was funded by the sale of his father’s book collection and the sale of manuscripts to the British Library. Very little remained of the medieval castle itself, but what was left was incorporated into a house built in the gothic style with castellations. It was generally considered ugly and disproportionately large for the site. The marquis entertained the town’s nobility in the house and these events were the high points on the social calendar.

The original castle was founded at the end of the eleventh century, when the Normans began their programme of building castles to reinforce their defeat of the Saxons. The medieval castle was a serious defensive building and the main building work was carried out at the end of the fourteenth century. Southampton was vulnerable to attacks from France and had suffered a dreadful raid in 1338, during the One Hundred Years’ War, which killed many inhabitants and destroyed much property, including some of the king’s wool and wine, which was being stored in the town. Believing that the burgesses had connived at the town’s destruction, Edward III ordered defensive walls to be put up and improvements made to the castle. Richard II later had further improvements made when the threat of French invasion loomed again. It was one of the first castles in England to be defended by cannon.

Many monarchs stayed in the castle until it became redundant in the early seventeenth century. Even before the Civil War there was little left, as stones had been removed to build houses and strengthen the medieval walls. The Stuarts sold the site and it was eventually purchased, as we have seen, by the Marquis of Lansdowne.

I was quite disappointed to discover that Austen didn’t know the real castle, but a gothic make-believe replacement. Perhaps that was why she found it so easy to mock the marchioness.

I included the photo of Catchcold Tower at the top of the blog, not because it was part of the castle, we’ve already established that nothing much remains of it, but because the Austens would have seen it almost daily on their way to and from their walk in the Spa Gardens. The gardens were more or less under the shopping centre that can be seen above and to the left of the tower.

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Filed under Castle, Jane Austen, Regency

The Secrets of the Castle DVD: A review


The Secrets of the Castle is the latest in the TV series about everyday (mainly farming) life in previous centuries presented by Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold (replacing Alex Langlands who has been studying for a doctorate). I’ve been watching them since the first series, Tales from the Green Valley in 2006, which was about running a farm the Jacobean way and which remains my favourite of the farming ones. The other series are A Tudor Feast at Christmas (2006), Victorian Farm (2009), Edwardian Farm (2010), Wartime Farm (2012) and Tudor Monastery Farm (2013).

This time they are not farming, but building a castle and they’re not doing it on their own. Guédelon is the world’s biggest archaeological experiment. It is a twenty-five year project to build a castle in Burgundy using thirteenth century methods. It is staffed by craftsmen and craftswomen and students. They work in seasons, March to September, as their thirteenth century counterparts would have done. As Peter says, the castle is the by-product; it’s the ‘chantier’, the building site, that is the reason for the project as those working there rediscover medieval methods.

It’s a lengthy project, taking longer to build the modern castle than it would have taken in the thirteenth century. This is partly because there are very few written records about how castles were built, so many of the early days were spent working out how things were done.

The team joined the project in its seventeenth season, so much of the castle has already been built. It would not have made such good television if they had gone much earlier, for they were able to take part in some very interesting work, such as making the parts for and putting together a tracery window, painting one of the private rooms and cooking in the kitchen. They were also there when the water mill was first put into use.

The craftsmen and women that we see are carpenters, masons, woodcutters, wood turners, rope makers, builders, potters, blacksmiths, bowyers, tilers, quarrymen, miller and dyers. The overall effect is to show the amount of physical labour required for even the simplest of tasks. There are many surprises: only two quarrymen are required to support the site and everything is designed on the wooden floor of the tracing room and there’s not a sheet of paper in sight.

On the domestic front Ruth shows how to turn a hovel into a home. Lesson one is to cover the earth floor with rushes so that you don’t sleep on a damp floor and lesson two is to hang your food in a net from the ceiling so that the mice don’t get it. Then the potter has to make her some pots, both to cook with and to eat and drink from. Then the carpenter has to make her a grain ark for storing grain and for making bread. We later see it being put to this use by Tom, rather unsuccessfully. We also learn that pig fat keeps your hands smooth when you’re working with lime, but makes every dog on the site your friend.

There is an expedition to see a trebuchet being fired – truly terrifying- and another to glimpse the interior of St Mary Magdalene, Vézelay, the inspiration for a black and white arch in the castle. This visit also includes a very brief examination of the medieval idea of pilgrimage, which is a bit of an obsession of mine at the moment.

The animals around the site also get a look in. There are pigs, horses, chickens, ducks and some very sleek and handsome cockerels.

There were two great revelations in this DVD for me. The first is rather obvious, so it should not have been a revelation. Most castles we see today are ruins and open to the elements and have bare interior walls. When they were first built, the walls would have been plastered and painted. This would have had the effect of making the rooms lighter. The second, more surprising revelation, was that the outsides of the castles were lime washed so that they would be white and therefore more visible, thus impressing, or striking terror, into anyone who saw it. Everything about a castle was designed to impress, either because its function was to cow those around it into submission or to defend part of the realm, or because it was demonstrating the wealth and ambition of the lord who built it.

I have enjoyed this DVD very much. It’s informative and quite cosy, although clearly some of the participants are a bit overwhelmed by Ruth’s enthusiasm. I watched the series when it was on television at the end of last year and enjoyed it just as much watching it again in the last month. I shall doubtless watch it again my times in the future.

The DVD was released in January and is made up of five one hour episodes, with a short discussion between the producer and the site administrator at Guédelon as the special feature. It’s narrated by Paul McGann, which is a huge bonus if you like his voice, as I do.

The site at Guédelon is open to visitors between March and September. The website is here. There are tours in English in July and August.

You can follow the project on Twitter @GuedelonCastle

This is a link to an amusing animation showing how the project came into being here.


Filed under Castle, DVD Review, Thirteenth Century