The Household Staff in an English Medieval Castle (2022)

An English medieval castle, if a large one, could have a household staff of at least 50 people, which included all manner of specialised and skilled workers such as cooks, grooms, carpenters, masons, falconers, and musicians, as well as a compliment of knights, bowmen, and crossbow operators. Most staff were paid by the day, and job security was often precarious, especially for the lowest servants who were dismissed when a castle lord travelled away from the castle. More skilled workers such as the castle chaplain, the steward or general manager, and the marshal, who supervised the men-at-arms and stables, were paid by the year and might receive money and land in return for loyal service. A microcosm of the medieval world, the household staff worked as a team to meet the castle's often extensive needs of nourishment, defence, and entertainment.

The Household Staff in an English Medieval Castle (1)

Knights & Soldiers

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. They might also take part in attacks outside the castle grounds, perform bodyguard duties for the local lord and generally patrol the lord's lands as a reminder of the necessity for peasants to comply with regulations, calls for taxes, pay fines and so on.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

The knights of a castle might be permanently stationed there, and so their pay was met by the castle's lord. Another possibility was that local barons had to supply knights to a particular castle for a fixed term of service, especially those important for national defence like Dover Castle. Then there were soldiers who were trained to use the longbow and crossbows such as the ballista which might be mounted in the castle towers. Other men-at-arms acted as guards for the gate and as watchmen. Squires or trainee knights would have learnt their business at the castle, which might have a training area for jousting and swordsmanship.

Well-paid & sometimes given his own property near the castle, the steward kept a close record of the estate accounts.

The Steward

The lady of the castle was in charge of its daily management and supplies, but naturally, the mundane task of procurement, logistics, and staff management was usually in the hands of the castle steward or seneschal. The domestic staff of a large castle could easily exceed 50 people, so the role was not an easy one. The steward was also responsible for all financial and legal matters concerning the castle's estates. Such was the importance of the role and the weight of a steward's duties that by the 13th century CE a large castle might have two of them, one for the internal affairs of the castle and one for its estates. The latter steward was usually a knight, and he oversaw the local court (hallmote or halimote) which ensured that the law was applied in all local cases except serious crimes such as murder. The steward did not act as judge, a role fulfilled by a jury or body of suitors (local men of rank), but his presence gave weight to the final decision.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

(Video) Who Worked In A Medieval Castle?
YouTubeFollow us on Youtube!

The steward supervised any inner advisory circle of nobles the lord might have and sometimes represented the lord further afield such as at the royal court. If a lord were absent from his castle for any length of time such as during a war, the steward might take charge of the castle entirely. In the case of royal castles where the king was not, and could not be, present at all times, then a constable, who might also be the local sheriff, ran the castle in the sovereign's name.

The Household Staff in an English Medieval Castle (2)

As the steward represented the lord of the castle, then, it is perhaps not surprising that he looked the part and often wore fine robes with fur trim. Well-paid and sometimes given his own property near the castle, the steward kept a close record of the estate accounts and the regular income from tenants, taxes and fines paid to the castle's law courts.

Love History?

Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!

(Video) Medieval Household

The aristocracy of medieval England read handbooks on anything from table manners to falconry, and so there were, too, helpful guides on how to choose and manage one's castle staff, including the steward. The following extract is from one such manual titled Stewardship (Seneschaucie):

The seneschal of lands ought to be prudent and faithful and profitable, and he ought to know the law of the realm, to protect his lord's business and to instruct and give assurance to the bailiffs who are beneath him in their difficulties. He ought two or three times a year to make his rounds and visit the manors of his stewardship, and then he ought to inquire about the rents, services and customs…and about franchises of courts, lands, woods, meadows, pastures, waters, mills, and other things which belong to the manor… (Gies, 97-8)

Such were the demands of the steward's job that by the 13th century CE there were even training colleges for them such as the one at Oxford. There, following a course of 6 to 12 months, they could acquire the necessary skills in accounting, letter writing, and knowledge of the law.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

