Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (2022)

From the household of the king to the humblest peasant dwelling, more or less distant relatives and varying numbers of servants and dependants would cohabit with the master of the house and his immediate family.

The structure of the medieval household was largely dissolved by the advent of privacy in the modern period.

As a result of the military nature of the medieval noble household, its composition was predominately male. Towards the end of the medieval period the ratio levelled out somewhat, but at an earlier date the feminine element of the household consisted only of the lady and her daughters, their attendants, and perhaps a few domestics to perform particular tasks such as washing. Many of the male servants were purely military personnel; there would be a gatekeeper, as well as various numbers of knights and esquires to garrison the castle as a military unit. Yet many of these would also serve other functions, and there would be servants entirely devoted to domestic tasks. At the lower level, these were simply local men recruited from the localities. The higher level positions – in particular those attending on the lord – were often filled by men of rank: sons of the lord's relatives, or his retainers.

The presence of servants of noble birth imposed a social hierarchy on the household that went parallel to the hierarchy dictated by function. This second hierarchy had at its top the steward (alternatively seneschal or major-domo), who had the overriding responsibility for the domestic affairs of the household. Taking care of the personal well-being of the lord and his family were the Chamberlain, who was responsible for the chamber or private living-quarters, and the Master of the Wardrobe, who had the main responsibility for clothing and other domestic items. Of roughly equal authority as the steward was the marshal. This officer had the militarily vital responsibility for the stables and horses of the household (the "marshalsea"), and was also in charge of discipline. The marshal, and other higher-ranking servants, would have assistants helping them perform their tasks. These – called valet de chambres, grooms or pages, ranking from top to bottom in that order – were most often young boys, although in the larger royal courts the valet de chambres included both young noble courtiers, and often artists, musicians and other specialists who might be of international repute. Assigning these the office of valet was a way of regularising their position within the household.

Administration & Household

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  • Seneschal, Major-domo or Steward
  • Constable - Horses, grooms and pages
  • Marshal - Marshalsea, Military, arms and discipline, knights, squires, men at arms
  • Chamberlain - Chambers, valet de chambres
  • Master of the Wardrobe - clothing and other domestic items

Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein the Younger. He is carrying his baton signifying his position as Earl Marshal.

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (1)

William Marshal ("The Marshal")
The greatest knight in Christendom

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (2)

In addition to these offices there was a need for servants to take care of the hunting animals. The master huntsman, or the veneur, held a central position in greater noble households. Likewise, the master falconer was a high-ranking officer, often of noble birth himself.

One of the most important functions of the medieval household was the procuration, storage and preparation of food. This consisted both in feeding the occupants of the residence on a daily basis, and in preparing larger feasts for guests, to maintain the status of the lord. The kitchen was divided into a pantry (for bread, cheese and napery) and a buttery (for wine, ale and beer). These offices were headed by a pantler and a butler respectively. Depending on the size and wealth of the household, these offices would then be subdivided further. The following is a list of some of the offices one could expect to find in a large medieval aristocratic or royal household:

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  • Cooks, scullions etc - Kitchen
  • Pantler - Pantry
  • Buttler - Buttery
  • Confectioner - Confectionery
  • Cellerer - Cellar
  • Poulterer - Poultry
  • Spicer - Spicery
  • Larderer - Larder
  • Scalding-house
  • Saucery

There would also be staff taking care of the Scullery (&scullion), Chandlery (where candles were made), Ewery, Laundry and Napery.

The chapel was a part of every large household. Household chapels would be staffed by varying numbers of clerics. Chaplains, confessors and almoners could serve in administrative capacities as well as the religious ones. Clerics were chancellors in large households. The original chancellors were the Cancellarii of Roman courts of justice, ushers who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a basilica or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the audience. In medieval households they might be responsible for record keeping, accounting and finances.

