What is Inside a Medieval Castle?

A usual question when someone arrives in front of a castle, what’s inside?

Picture by Dennis Wilkinson on Flickr.com

Most frequently, an interior of a Medieval Castle contains a complex of rooms like;

  • The Great Hall
  • Gatehouses
  • Bed Chambers
  • Solars
  • Bathrooms & Lavatories 
  • Kitchens, 
  • Pantries, 
  • Larders 
  • Butteries
  • Chapels 
  • Cabinets 
  • Boudoirs
  • Storerooms, Undercrofts & Cellars
  • Ice Houses
  • Dovecotes
  • The Well

Some of the words might sound quite odd as they are no longer used, but you will have a clear picture of what it was like inside a castle after reading the article.

Inside a Medieval Castles

Of course, these rooms weren’t a standard across the board as all the castles could slightly vary from one to another.

Some were strictly military-oriented that hosted the garrisons or a small army, with nearly no room for a king to stay overnight.

By contrast, King’s Castles were spacious and fulfilled with all the necessary welfare at the time for a comfortable reign and defence.

Only after the 14th-15th centuries, there was no need for such mighty shelters, and nobles moved out into more extravagant palaces and stately homes.

Luckily, today we have access to many castles that are well maintained and opened to anyone willing to explore them throughout.

So, let’s analyse every room of a Medieval Castle;

The Great Hall, the castle’s main room

Warwick Castle's great Hall
Picture of Warwick Castle’s great hall by floato on Flickr.com

The Great Hall is usually the castle’s main hall, the largest and tallest room within the court where kings and nobles perform essential daily activities during their reign.

The picture above represents the Warwick castle’s great hall

Located mostly in the safest part of the castle (in the keep), it has a rectangular shape with a raised podium at the back and the king’s throne.

It functioned as a social and administrative hub in a castle throughout the medieval period, where kings would meet distinguished guests and host ceremonies.

Back then, you would find the great hall, the most lavishly decorated place in the castle, the symbol of influence and wealth.

The Anglo-Saxons and Normans firstly introduced the great halls at scale in the early Middle Ages. 

Generally, the great halls would have a massive door as the main entrance and a couple of smaller exits to the private chambers and kitchens.

Gatehouses, the guard of the castle’s gate.

The gatehouse is an additional fortified structure built on top of the castle’s main entrance gate or surrounded by curtain walls.

Picture of a gatehouse in medieval castle
Picture by Patrick Costello on Flickr.com

Upgrading it continuously to a larger and more complex structure, the engineers thrived to achieve an ultimate defence of the castle’s main gate.

As the castle gates were the enemy’s primary target during the siege, the gatehouses will typically be the heaviest armoured part of the castle.

Firmly fortified gatehouses will usually have drawbridges, portcullises, arrow loops, machicolations and sometimes murder-holes.

Bed Chambers, the Lord’s bedrooms in a castle.

Bed Chambers were Lord’s and Lady’s private bedrooms, the most furnished and comfortable bedrooms in a castle with easy access to the main hall and kitchens.

King’s bed chamber in medieval castle
Picture by Wally Gobetz on flickr.com

Many castles managed to restore such rooms to carbon-copy of the original ones back then.

The current owners of Chateau Tennessus in France, the rooms which seem untouched since the 17th century, went ahead and turned the castle into a fully working hotel with a bed and breakfast.

Solars, the King’s rest room.

Also called solar was a room in the castle smaller than the great hall where the Kings will rest in privacy after the daily activities. In many Norman and Frech castles, it was considered the key inner family room.

Solar room  in a medieval castle
Picture by Andy / Andrew Fogg on flickr.com

These rooms were frequently built in the English and French castles on the upper storey with access to the court’s main staircase and corridors.

Bathrooms, Lavatories and Garderobes in a Medieval Castle.

The bathrooms were known as garderobes back in the Middle Ages and were relatively small.

The Lords would have their private Garderobes in some castles, which contained the bath and the latrine (toilets).

The bath was a transportable wooden tub that sometimes was used outside in the summer.

What is a latrine in a castle?

The latrine was the first example of a toilet within the castles in a tiny room with a hole in the floor pointing outside, usually in a moat.

Latrine a medieval castle’s toilet
Picture by Prioryman on commons.wikimedia.org

The later examples of latrines even had decorated walls, floors and ceilings.