The Marshal

A castle always had stables as horses were essential for the knights, communication via messengers, hunting parties, and any general travel needs. Carts with two or four wheels were needed to transport supplies to and from the castle and came under the jurisdiction of the marshal who was in overall charge of the stables as well as the fighting force garrisoned at the castle if there was one. To assist the marshal in his duties of keeping track of everything, there would have been a number of clerks. Here, too in the courtyard buildings, was the blacksmith and carpenter who could repair the carts and anything else in the castle. The blacksmith made such necessities as horseshoes and sharpened knives, sheers and other agricultural tools, while the carpenter might be called on to make furniture and erect small buildings inside the castle. There might also be a master mason for repairs to the castle's stonework.

The Household Staff in an English Medieval Castle (3)

The grooms of a castle swept out the stables and had to look after not only the castles own horses but also those of guests and their retainers, who could be frequent and numerous. Ranked between the level of the grooms and the men-at-arms were the messengers who delivered letters, receipts, and goods across the castle's estates and beyond. Although a messenger received certain perks like special robes and a free pair of shoes each year, there were also hazards such as being made to eat the letter, seals and all, they had delivered to a displeased recipient and even being beaten and imprisoned.

(Video) Servants The True Story of Life Below Stairs 1

As hunting and falconry were hugely popular pastimes a castle might maintain its own pack of hunting dogs and a number of falcons. Huntsmen, falconers, and dog-handlers looked after these animals whose training could take years. A huntsman, very often a knight such was the prestige of the job, tracked the prey during a hunt and supervised such personnel as beaters, dog-handlers, and archers to ensure the lord and his associates had an easy target for their lance or bow and no mishaps occurred.

Another member of the chaplain's staff was the almoner who gave out daily alms to the poor, particularly dinner leftovers.

The Chaplain

Most castles had their own chapel and a permanent chaplain for the private use of the lord and his family. In a large castle, the chaplain was known as the chancellor. He presided over daily religious services but, thanks to his education in Latin or French, had other important duties besides ecclesiastical matters such as writing the business and personal correspondence of the castle's lord and using his seal. The chaplain had his own clerks which made up the castle's secretarial department, and he frequently travelled when the lord did, taking with him a portable altar. Another member of the chaplain's staff was the almoner who gave out daily alms to the poor, particularly dinner leftovers and any unwanted clothes. Finally, the chaplain was usually responsible for the education of the noble children in the castle.

Chamberlains, Laundresses & Personal Attendants

A chamberlain looked after the lord's own chamber and the wardrobes of the castle, including the liveries of the knights which usually carried the lord's coat of arms or badge. Some castles had a separate person, the keeper of the wardrobe, in charge of clothing, which was usually kept in wooden chests. The chamberlain might also be responsible for the Great Hall while the usher controlled who came in and out of it. The chamberlain's primary concern was the lord himself, though, and his general comfort. Once again, manuals were written for this important post with the following extract advising on the proper way to put his lordship to bed:

Take off his robe and bring him a mantle to keep him from cold, then bring him to the fire, and take off his shoes and his hose…then comb his head, then spread down his bed, lay the head sheet and the pillows, and when your sovereign is in bed, draw the curtains…Then drive out dog or cat, and see that there be basin and urinal set near your sovereign, then take your leave mannerly that your sovereign may take his rest merrily. (Gies, 123-4)

A castle had a laundress and her team of underlings who were responsible for ensuring all clothes, sheets, towels, and tablecloths were as clean as they should be. These items were washed in a wooden trough containing wood ashes and caustic soda and pounded. Extra duties might include washing the lady of the castle's hair.

(Video) Royal Servants - Part 1 of 2

Remove Ads

Advertisement

There were chambermaids to tidy up and make rooms ready, prepare the fires, and empty the chamberpots, and in larger castles, a resident barber, doctor, and dentist. Most domestic servants would have slept in shared chambers in either the cellars or attics of the castle buildings. There might also be simple buildings outside the castle for herdsmen, mill workers, wood-cutters, and craftspeople such as rope-makers, candle-makers, potters, basket-weavers, and spinners. These people would have worked and lived in such external buildings and withdrawn to the castle only if it came under attack.