The households of medieval kings were in many ways simply aristocratic households on a larger scale. In some ways though, they were different. One major difference was the way in which royal household officials were largely responsible for the governance of the realm, as well as the administration of the household. The 11th century Capetian kings of France, for instance, "ruled through royal officers who were in many respects indistinguishable from their household officers." These officers – primarily the seneschal, constable, butler, chamberlain and chancellor – would naturally gain extensive powers, and could exploit this power for social advancement. One example of this is the Carolingians of France, who rose from the position of royal stewards – the Mayors of the Palace – to become kings in their own right. It was the father of Charlemagne, Pepin the Short, who gained control of government from the enfeebled Merovingian king Childeric III. Another example is the royal House of Stuart in Scotland, whose family name bore witness to their background of service.

Eventually the central positions of the royal household became little else than honorary titles bestowed upon the greatest families, and not necessarily even dependent on attendance at court. By the thirteenth century, the offices of constable, butler, steward and chamberlain had become the hereditary right of certain high noble families.

The royal household differed from most noble households in the size of their military element. If a king was able to muster a substantial force of household knights, this would reduce his dependence on the military service of his subjects. This was the case with Richard II of England, whose one-sided dependence on his household knights – mostly recruited from the county of Cheshire – made him unpopular with his nobility and contributed to his downfall.

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The medieval aristocratic household was not fixed to one location, but could be more or less permanently on the move. Greater nobles would have estates scattered over large geographical areas, and to maintain proper control of all their possessions it was important to physically inspect the localities on a regular basis. As the master of the horses, travel was the responsibility of the marshal. Everything in the noble household was designed for travel, so that the lord could enjoy the same luxury wherever he went. Even baths and window glass were moved around.

Particularly for kings, itineration was a vital part of governance, and in many cases kings would rely on the hospitality of their subjects for maintenance while on the road. This could be a costly affair for the localities visited; there was not only the large royal household to cater for, but also the entire royal administration. It was only towards the end of the medieval period, when means of communication improved, that households, both noble and royal, became more permanently attached to one residence.

Aristocratic society centred on the castle originated, as much of medieval culture in general, in Carolingian France, and from there spread over most of Western Europe. In other parts of Europe, the situation was different. On the northern and western fringes of the continent, society was kin-based rather than feudal, and households were organised correspondingly. In Ireland, the basis for social organisation was the "sept", a clan that could comprise as many as 250 households, or 1250 individuals, all somehow related.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the functions and composition of households started to change. This was due to two factors. First, the introduction of gunpowder to the field of warfare rendered the castle a less effective defence, and did away with the military function of the household. The result was a household more focused on comfort and luxury, and with a significantly larger proportion of women.

The second factor was the early modern ascendancy of the individual, and focus on privacy. Already in the later Middle Ages castles had begun to incorporate an increasing number of private chambers. Once the castle was discarded to the benefit of palaces or stately homes, this tendency was reinforced. This did not mean an end to the employment of domestic servants, or even in all cases a reduction in household staff. What it did mean was a realignment whereby the family became the cornerstone of the household.

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The Lord Chancellor

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (3)

Falconer

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (4)

Cellerer

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (5)

Handing over the sword of the Constable of France to Bertrand Duguesclin.
Jean Fouquet, Illuminaded MS XV Century

Castle Life - Officers & Servants in a Medieval Castle (6)

FAQs

What were castle servants called? ›

The staff of a castle may be divided into two broad groups: men-at-arms and domestic servants. The former, sometimes known as the mesnie personnel, were led by the marshal and made responsible for the castle's defence.

What were medieval servants called? ›

In medieval times, a page was an attendant to a nobleman, a knight, a governor or a Castellan.

What did servants do in castles? ›

Servants made up the bulk of the people who lived in a castle. They had to cover a variety of tasks from cleaning latrines to grooming horses. Everyone except the lord's family and their high-ranking guests slept in the great hall, a very large room and the centre of the castle.

Did medieval servants live in the castle? ›

The servants slept in the castle, too, but the farming peasants who grew food for the castle's inhabitants lived in cottages on the lord's estate, or manor.

What is a king's servant called? ›

courtier. noun. someone who has an official position at the court of a king or queen, or who spends time there.

Who were the occupants of a castle? ›

Who were the occupants of the castle? the lord and lady, their family, knights and other-men-at-arms, and servants. the brutality of knighthood and feudal warfare.

