Table of contents:

11 medieval castle myths you shouldn't believe in
11 medieval castle myths you shouldn't believe in

No gloomy corridors, dungeons and stone bags. And the alligators in the moats too.

11 myths about medieval castles you shouldn't believe in
11 myths about medieval castles you shouldn't believe in

1. Towers with galleries are very important for defense

Myths about medieval castles: Marienwerder Castle, Kwidzyn, Poland
Myths about medieval castles: Marienwerder Castle, Kwidzyn, Poland

Take a look at the photo: this is the Marienwerder Castle, located in the Polish city of Kwidzyn. It was built by the Teutonic Order and served as the seat of the bishop. The rectangular tower in the foreground is separated from the main castle building and is connected to it by a covered 55-meter long gallery-bridge.

Such buildings are not uncommon in rich castles of the late Middle Ages. They are especially common in the Ordersburgs - German fortresses erected by the crusaders. They are often transferred from real architecture to films and computer games. The designers of the Dark Souls series, for example, are obsessed with these constructs.

Fantasy fans speculate that the towers with adjoining galleries were very important to the defense of the castle. Allegedly, the archers, having occupied the bridge, bravely fired back there from the pressing enemies.

But the truth is much more prosaic and ugly. Of course, such a turret - by the way, it is called Dansker 1.

2. - used to protect the castle, if the besiegers attacked from the other side. But it was rarely located near the entrance to the fortress, preferring to build on the outskirts. Because this is a toilet.

Yes, the crusaders were so cool that they built a separate tower just to fulfill their natural needs.

Sometimes the dansker was also ironically called the "Golden Tower", because from there they dug out "night gold", that is, feces. They were used in agriculture for the preparation of compost and fertilizers.

By the way, imagine what it would be like to run there over a 55-meter bridge every time you want to go to the bathroom. And when are the besiegers below? If these scoundrels bring down the gallery, throwing a shell from the trebuchet into it, you can be left without a toilet. We'll have to endure until the war is over.

2. All spiral staircases in the locks are twisted clockwise

Medieval Castle Myths: The Spiral Staircase at Hearst Castle, Hampshire, UK
Medieval Castle Myths: The Spiral Staircase at Hearst Castle, Hampshire, UK

Spiral staircases are regularly found in medieval towers. If you visit any castle on a guided tour, your guide will tell you that they were built in a special way - by turning them clockwise.

If enemies burst into the tower, it will be difficult for them to fight the defenders of the fortress, standing a couple of steps higher. After all, most people hold a weapon in their right hand, and a shield in their left. When the attackers begin to swing, their swords and axes will bump into the wall. And at the garrison of the fortress there will be enough space to swing the blades, and their blows will be effective.

Sounds easy, that's just a delusion. Firstly, no medieval documents on the construction of castles contain any mention of the need to build stairs in this way.

Secondly, not all fortresses have lifts twisted clockwise, that is, from left to right. A group of historians Castle Studies Group counted more than 85 castles in England alone, where they were built from right to left. And scientists from the University of Chester generally found that about 30% of all fortresses in Europe do not comply with the "clockwise" rule.

And finally, during medieval battles, stabbing blows were more often inflicted: they were much more effective in piercing clothing and armor. Neither the besiegers nor the defenders could strike a chopping blow in a cramped room or in a formation. Therefore, in the castle, warriors would rely more on spears and swords than on axes and clubs.

So it didn't really matter which way to build the stairs. And medieval architects, apparently, did not bother with this.

But to push opponents who have burst into the fortress from a height, poking them with spears is a very good idea. Therefore, the steps in many towers were made very narrow, so that it was difficult to stand on them with the whole foot. Not resisting and rolling head over heels, collecting numerous fractures along the way, it was as easy as shelling pears.

The myth of the “rule of the hour hand” appeared thanks to a 1902 essay by the English scientist Theodore Andrea Cook. This gentleman was not a historian, but only an art critic and an amateur swordsman. He studied spirals in architecture and simply came up with a theory about the relationship between right-handedness and the direction of spiral staircases.