The Household Staff in an English Medieval Castle (4)

The Kitchens

The cook was in charge of the kitchens and food preparation in the castle and was assisted by a team of undercooks, servers, and cupbearers. Youngsters would have had the menial tasks of washing, fetching and carrying, and turning the meat on a spit while it roasted, the 'spit-boys'. There was also the butler and his alcoholic drinks store in the buttery, the pantler in charge of the pantry with its supply of bread, the baker, and all kinds of specialists depending on the size of the castle such as a sauce chef, a dessert chef, a wafer maker, a brewer, a slaughterer, a poulterer, and a fruiterer. There were even members of staff responsible for specific aspects of the medieval dining experience like the tablecloths, the candles, and the silver dining service.

Entertainers

There were many kinds of professional entertainers in medieval England such as troubadours, actors, acrobats, and jesters, who toured and sought their living where they could. Minstrels (jongleurs), on the other hand, were in the permanent employ of the castle. They sang and played the lute, recorder, shawm (an early version of the oboe), vielle (an early violin), and percussion instruments such as drums and bells. They performed chanson de gestes and chansons d'amour, epic poems in Old French which told familiar stories of knightly daring deeds and impossible romances respectively.

HONORARY DOMESTIC ROLES

Many domestic roles inside a castle changed over time, of course, and some senior ones became an entirely honorary title with little practical connection to their original function. In the royal court, the position of steward, chancellor (chaplain), chamberlain and marshal all acquired much wider significance and were positions of real power. The chamberlain had control of the royal purse and the marshal was put in charge of the army. Even simple tasks at court such as arranging a banquet or bearing the king's cup at dinner became a great privilege and sign of rank, sometimes even a hereditary one.

Editorial ReviewThis article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

(Video) # Who worked in a medieval castle?

FAQs

How many people were in a medieval household? ›

He estimated that the average family contained 3.5 persons. Although his estimates have not been universally accepted and questions raised regarding his methodologies, the listings to suggest a preponderance of small, conjugal units.

How many people were in a medieval 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).

Who lived and worked in a medieval castle? ›

During the late Middle Ages, from the 10th to the 16th centuries, kings and lords lived in castles. As well as the lord, the lady (his wife), and their family there were lots of staff. Some were important officials, such as the constable who took care of the castle when the lord was away.

How many people worked in a castle? ›

An English medieval castle, if a large one, could have a household staff of at least 50 people, which included all manner of specialised and skilled workers such as cooks, grooms, carpenters, masons, falconers, and musicians, as well as a compliment of knights, bowmen, and crossbow operators.

What is a medieval servant called? ›

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

How many soldiers do you need for a castle? ›

It all depends. But in most cases, at full difficulty, 60 men against a castle defended by 200 is a relatively challenging fight. Originally posted by Tuidjy: With a combat beast character, you can take a heavily defended castle at 135% difficulty with just enough men to allow you to start a siege.

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.

Who is in charge of a castle? ›

Castellan: resident owner or person in charge of a castle (custodian).

What do maids do in castles? ›

Maidservant: The maidservant cleans the castle. She would sweep the floors, scrub them, empty the chamberpots, get rid of the ashes from the fire and ready the fire for later. She would make up the bed or strip it for the laundresses. She would wash anything that needed washing including furniture and ornaments.

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.

What did maids do in the medieval times? ›

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.

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 did people do in medieval castles? ›

To serve the lord, most castles would have been places of frenzied domestic activity. Life in a medieval castle was filled with a constant hubbub of busied work in the kitchens, preparations for celebrations in the Great Hall, and religious worship in each castle's own chapel.

How did castles work? ›

Castles served a primarily military purpose -- they housed armies and acted as garrisons that controlled a particular territory. Many castles were part of fortified towns and sheltered the surrounding villagers in times of war and siege. As time went on, castles also became residences for lords and kings.