Where did servants sleep in medieval castles? ›

Most however preferred the great hall, where it was safer and warmer. If the noble family had a separate private room, they may have had their personal servant sleep in the room with them. The servant would sleep on a pallet or trundle on the floor.

What was the head maid called? ›

Head house-maid: The senior housemaid, reporting to the Housekeeper. (Also called “House parlor maid” in an establishment with only one or two upstairs maids). Parlourmaid: They cleaned and tidied reception rooms and living areas by morning, and often served refreshments at afternoon tea, and sometimes also dinner.

Where do servants live in a castle? ›

Inside the Walls. The outer wall of a castle was called the Bailey. Inside the Bailey were buildings where the lord of the castle's cattle, horses and servants lived.

What did a lady's maid do? ›

A lady's maid's specific duties included helping her mistress with her appearance, including make-up, hairdressing, clothing, jewellery, and shoes. A lady's maid would also remove stains from clothing; sew, mend, and alter garments as needed; bring her mistress breakfast in her room; and draw her mistress's bath.

Do lords and ladies have servants? ›

Even the lords and ladies of castles, when they were in residence, often shared a room with a servant or conducted some business in the same rooms in which they slept.

What was life like inside a castle? ›

Life in a castle in medieval times was very dark and cold. Windows were narrow, open slits. Toilets were benches with holes in. The waste would drop into a stinky cesspit or the moat.

What is the owner of a castle called? ›

A castellan is the title used in Medieval Europe for an appointed official, a governor of a castle and its surrounding territory referred to as the castellany.

How many guards did a castle have? ›

Guard duty generally wasn't a full-time (or desirable) job. Castles could have garrisons of anywhere from a couple thousand to less than two dozen men.

Did Medieval nobles have servants? ›

Nobles' families had sitting rooms called solars where the family gathered to play games and listen to music. There were stables and a large kitchen, both of which were staffed by servants. Castles were generally quite smoky.

What was the most common job in medieval times? ›

Farming was the most common occupation in the medieval period.

What did a watchman do at a castle? ›

Watchman - An official at the castle responsible for security. The cook - would make all the meals for those living in the castle. Stewards - helped the Lord and Lady run the castle and tell everyone what they needed to do.

What are queens helpers called? ›

The Private Secretary is responsible for supporting The Queen in her duties as Head of State.

What do queens call their servants? ›

Deep in the bowels of Buckingham Palace the British Queen employs a junior member of staff who has been dubbed 'Cinders'. It's a strange nickname but then again 'Cinders' has a strange job to do.

Who works under a lord? ›

A king (or lord) ruled large areas of land. To protect his land from invasion, the king gave parts of it to local lords, who were called vassals. In return, his vassals promised to fight to defend the king's land.

Do castles have butlers? ›

Other specialized personnel associated with kitchen affairs were the pantler who looked after the pantry and the butler who took care of the storage of drinks and their serving at mealtimes. Large castles would employ other specialized personnel such as confectionery, cellarer, spicer, and larderer.

What is a steward in medieval times? ›

In medieval times, the steward was initially a servant who supervised both the lord's estate and his household. However over the course of the next century, other household posts arose and involved more responsibilities.

Do nobles live in castles? ›

Kings and queens, highranking nobles, and wealthy lords lived in even grander structures: castles. Castles were built for many purposes. One of a castle's main ​functions​ was to serve as a home. Castles were also one of the most important forms of military technology.

Did servants sleep on the floor? ›

The work was daily, constant, sometimes difficult, and often tedious, and enslaved servants often slept on pallets on the floors of bedrooms or hallways near where they labored.

Is a lady's private chamber in a medieval castle? ›

Bed Chambers

The room in the castle called the Lords and Ladies Chamber, or the Great Chamber, was intended for use as a bedroom and used by the lord and lady of the castle - it also afforded some privacy for the noble family of the castle.

How many people could live in a castle? ›

Not many people lived there for much of the time.

The moving household could be anywhere from 30 to 150 people; it would have included the lord and lady as well as their children (which could go into double figures – for example Queen of England Eleanor of Aquitaine had 10 children).

