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What Life Was Like In Medieval Castles

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09:45   |   Mar 19, 2019

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  • Movies and TV have made life in a castle look
  • like an episode of MTV Cribs, provided
  • you're one of the nobles.
  • But it wasn't all feasts and festivals.
  • Castles were dark, dank, smelly fortresses
  • loaded with vermin and disease.
  • Today we're exploring what life was really
  • like in a medieval castle.
  • If you were one of the lucky ruling class,
  • you got to indulge in rich wine and the occasional hot bath.
  • For the most part, there wasn't much comfort or relaxation
  • to be found outside of going to church
  • and torturing an enemy to death.
  • Before we get started, be sure to subscribe
  • to the Weird History Channel.
  • Oh, and that's not enough.
  • Leave a comment to us and let us know what topics
  • you would like to hear about.
  • [DRUM BEATS]
  • For Europeans in medieval times, plumbing
  • was a distant dream, which means there
  • was no such thing as running water and absolutely no way
  • to flush a toilet.
  • Waste just collected in a big cesspool beneath the toilets,
  • essentially making every castle a giant porta potty.
  • Now picture that porta potty on the hottest day of the summer.
  • Maybe that's why everyone on Game of Thrones
  • is so angry all the time.
  • And it wasn't just the perpetual stench
  • of feces making castle life stinky.
  • No running water means no baths, unless you were super rich.
  • So all the servants in a castle were
  • running around smelling as ripe as my old gym bag.
  • On top of that, the servants couldn't afford medicine,
  • like lords and nobles could.
  • So your average castle dweller was wandering around,
  • intensely ill and trying to make do with home remedies
  • or praying to God it would go away.
  • And hey, speaking of those toilets,
  • privacy wasn't really a thing in castles
  • unless you owned the place.
  • So when you had to run off to the bathroom
  • to do your necessaries, you'd be doing it
  • on a long wooden bench with several holes cut
  • into it in full view of your friends, coworkers, and really
  • anyone else who happened to walk by.
  • Again, there was no flushing.
  • So your business would just drop down
  • into a gigantic pit of horrors inside the castle.
  • And let's hope you never accidentally dropped your wagon
  • keys in there.
  • Because you might as well be throwing it
  • into a septic volcano.
  • You know how cramped the house gets when one or two relatives
  • come to visit.
  • Multiply that times 100, and that's what living in a castle
  • was like.
  • Castles required dozens of servants,
  • just to maintain the day-to-day workings,
  • not to mention the several generations of the lord
  • and lady's families living there and all
  • of their personal servants in attendance.
  • It was like living in a tiny, cramped city,
  • all serving the needs of a single family.
  • We've all seen enough fantasy films and Disney cartoons
  • to know that castles had dungeons where the lord
  • and lady could throw criminals, political opponents, or really
  • anyone who happened to offend them at any particular moment.
  • What they tend to skip in the Disney films
  • is that these prisoners were routinely
  • tortured in grotesque ways.
  • One popular method involved letting
  • the prisoner be eaten alive from the inside out by hungry rats.
  • Ah, isn't that fun to watch?
  • In addition to being just plain old sadistic,
  • the common belief was that the extreme pain helped cleanse
  • a person of their sins, which brings
  • terrifying new meaning to the phrase
  • "This is for your own good."
  • And while we're talking about rats--
  • Rats can be tricky to deal with, even today.
  • So imagine what it was like living
  • in a gigantic, dark, damp castle with no modern traps or pest
  • control.
  • Rats were everywhere.
  • And there really wasn't much you could do about them.
  • You just sort of accepted rat infestation
  • as a part of normal life, kind of like the Chevy Malibu
  • of the day.
  • After a while, you would imagine people
  • would get used to the rats.
  • But many medieval folks were deathly afraid of them.
  • It certainly didn't help that they were a popular instrument
  • of torture or that around this time,
  • they carried a plague that eradicated around half
  • the population of Europe.
  • At this point, it should come as no surprise
  • that castle dwelling folk liked to stay sauced.
  • Because the best way to get through a day
  • inside an overcrowded, pooh-smelling house
  • of rat torture was with a mug of ale firmly in hand.
  • The lords and ladies got to drink pretty much whatever
  • they wanted, including fine wines, beers, and spirits.
  • But the servants, they had to take what they could get.
  • It was actually safer to drink alcohol than water.
  • Because most water you could find would be so contaminated,
  • the TSA would confiscated it as a weapon.
  • With all that drinking going on, you'd
  • assume that most people in a castle
  • wouldn't drag themselves out of bed until, mm, at least noon.
  • And while that may have been true for the lords,
  • the servants had to get up to work
  • as soon as the sun came up.
  • Electricity obviously didn't exist yet.
  • So sunlight was crucially important.
  • Castles are dark places, even during the day.
  • So the servants had to capitalize
  • on every second of sunlight, just to get their work done.
  • Even if you didn't work in a castle,
  • unless you were wealthy, odds are
  • you worked as a merchant, or a craftsman, or a laborer,
  • so you had to be up at the crack of dawn
  • if you expected to make any money.
  • Contrary to popular belief, people
  • liked taking baths in medieval times,
  • as much as they do today.
  • It's just that clean water was hard to come by, especially