What was the most common job in medieval times? ›

The five most common jobs were farming, carpentry, butchery, shoemaking and Church-related work.

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 most important for a castle? ›

Castles were common in Europe during the Middle Ages and were often the homes of royal families or other powerful people. The main purpose of castles was to protect the people who lived there from invasions. They were also a status symbol to show other people how important a family was.

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.

What did maids 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 jobs did servants do in medieval times? ›

Domestic servants in the Middle Ages were in charge of procuring, storing, and preparing food. Many male servants were military personnel and worked as gatekeepers and esquires. Some of them served other functions as well. At the lower level, servants were recruited from the localities.

What is a castle guard called? ›

Medieval Castle Gatekeepers

Apart from knights who directly participated in battlefield combat, the medieval castle also typically housed another body of troops. This body, called the gatekeepers, were of less noble origins and guarded different gates of the castle.

What does a castle guard do? ›

castle guard, in the European feudal tenure, an arrangement by which some tenants of the king or of a lesser lord were bound to provide garrisons for royal or other castles.

Where did knights sleep in a castle? ›

What other rooms were there in a Medieval castle? At the time of Chr tien de Troyes, the rooms where the lord of a castle, his family and his knights lived and ate and slept were in the Keep (called the Donjon), the rectangular tower inside the walls of a castle. This was meant to be the strongest and safest place.

How many guards would a count have? ›

A count will likely have 3 to 4 heavy cuirassiers like himself, as well as 6 or 7 viscount's guard-level cuirassiers.

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.

Who guarded a medieval castle? ›

Castle-guard was an arrangement under the feudal system, by which the duty of finding knights to guard royal castles was imposed on certain manors, knight's fees or baronies. The greater barons provided for the guard of their castles by exacting a similar duty from their sub-enfeoffed knights.

Who cleaned the castle? ›

A steward, also referred to as a seneschal was much more likely. His job was to take care of the estate and supervise the staff, as well as take care of the events in the great hall. The housekeeper would be in charge of the kitchen staff, the chambermaids, and cleaning of the estate.

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.

What were peasants houses called? ›

Peasants lived in cruck houses. These had a wooden frame onto which was plastered wattle and daub. This was a mixture of mud, straw and manure.

How did medieval people clean? ›

Clothes could be washed in a tub, often with stale urine or wood ash added to the water, and trampled underfoot or beaten with a wooden bat until clean. But many women did their washing in rivers and streams, and larger rivers often had special jetties to facilitate this, such as 'le levenderebrigge' on the Thames.

How did they clean in medieval times? ›

Soap was sometimes used and hair was washed using an alkaline solution such as the one obtained from mixing lime and salt. Teeth were cleaned using twigs (especially hazel) and small pieces of wool cloth.

What are a servants duties? ›

One of the first duties of the day was to light the fires so that the house was warm for when the family woke up. Other tasks included cleaning, preparing food and attending to the needs of the family. In smaller households, servants had a variety of jobs but in larger houses they might just have one specific job.

What is a queen's maid called? ›

A maid of honour is a junior attendant of a queen in royal households. The position was and is junior to the lady-in-waiting. The equivalent title and office has historically been used in most European royal courts.

What is a queen's helper called? ›

The Private Secretary is responsible for supporting The Queen in her duties as Head of State. The office holder is the channel of communication between the Head of State and the Government, not only in the United Kingdom but also in the 14 other realms of which The Queen is Sovereign.

What is a knight without a lord called? ›

A “freelance” was a knight without a lord in the Middle Ages. The word comes from the 19th century and refers to a particular kind of Medieval soldier. Most knights served one lord, whose castle and people they swore to defend with their main weapons, their sword and lance.

What is a male maid called? ›

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

Were ladies maids allowed to be married? ›

A great majority of female domestic servants did get married, of course. On the average, they were about 25 years old when they married. By the time of marriage, they had, on average, been in service for some twelve years, and had been placed in between three to five situations.

