Being built in the Middle Ages, you might wonder if the castles still standing have electricity?
The majority of castle’s today that are restored and open to the public also have a modern electricity supply throughout the building. Exceptions are some abandoned castles with no electricity or a basic wiring system for decorative illumination purposes.
How in the world did they manage to lighten such an enormous dark and almost with no windows edifices back then?
Let’s find out!
How did the castles use to be lit prior to the electricity?
To lighten a castle before the invention of electricity, our ancestors used artificial light sources like candles, oil lamps, chandeliers, torches, hearths and natural light.
The stone Castles were first and foremost a fortress or a fortified residence if you like in the Middle Ages.
That’s why safety was considered over the comfort back then, a mighty wooden or stone home that nobody can break into.
The lack of windows in such strongholds made them quite dark, one of the reasons that many historians call the Middle Ages the dark era.
Please don’t get confused by the movies today showing there were oil lamps and torches every 2m in the castle; it’s false.
With the help of studio lighting and editing software, the filmmakers highlight the interior of the castles to get the best effect on the big screen.
Another regular misconception that we can blame video games and movies is that the household kept the oil lamps and torches in the Middle Ages all night.
In fact, the people who inhabited the castle daily tended to go to bed early and rise with the sun, relying primarily on the natural light.
However, our ancestors were quite creative and innovative; judging by the historical documents, let’s analyse how they coped with the illumination of the fortresses.
Candles used in medieval castles
Candles were probably one of the most widely used forms of lighting in the Middle Ages, not just inside the fortresses.
Originating from 500 BCE, Romans made them from tallow (rendered animal fat) and then replaced them with beeswax.
Beeswax candles were highly efficient, without any pungent smell and portable compared with tallow candles or torches.
You could carry it to lighten your way through the castle and then put it away when not required.
Chronicles emphasise how expensive these candles used to be back then, that only rich men could afford them.
Oil lamps in the Castles
Another form of lighting with a history of thousands of years also comes in different shapes and compositions depending on the kingdoms and era you are reading about.
In the beginning, oil lamps were made of ceramic materials, later developed into bronze, metal, silver and gold.
Oil lamps are pretty unsophisticated, working pretty much in the same way as candles.
A container full of oil at room temperature with a wick dropped into it and lit at the end, burning the oil as it’s drawn up to the wick.
Along with candles, the oil lamps were extensively used in the Middle Ages later replaced with gas lamps that are still in use today in some countries.
As great halls in the Castles got more grandiose, Frenchmen took advantage of the high ceilings by inventing ceiling hanging chandeliers called candelabras or ceiling rose.
A more fashionable way of lighting that kings and nobles used not just for illumination but also to show off their wealth and impress the guests of the court.
The early chandeliers consisted of a simple wooden frame supporting the candles and lowered down when needed.
Candelabras evolved through the centuries and never lost their importance in buildings like churches, royal palaces and theatres.
You can contemplate the masterpiece of chandeliers in such buildings lit by electric bulbs or simply decorative.
Unlike candles and oil lamps, torches were extremely impractical indoors, as they created a lot of smoke.
It would be impossible to survive in a castle filled with hundreds of torches, as manifested in Hollywood movies.
Even though castles have good ventilation in cases with torches, it is still a toxic environment to live in.
It was indeed a convenient handheld light source, but more commonly in the courtyard and the castle’s walls during a siege or a ceremony.
Natural light in the Castles
If we have a close look at castle floor plans before electricity arrived, there wasn’t much artificial lighting needed.
The high cost of Artificial lighting made it inadequate and expensive even for the wealthy nobles. That’s why natural light was king.
The medieval architects designed the rooms of the castles to get the maximum benefit of the sunlight by arranging them directly facing the outside or inner courtyard.
Moreover, it is also not a secret that with the sunset, the household will also spend more time in front of the fireplace, which was often the only lighting used in the great hall.
The only room where the natural light won’t reach is cellars and basement storerooms.
Although people won’t usually hang out in these rooms for long, they would bring candles along.
What does it take to run electricity in a Castle today?
Exchanging the older or installing a new electricity supply to a castle today is costly and delicate. It requires permissions, planning, risks assessment, inspections, and qualified professionals.
How did they keep the Castles warm?
Ancestors warmed the first stone castles with the help of hearts and a fireplace usually located in the great hall. In the following decades, the chimneys were added to every room needed in the Castles and tapestries to keep the heat.
We must give credit to all the castle renovators that managed to keep its genuine medieval feel throughout the castle by hiding all the wiring and various conduits.
I get pretty disappointed when entering a medieval fortress, and you are literally surrounded by modern renovation or at least have nothing to do with the Middle Ages.
Thanks for your time, and I hope you enjoyed the article!
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