3. The castles smelled strongly

Myths about medieval castles: Abbey of Senanque, Vaucluse, France
Myths about medieval castles: Abbey of Senanque, Vaucluse, France

Many fans of the "realistic and dark" Middle Ages claim that castles smelled like feces, urine, mold and damp all the time. And the lords during the feasts, having sorted out the wine, got up from the table, left the banquet hall into the corridor and relieved themselves right there.

And these are some kind of intellectuals - real knights performed all the necessary procedures right on the spot, without turning away from the ladies and without taking off their armor! Joke.

In general, in the Middle Ages, hygiene was not nearly as good as it is now. There were no such benefits of civilization as running water in castles. Although there was always a source of clean water - for example, a well. But in order to wash properly, it was necessary to force the servants to heat the water on the fire.

Nevertheless, the stories that the castles stank terribly are not entirely true.

For example, there is evidence that the floor in the fortresses was covered with reeds by the servants. And they changed it regularly to maintain a pleasant smell and cleanliness.

If the owner of the castle was not just a small knight, but a decadent rich feudal lord, then the floors were generally covered with aromatic herbs: lavender, hyssop, thyme and meadowsweet. All this good was grown in specially designated fields, where peasants were forbidden to walk and graze livestock.

In addition, fragrant plants, including roses, were thrown into the water for baths and washbasins, and garlands of flowers were hung around the rooms to create comfort. Household items were sprinkled with clove and lavender powders. Aromatic herbs were also added to food and drink: sage, lavender and coriander were believed to help with headaches and fever.

The reason for such a passion for scented plants is superstition. In the Middle Ages, it was considered 1.

2. that unpleasant odors, called miasms, are associated with diseases. Don't believe me? And you smell what it smells like in the plagued quarter, and doubts will disappear. When the crusaders returned from the Middle East and brought perfume and rose water with them, the nobles were crazy about these innovations: they were considered not so much aesthetic as healing.

The feudal lords went to great lengths to make the air in their homes as pleasant as possible. Of course, no one cared so much about the servants and did not cover their rooms with lavender. Nothing, they will live in miasms, not sugar ones. And go to another world, and do not mind. Who counts these maids with footmen?

Medieval Castle Myths: Wardrobe at Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, England
Medieval Castle Myths: Wardrobe at Peveril Castle, Derbyshire, England

And yes, drunk lords did not urinate in the corridors. No, of course, there may have been such originals, but this was clearly not a mass phenomenon. They did it in wardrobes - but not in wardrobes.

Not everyone could afford the construction of danskers. And not everyone wants to run to the toilet-tower over the bridge every time. Therefore, in simpler fortresses, small covered balconies with a hole in the floor were built instead. You could go there, intelligently close the curtains and do whatever you need to do. This room was delicately called a wardrobe.

4. There were large dungeons under the castles

Medieval Castle Myths: The Lower Tier of Blarney Castle, Ireland
Medieval Castle Myths: The Lower Tier of Blarney Castle, Ireland

It is believed that any self-respecting castle should have dungeons, secret passages, dungeons, wine cellars and many dark tunnels. In them, of course, you can easily stumble upon the skeletons of the fortress builders, forgotten there centuries ago. Traveling through the labyrinths, always with torches in their hands, the lords buried their treasures there, in the dark. Well, or the bodies of accidentally killed spouses.

It looks sinister and romantic at the same time. But there were no dungeons under real castles.

Dungeons in medieval fortresses were located in towers, not underground. The fact is that they were intended primarily for rich prisoners - knights and lords taken prisoner on the battlefield and able to give a ransom for their freedom.

It was not necessary to keep any guilty commoners in the castle prison. Feed them at your own expense? What else is in mind. They were simply flogged for minor misconduct or hanged if the crime was serious. And imprisonment as punishment was incredibly rarely resorted to, so the castle was simply useless in a large dungeon. And the few prisoners are easier to keep in the tower than in the basement: it's harder to escape from there if you can't fly.

Food, wine and supplies were also kept not in basements, but in specially built rooms to protect their goods from rats and moisture.

And, finally, castles were erected on solid foundations, or even on a rock: on unsteady soil, powerful thick walls under their own weight will begin to sag, become vulnerable, or even collapse altogether. So it was very difficult and dangerous to dig large dungeons under them.