Kitchens in a Medieval Castle

In the early stone castles, the kitchens, the castle’s busiest place, were kept close to the dining rooms and main halls.

Picture of a kitchen inside the medieval castle
Picture by Duch.seb

Having a dining room and kitchen in the same space made efficient use of the fireplace’s heat, not just during the winter.

Gradually the engineers moved the kitchens to isolated wings or even out in the separate buildings in the Bailey.

Pantries, Medieval Castle’s bread storage.

Deriving from the French word “pan”, which means bread, the pantry was the room where the kitchen staff would store bread.

What is larder the castle?

The larder was a cool, dry place before refrigerators took their place, often close to the castle’s kitchen, keeping the food fresh before serving.

Larders had shelves inside for easy food storage and were kept clean, in some cases tiled or painted.

Butteries, the castle’s alcohol storage.

No, it wasn’t the room for storing butter, but beer.

Because of hygiene, drinking water back then wasn’t the safest thing to do. So the people consumed beer instead.

Don’t worry; it wasn’t as strong as nowadays. A man could still ride a horse in the straight line easily, even after a couple of pints.

In the butteries to those who weren’t entitled to drink wine would be served beer.

Chapels & Oratories inside Medieval castle.

The chapels and oratories were relatively small rooms at the beginning of castle-building designed for praying, used by all household members.

A chapel in medieval castle
Photo © Lairich Rig (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Christianity wasn’t a choice but mandatory unless you were a powerful nobleman like Frederick II, who expressed disbelief in medieval times.

You could find it quite close to the great hall and usually was the same high.

Cabinets 

Also called closets, boudoir, study or office, the cabinets were the equivalent of today’s private offices.

The nobles saw it more reasonable to heat a smaller room than a big hall for one man to study, read, write or have private meetings.

Storerooms, Undercrofts & Cellars

Storerooms 

The people in the castle used this room to store the non-perishable food items and all other necessities.

Undercroft

The undercroft in a medieval castle
Picture by Tom Parnell on Flickr.com

Many of the early undercrofts were vaulted and groined in other types of simple storerooms that often were rented out of the shops.

Place of Arms

It is a large room in a castle where the soldiers would usually assemble before or after the battle.

Ice Houses in a castle 

The ice house was a small room, usually in the basement or underground, where the people stored perishable food, cold drinks and dessert in the ice collected in the winter.

In the picture below, you can see an example of an Ice House at Sherborne Castle.

The ice house in a castle
Picture by Elliott Brown on Flickr.com

Surprisingly this was the mediaeval version of a freezer in the form of a large, stone darkroom.

These rooms could be found in the basement under the walls or even in the open field.

Efficiently insulated, it could keep the ice stored in the winter up until the summer.

In England, the people introduced the first ice houses in 1660, which travellers brought from counties like Italy.

Dovecotes in a medieval castle 

Dovecote in the castle was a freestanding building of rectangular or circular shape within a court that will host doves and pigeons.

The dovecotes in a castle
Picture by distelAPPArath on pixabay.con

And it wasn’t just a delicacies food source but also a symbol of status and power which the nobles only were entitled to have.

Dovecotes were very popular in Western Europe, especially in England in France.

However, there are examples of dovecotes dating back to do Roman Empire in Egypt.

What is the Castle Well?

A castle well was a water well built within a castle to supply the court with potable water.

A well in a castle
Picture by Efraimstochter on pixabay

Obviously, one of the most vital elements when it comes to the siege, as the water wells outside the castle’s walls will get poisoned by the enemy.

For many cases digging well was the most time-consuming and costly feature of the court that could last for years.

Final thoughts

Like many other castle enthusiasts, you probably asking yourself how all these rooms were lit back then? Before electricity appeared?

Well, we believe the answer is here in this article, give it ago in your spare time.

Likely, you won’t find all the rooms and features mentioned above is just one castle, and you might need to check quite a few.

However, if castles visits are on your schedule often, you definitely have a chance to admire the well-preserved interiors.

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Mihail Ghelbur

I have been a castle lover since I remember myself, couldn't go past a castle without finding all I could about it. Now my goal is to visit every single one of them and share it with you! https://castletourist.com/about-mihail-ghelbur/

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