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Amber 4: Life in a Castle.


Life in a Castle

Life in the Middle Ages in Armenia was much as in other parts of the Feudal world, with the lord and his family and retinue being served by chambermaids, servants and scribes indentured to their royal house.

We have romantic images of living in a castle, reinforced by novels and movies, but in fact life in a castle—for even the lord and his family—was not easy.

There was no central heating, except for the central hearth or fireplace, which had to be tended to be efficient. Of course, that heat was usually saved for the lord and his family. Servants, soldiers, and others made do with tiny lamps and shivered a lot in the cold medieval nights. Even during the warmest months of the year, the castle retained a cool dampness and everyone spent as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors.

The day began at sunrise, when one of the guards trumpeted the day's start. Servants had already begun to stir, ensuring the fires were lit in the kitchen and great hall and getting the morning meal underway. Since dinner was not served until mid day, they had at least a few hours to fulfill their other chores while the stews or soups bubbled in the iron pots. All floors had to be swept, cleared of any debris, and basins washed out.

Once the lord and his lady had arisen, chambermaids ventured into their apartments, swept and emptied chamber pots and wash basins, and the laundress also began the day's wash. A small breakfast was taken by all, and then the lord and his family entered the church for morning service.

The lord—owning large provinces along with their villages and peasants—would spend some of each day managing his affairs, working closely with his advisors, which often included a religious figure. The church was deeply involved in political as well as religious affairs, with several outstanding bishops and statesmen (Magistros Pahlavuni among them) shaping international decisions and settling internecine feuds.

The men would engage in the hunt, an early morning ritual that included hawking and sticking wild boars, roe deer, wild goats and sheep, also bear and panther.

The lady of the castle was served by ladies-in-waiting and chambermaids. She spent much of the day overseeing their work, as well as the kitchen staff, spinners, weavers, and embroiderers.

When a group of soldiers was stationed at a castle, they comprised its garrison. Individual members included the knights (“Aspetner”), guards, watchmen, and men-at-arms. Each soldier had his own place in an attack and his own skill to rely upon. Some were archers, lancers, or wielded swords. Medieval warfare was definitely a highly complex process, despite the simplicity of the weapons.

Castles must have been noisy - and smelly, lively, active - places. Livestock roamed inside the stables, blacksmiths clanged out ironwork in the forges, the soldiers practiced their skills, and children played when lessons were completed. Various craftsmen worked diligently in the inner ward, including those who made armor, cookware, hoops for storage barrels and tools.

Holidays were times for letting loose of inhibitions and forgetting the stresses of life. The peasants as well as the castle's household found time for pleasure and they are admonished in manuscripts for sometimes behaving too freely.