Medieval Castle Myths: Blarney Castle
Medieval Castle Myths: Blarney Castle

The castle could be equipped with a secret passage in order to escape unnoticed if the enemy broke through. Although they often refused this: what if the besiegers find him? Digging labyrinths and catacombs would never have occurred to any medieval architect.

5. The castles were filled with people all the time

Medieval Castle Myths: Bumboro Castle, Northumberland, England
Medieval Castle Myths: Bumboro Castle, Northumberland, England

Most of the fortresses were relatively small buildings - monsters like Windsor or Bumboro, which look more like cities, do not count. It is a rarity. And even if the castle looks impressive from the outside, it must be borne in mind that there is relatively little living space in it: most of the premises are defensive functions.

Therefore, many believe that these buildings were incredibly cramped. People lived on each other's heads: the lord, his lady and family, a bunch of soldiers, servants, peasants serving the surrounding plots and a lot of people. However, this was not entirely true.

Most of the time, the castles, oddly enough, were empty. Only a small garrison looked after them.

Many feudal lords did not live in them permanently. If a lord had several castles, he periodically moved from one to another with his family, guards, retinue and servants. At the same time, most of the things - up to dishes, tapestries, candlesticks and bed linen - were taken with them so as not to leave anything valuable in the castle.

Surveillance cameras were not yet widespread, so in the absence of the lord, servants could steal. Therefore, property that could not be screwed to the floor was taken away from sin.

The richer the lord was, the more he traveled. Thus, King Henry III changed residences on average 80 times a year. A simpler lady, Countess Jeanne de Valens, for example, moved about 15 times from May 1296 to September 1297.

And even relatively small feudal lords, who had only one castle (just something, yeah), preferred to spend most of their time in their country estates, where there is fresh air and a lot of good food. And they stopped in the fortress only if the army of another lord approached them with obviously ill intentions.

And, by the way, for the defense of a well-fortified citadel, large garrisons were not required - a maximum of 200 people gathered there at a time, or even less.

For example, in 1403, a detachment of 37 archers twice successfully defended Carnarfon Castle from the army of Prince Owain IV of Wales and his allies, who were trying to take the building by storm. As a result, the prince got out of his sleep.

And the English stronghold of Wark on the border with Scotland in 1545 was guarded by 10 artillerymen and 26 horsemen, who went on guard for 8 people. And they were quite enough 1.

2. to fight off attacks.

Moreover, too many soldiers in the fortress were frankly harmful, because they did not do anything particularly useful - all the same, they would not fit on the walls during the assault. But at the same time, they consumed a lot of supplies.

6. A normal castle should have a "stone bag" for prisoners

Myths about medieval castles: the kill at Idstein Castle, Hesse, Germany
Myths about medieval castles: the kill at Idstein Castle, Hesse, Germany

This thing will kill you from the French “forget”. Such narrow stone rooms were found in many castles. They descended only by rope. And it was impossible to get out without help. They were also called the hard-to-pronounce word angstloh - from the German word for "hole of fear."

Some believe that such a dungeon is needed to throw prisoners there and keep them there for many years, until the unfortunate go crazy. A terrible fate. But this is not true.

It sounds intimidating, but in fact, no one in the Middle Ages would have bothered to equip a separate room for prisoners. As already mentioned, the captured lords were kept in towers, and they were not subjected to any brutal torture - so that the prisoner's family would rather think about collecting a ransom, and not rush to take revenge.

In reality, ubliets were used 1.

2. as storage facilities for various supplies, water tanks, a kind of safes for valuables, and sometimes even septic tanks. Large piles of stones were also found in many of them.

What were the cobblestones for? And to throw themselves at the besiegers during the assault.

As for the terrible name angstloch, in Latin about the same word means "narrow". The myth of "stone bags" for the prisoners kept there appeared in the 19th century, when the novels about the misadventures of the knights of the Middle Ages gained particular popularity. In particular, the word ubliet was popularized by Walter Scott with his Ivanhoe.

