Castle Life Supported by the brawn and taxes of the peasants, the feudal baron and his wife would seem to have had a comfortable life. In many ways they did, despite the lack of creature comforts and refinements. Around the 12th century, fortified manor dwellings began to give way to stone castles. Some of these, with their great outer walls and courtyard buildings, covered around 15 acres and were built for defensive warfare. Even during the hot summer months, dampness clung to the stone rooms, and the lord and his entourage spent as much time as possible outdoors.
At dawn, a watchman on top of the lookout tower blasted out a note on his bugle to awaken everyone in the castle. After a small breakfast of bread and wine or beer, the nobles attended mass in the chapel at the castle. The lord then went about his business. He first may have heard the report of an estate manager (a manager of plot of land). If a discontented or badly treated serf had fled, without a doubt, the lord would order special people called retainers to bring him back.
This is because serfs were bound to the lord unless they could evade him for a year and a day. The lord would also hear the petty offenses of the peasants and fine the culprits, or, he might even sentence them to a day in the pillory. Serious deeds, like poaching or murder, were legal matters for the local court or royal “circuit” court. The lady of the castle had many duties of her own. She inspected the work of her large staff of servants, and saw that her spinners, weavers, and embroiderers furnished clothes for the castle and rich robes for the clergy.
She and her ladies also helped to train the pages, who were well-born boys that came to live in the castle at the age of seven years. For seven years pages were taught in religion, music, dancing, riding, hunting, and some reading, writing, and arithmetic. When they turned 14, they became squires. The lord directed the training of the squires. They spent seven years learning the practices of chivalry and, above all this, of warfare.
At the age of 21, if they were worthy enough, they received the distinction of knighthood. Sometime between 9 AM and noon, a trumpet called the lord’s household to the great hall for dinner. Their, they wolfed down great quantities of soup, game, birds, mutton, pork, some beef, and often venison or boar slain in the hunt. In winter, the ill-preserved meat tasted fiercely of East Indian spices, bought at enormous cost to hide the rank taste. Great, flat pieces of bread called trenchers served as plates and, after the meal, were tossed to the dogs around the table or given to the poor.
Huge pies, or pasties, filled with several kinds of fowl or fish, were greatly loved. Metal, or wood cups, or leather “jacks” held cider, beer, or wine. Coffee and tea were not used in Europe until after the Middle Ages. Minstrels or jokers entertained at dinner. Hunting, games, and tournaments delighted nobles. Even the ladies and their pages rode into the field to loose falcons at game birds. Indoors, in front of the great open fire, there was chess, checkers, and backgammon.
Poet-musicians, called troubadours, would often chant and sing storied accomplishments of Charlemagne, Count Roland, or Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Dearest to the warrior heart of the feudal lord was the tournament, an extravagant contest of arms. Visiting knights and nobles set up their pavilions near the lists, or field of contest. Over each tent, a banner fluttered to show the rank of a contestant–here a count, there a marquis or a baron. The shield of each armor-ridden warrior was emblazoned, or decorated, to identify the bearer. The first day of the tournament, or tourney, was usually devoted to single combats, in which pairs of knights rode full speed at each other with 10-foot (3-meter) lances. The tournament’s climax was the melee, when companies of knights battled in adventurous mimic warfare.
A tournament cost the lord a fortune for hospitality and rich prizes given to the victors by the “queen of the tournament”. Tournaments had a cold and forbidding value–as practice for feudal warfare. Some battle or raid erupted almost daily, since medieval nobles settled their quarrels simply by attacking. If a lord coveted land, his couriers called his vassals to make a foray, or raid, of it. The peasants, in quilted battle coats, trudged along to fight on foot with their pikes and poleaxes. Despite the incalculable outbreaks, casualties were surprisingly few, as long, exhausting battles, were rare. Warring lords usually just burned the fields and villages of their enemies. After an encounter, the defending lord and his vassals usually fled to the safety of the castle. The castle could withstand many a stubborn siege.