What are the ranks of servants? ›

Servant ranks
  • Below stairs, there was a strict hierarchy among servants, from butler and housekeeper down to hall-boys and scullery maids. ...
  • The ranks of female staff in order of importance were the housekeeper, lady's maid, cook, nurse, housemaids, kitchen and dairy maids, scullery maids, and laundry maids.

What are servants called? ›

amah, housemaid, maid, maidservant. a female domestic. skivvy, slavey. a female domestic servant who does all kinds of menial work. gentleman, gentleman's gentleman, man, valet, valet de chambre.

What do servants call their female masters? ›

The Master and Mistress of the House should be addressed as "Sir" and "My Lady" respectively. The eldest son should be addressed as "Mister Jonathan" and the youngest son as "Master Guy".

Where did servants sleep in mansions? ›

Servants' bedrooms and dormitories were pushed to the margins of the house: in garrets and occasionally basements. In newly built or extended houses, wings were created on the main house that offered separate accommodation for indoor and outdoor servants, grooms for example often sleeping above the stables.

Did servants live in cupboards? ›

In the early 1800s, servants slept in the kitchen or in cupboards under the stairs. Later in the century, they were given the attics as bedrooms, which were cold, damp and dimly lit. Often, however, men continued to sleep downstairs to guard the plate.

Where did ladies maids sleep? ›

So, the housekeeper usually slept near the maid-servants, and a female head cook slept near the Kitchen. The lady's maid was placed as close as possible to her mistress so that she could provide immediate attendance. Sometimes her room was also large enough for her to accomplishing starching.

What is a male maid called? ›

Answer. The masculine gender of a maid is the Manservant.

What is an Abigail servant? ›

: a lady's personal maid.

How much did a lady's maid earn? ›

She notes that a housekeeper for a zillionaire may earn up to $60,000 a year (the industry median salary is less than $20,000), but a “lady's maid” can take in $75,000. Full-time butlers can earn $70,000 a year, and some who travel around with a family on yachts or private jets could earn as much as $200,000 a year.

What did female servants wear in medieval times? ›

Women's clothing consisted of an undertunic called a chemise, chainse or smock. This was usually made of linen. Over the chemise, women wore one or more ankle-to-floor length tunics (also called gowns or kirtles). Working class women wore ankle-length tunics belted at the waist.

What did a lady-in-waiting do? ›

The ladies-in-waiting worked as personal assistants, tending to the Emperor's wardrobe, assisting the emperor's baths, serving meals, performing and attending court rituals. Ladies-in-waiting could be appointed as concubines, consorts or even Empresses by the Emperor or the heir to the throne.

How did toilets work in castles? ›

The toilets of a castle were usually built into the walls so that they projected out on corbels and any waste fell below and into the castle moat. Even better, waste went directly into a river as is the case of the latrines of one of the large stone halls at Chepstow Castle in Wales, built from the 11th century CE.

When did people stop living in castles? ›

People stopped building castles as defensive residences starting in about 1500. Though, as u/lamrar points out, sometimes 'castles' were still built (and are still built) as a stylistic choice, or in homage to the romance of a bygone age.

Why did they put straw on castle floors? ›

Historical use

They were used in all areas of the house, including kitchens, dining halls and bedrooms. The herbs were laid on the floor along with reeds, rushes, or straw, so that pleasant odours would be released when people walked on them.

What are the pillars on castles called? ›

It's the crenels and merlons that give castles their distinct appearance. In fact, sometimes battlements are called crenellations. The architectural elements of battlements later became used for decorative architecture.

What is a Bailey in a castle? ›

A bailey is the sturdy wall around a castle that keeps invaders out. The bailey of a medieval castle was usually built of stone. You might see a bailey — or the remains of one — if you tour a castle in England or France.

How did medieval guards work? ›

Guards in the middle ages were largely unpaid volunteers working for the local militia. In the Elder Scrolls series (Skyrim, for example), you either pay the fine, go to jail or die. You can also run away or bribe them. In reality, there were a lot more diverse options to punish lawbreakers.