Where would a Lady's maid 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.

How many kids did medieval families have? ›

In rural England, between the twelfth century and the Black Death, the average number of children who survived infancy in poor families was slightly below two. This average improved to over two surviving children in landowning peasant families, and climbed to as high as five among the wealthiest noble households.

What was family like in the Middle Ages? ›

Life was harsh, with a limited diet and little comfort. Women were subordinate to men, in both the peasant and noble classes, and were expected to ensure the smooth running of the household. Children had a 50% survival rate beyond age one, and began to contribute to family life around age twelve.

How many servants would a Duke have? ›

Keeping even a modest home lit, heated, and clean could be a full-time job. Maintaining a grand home and an equally grand lifestyle might require a small army. The Duke of Westminster employed 50 servants at Eaton Hall. In large households, the master and mistress of the house did not directly supervise the help.

How many hours did medieval peasants work? ›

Consider a typical working day in the medieval period. It stretched from dawn to dusk (sixteen hours in summer and eight in winter), but, as the Bishop Pilkington has noted, work was intermittent - called to a halt for breakfast, lunch, the customary afternoon nap, and dinner.

What did babies eat in medieval times? ›

Alternate methods of feeding the child included soaking bread in milk for the child to ingest, soaking a rag in milk for the child to suckle, or pouring milk into his mouth from a horn.

How were children punished in medieval times? ›

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.

How were children treated in medieval times? ›

While people tended to have more children than they do now (although contraceptives were known, they were against the church's teachings), children weren't considered expendable or replaceable, even if a new baby was given the same name as a deceased child.

What are king servants called? ›

These courtiers included the monarch or noble's camarilla and retinue, household, nobility, clergy, those with court appointments, bodyguards, and may also include emissaries from other kingdoms or visitors to the court.

What did people in the Middle Ages call their parents? ›

In medieval Latin, people related by blood or marriage were called parentes (or parents/kin in modern English) and consanguinei (the plural form of consanguineus). Parentes formed a different community than the familia—the household—although some parents did live together with their adult children.

Were ladies maids allowed to be married? ›

A great majority of female domestic servants did get married, of course. On the average, they were about 25 years old when they married. By the time of marriage, they had, on average, been in service for some twelve years, and had been placed in between three to five situations.

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.

How much was a lady's maid paid? ›

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.

Did people used to work 7 days a week? ›

Thousands of years ago, the Babylonians believed seven planets existed. To honor that, they created the seven-day week. Back then, working all 7 days was thought to increase productivity. By the summer of 1886, workers were fed up with the status quo.

How much did peasants get paid? ›

Most peasants at this time only had an income of about one groat per week. As everybody over the age of fifteen had to pay the tax, large families found it especially difficult to raise the money. For many, the only way they could pay the tax was by selling their possessions.

What did medieval people have for breakfast? ›

Barley bread, porridge, gruel and pasta, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grain provided 65-70% of calories in the early 14th century.

Videos

1. Royal Servants: Behind Palace Doors | Secrets Of The Royal Servants |MULTIPLE LANGUAGE SUBTITLES |4K
(The Royal Family -RA)
2. Jobs in a Medieval Castle
(Dundonald Castle Education)
3. How Castles Turned Into Prisons With "Rod Hayes" #FreeLarryHoover
(The Young Elder)
4. Henry VIII's Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace
(Historic Royal Palaces)
5. Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England
(Recording Archaeology)
6. Life in a Medieval Village
(Simple History)

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Rueben Jacobs

Last Updated: 09/03/2022

Views: 6243

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rueben Jacobs

Birthday: 1999-03-14

Address: 951 Caterina Walk, Schambergerside, CA 67667-0896

Phone: +6881806848632

Job: Internal Education Planner

Hobby: Candle making, Cabaret, Poi, Gambling, Rock climbing, Wood carving, Computer programming

Introduction: My name is Rueben Jacobs, I am a cooperative, beautiful, kind, comfortable, glamorous, open, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.