  • for the lower class.
  • We really can't stress how important plumbing is.
  • The tub itself was a cartoonishly giant wooden
  • bucket that could be carried from room to room
  • in the castle for people to bathe in.
  • Didn't approach the definition of either hygienic or private.
  • But at least you got to scrub off some of that castle funk.
  • Castles were essentially giant basements
  • with nothing in the way of insulation.
  • They were designed primarily as fortresses, rather than
  • dwellings.
  • So everything was made of cold stone.
  • And what few windows there were didn't let in much sunlight.
  • The lords and ladies would have the nicer rooms
  • with fireplaces and windows.
  • But the servants' quarters were often
  • located in the lower interior of the castles,
  • frigid, lightless warrens that were breeding grounds
  • for diseases that thrive in the damp cold.
  • At that point, I think I'd rather sleep outside.
  • There was always something going on in a castle,
  • whether celebrating some festival or holiday,
  • or entertaining a visiting noble family.
  • So consequently, huge extravagant meals
  • were the norm, rather than the exception.
  • If you were one of the cooks, you
  • got to spend all day preparing the feast
  • and then have your own meager meal in the kitchen.
  • Meanwhile, the lords and ladies of the house
  • would entertain their guests at a long wooden meal
  • table with people seated according to their importance.
  • The important people would be seated
  • at the head of the table, while the servants would
  • be tucked all the way in the back out of sight.
  • Because nothing ruins a meal like
  • having to look at poor people.
  • It's like going to the Waffle House after your wedding,
  • but sadder.
  • Meals were taken in the great hall of a castle.
  • And as we mentioned, you were seated in the hall
  • according to your status.
  • But your status didn't only affect where you got to sit,
  • it also determined what you got to eat.
  • The lord and lady and their family and guests
  • would be served gourmet dishes with exotic spices
  • and lavish ingredients.
  • If you were a servant, however, you
  • got to watch them eat this food while tucking
  • in some stew or a meat pie at the dim end of the table.
  • But hey, it could be worse.
  • At least you're eating.
  • More than 85% of a town's residents
  • were considered peasants and weren't
  • allowed inside the castle.
  • So even though they were working the land
  • for the lord or the lady, it was up to them
  • to feed themselves and their families.
  • The lord and lady of a castle were
  • responsible for governing the land, which
  • included regularly making a bunch of difficult decisions
  • and engaging in fierce political negotiations.
  • So they couldn't be bothered with trivial matters
  • like preparing their meals or making sure the castle didn't
  • fall into disrepair.
  • That's why every castle had a huge staff of servants.
  • In addition to the standard housekeeping duties
  • required to keep the castle running,
  • they also had to attend to the every need and whim of the lord
  • and lady and their families.
  • Nobody's job was easy.
  • But at least the lords and ladies
  • got to kick back once in a while.
  • As we've established by now, castles
  • were essentially reeky stone garbage heaps.
  • Part of the never-ending effort to keep the castle relatively
  • clean was the spreading of rushes, reeds, and herbs
  • across the floor.
  • The plants would absorb the unsightly spills
  • and hopefully cover up some of the more unbearable stenches.
  • Switching out the old rushes for clean ones
  • was not unlike moving a body, as beer, grease, fragments, bone,
  • spittle, excrements of dogs and cats,
  • and everything that is nasty would be revealed.
  • Basically, wherever you went in the castle,
  • you were walking on a layer of barely concealed filth.
  • Sounds like my college dorm room.
  • In the time before microwaves, George Foreman grills, and Sur
  • la Table, all cooking was done over open flames, which
  • could be a problem if you're cooking
  • in a building full of timber and hay.
  • In the first half of the Middle Ages,
  • most Kitchens were built out of wood for reasons
  • that history has not yet adequately explained.
  • Consequently, your entire kitchen catching fire
  • over a stray ember from today's lunch service
  • was a constant possibility.
  • Everyone and everything were flame broiled.
  • It wasn't until later that stone became
  • the building material of choice and hearths
  • were constructed to keep cook fires contained.
  • Oh, OSHA just liked this video.
  • Every castle had an on-site chapel
  • so the lord and lady could attend morning mass.
  • In fact, along with the great hall,
  • the chapel was the defining structure of the castle.
  • Everything else was constructed around those two primary rooms.
  • If you lived in a particularly fancy castle,
  • the chapel would be two stories so
  • that the lord and lady and their families
  • could sit in the upper level and literally look down
  • on the servants.
  • Look at that poor person.
  • So gross.
  • The Middle Ages were tough, so much so that even the best case
  • scenario of living in a castle was pretty much a miserable
  • experience.
  • How would you like it in a castle?
  • Let us know in the comments below.
  • And while you're at it, check out some of these other videos
  • from our Weird History.

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Description

Despite what pop culture might have you believe, living in a medieval castle wasn't all that glamorous. If you were one of the lucky ruling class, you got some wine or the occasional hot bath. But with the lack of plumbing, castles smelled pretty ripe. Not to mention rats. So many rats. Today we're getting real about what living in a medieval castle was like, and it's not that pretty.

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