Why do the Queen's guards stomp? ›

According to a report by DailyMail, the Queen's Guards are given specific orders to deal with obstacles that may come on their marching route. They are allowed to shout 'Make way for the Queen's Guards' and also stomp their feet.

What is the strongest part of a castle? ›

The castle gatehouse was one of the most defensive parts of any medieval fortress. It was a strong, fortified building positioned to defend the entrance to a castle. Gatehouses usually contained multiple traps and obstacles to foil any intruder.

Did medieval nobles have servants? ›

Nobles' families had sitting rooms called solars where the family gathered to play games and listen to music. There were stables and a large kitchen, both of which were staffed by servants. Castles were generally quite smoky.

Do castles have butlers? ›

Other specialized personnel associated with kitchen affairs were the pantler who looked after the pantry and the butler who took care of the storage of drinks and their serving at mealtimes. Large castles would employ other specialized personnel such as confectionery, cellarer, spicer, and larderer.

What was the hierarchy of servants? ›

They included: Footmen; Under-Butlers; Housemaids; Nursery-Maids; Still-room Maids; Kitchen Maids; Scullery Maids; Laundry-Maids; Dairymaids; Kitchen Men; Baker and Helpers.

Did knights have assistants? ›

A squire was a Middle Age term for a knight's assistant.

The squire served the knight as his assistant, carried his weapons, shield or armour, and had to defend his master in battle. Gradually the squire would be trained as a knight, and received his knighthood upon completion. He could then employ a squire of his own.

Where do servants live in a castle? ›

Inside the Walls. The outer wall of a castle was called the Bailey. Inside the Bailey were buildings where the lord of the castle's cattle, horses and servants lived.

Do lords and ladies have servants? ›

Even the lords and ladies of castles, when they were in residence, often shared a room with a servant or conducted some business in the same rooms in which they slept.

What was the head maid called? ›

Head house-maid: The senior housemaid, reporting to the Housekeeper. (Also called “House parlor maid” in an establishment with only one or two upstairs maids). Parlourmaid: They cleaned and tidied reception rooms and living areas by morning, and often served refreshments at afternoon tea, and sometimes also dinner.

Where did servants sleep in medieval castles? ›

Most however preferred the great hall, where it was safer and warmer. If the noble family had a separate private room, they may have had their personal servant sleep in the room with them. The servant would sleep on a pallet or trundle on the floor.

Were there maids in medieval times? ›

They were responsible for all the details of household maintenance so that their Masters could focus on matters more fitting to their social status. The service of multiple maids was widely considered essential to the management of sprawling palaces, castles and estates between the Middle Ages and the 19th century.

How many guards did a castle have? ›

Guard duty generally wasn't a full-time (or desirable) job. Castles could have garrisons of anywhere from a couple thousand to less than two dozen men.

What were female servants called? ›

A maid, or housemaid or maidservant, is a female domestic worker.

Did servants have days off? ›

Servants worked 17-hour days with time off limited to church on Sunday morning and one afternoon a week. SOCIAL historian Dr Pamela Cox, who presents Servants - The True Story Of Life Below Stairs, says: "Country houses wouldn't have been able to function without a vast hidden army of servants.

What are servants called? ›

amah, housemaid, maid, maidservant. a female domestic. skivvy, slavey. a female domestic servant who does all kinds of menial work. gentleman, gentleman's gentleman, man, valet, valet de chambre.

What are the ranks of knights? ›

The Order is divided into five grades of membership:
  • Knight / Dame Grand Cross – GCVO.
  • Knight / Dame Commander – KCVO / DCVO.
  • Commander – CVO.
  • Lieutenant – LVO.
  • Member – MVO.
  • Medal – RVM.

Who works under a lord? ›

A king (or lord) ruled large areas of land. To protect his land from invasion, the king gave parts of it to local lords, who were called vassals. In return, his vassals promised to fight to defend the king's land.

What is the son of a knight called? ›

The children of a knight, baron, or viscount have no titles at all other than Master and Mistress. All the sons of a marquis or a duke are styled lord. Only the eldest son of an earl is called lord (because he takes his father's secondary title and is one, by courtesy) though all an earl's daughters are styled lady.

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