7. A typical castle is gray and harsh

Medieval Castle Myths: Great Hall at Barley Hall Castle, York, England
Medieval Castle Myths: Great Hall at Barley Hall Castle, York, England

This misconception is found in literally every historical film and TV series, from Braveheart to Vikings. The castles are shown there as dull boulders that look as uncomfortable from the inside as from the outside.

Gray walls, heavy vaults, a minimum of furnishings and amenities - even the royal residences on the screen look more like caves than the dwellings of the richest and most powerful people of that time.

But in fact, real fortresses look gloomy and abandoned, because no one has lived in them for a long time.

When the castles were inhabited, the feudal lords who lived there sought to decorate their homes. The walls were plastered, painted, and sometimes in rather bright colors, or whitewashed with lime. The rooms were decorated with tapestries and murals, and sometimes with fabric wallpaper. And this is not to mention fashionable (for its time) and expensive furniture.

Naturally, if you go on an excursion to an unrepaired fortress, you will see it uninhabitable. Over the centuries, plaster has crumbled, tapestries and wallpaper decayed, and murals faded. But this does not mean that castles have always looked like this.

8. Large halls in castles were used only for feasts

Medieval Castle Myths: The Great Hall at Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, England
Medieval Castle Myths: The Great Hall at Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, England

In our view, the large hall, which was in almost all medieval castles, is a place specially designated for banquets and feasts. It was there that the lord and his vassals, as well as dozens of guests, gathered to have another feast, drink wine, dance with the ladies of the court and laugh at the antics of jesters and jokers.

However, the main hall, or hall, in medieval castles was intended 1.

2. primarily not for feasts. They were, of course, held there, but only from time to time: even the kings of finance will not have enough money to constantly arrange dances and buffets, not to mention other feudal lords. So it was simply unprofitable to build a separate room for banquets.

The main hall of the fortress served primarily as a dwelling. The fact is that in the early castles there were no barracks: they were simply not needed. Why waste space if the garrison, as mentioned, is relatively small? A significant part of the soldiers, as well as the servants, without further ado, slept right in the hall, on wooden benches - sometimes they just made a bed for themselves on the floor.

Moreover, often the lord and his wife lay down in the main hall, hiding from their subjects with a wooden partition or just a curtain. Approximately for these purposes, by the way, canopy beds were invented.

The almost complete absence of personal space may seem wild to us, but medieval Europeans had their own atmosphere.

In the early castles, by the way, there were practically no corridors. The rooms were not separated by walls, as in modern houses, but passed one into the other. That is, if you wanted to move from the first room to the fifth, you had to go through three rooms between them.

If people are sleeping there, dissatisfied with your stomping - well, let them learn to fall asleep better. Or the earplugs are stuck in. Oh yes, there were no earplugs in the Middle Ages.

9. The castle can not be captured, but simply bypassed

Medieval Castle Myths: The Siege of Lisbon in 1147
Medieval Castle Myths: The Siege of Lisbon in 1147

Often people who are interested in medieval battles ask a question similar to the following. Castle sieges are very difficult and expensive, lasting months, years, and sometimes decades, and all this time the army of the attackers actually stands still.

Why not just bypass the castle with the garrison locked up there and move further across the country to capture less fortified settlements? At the end of the day, this is a pretty obvious solution.

The reason is that the army needs supplies. If the army bypasses the enemy's fortress without capturing it and leaving their garrison there, then the soldiers dug in inside will begin to attack 1.

2. on carts delivering provisions, fodder and supplies. Driving carts with valuable cargo past the castle that controlled the road was tantamount to simply giving them to the enemy. So any offensive will drown simply because the soldiers will have nothing to eat.

No one wanted to leave the dirty tricksters plundering the transports in their rear. Therefore, the fortresses were not ignored, but besieged and captured, and their garrisons were taken prisoner or killed.

10. Castles belonged to knights

Myths about medieval castles: Marienburg castle in Poland
Myths about medieval castles: Marienburg castle in Poland

Often, castles were actually owned by noble families, but this was not always the case. Often the fortresses belonged to the crown, and the feudal lords only rented them.

For example, William the Conqueror officially proclaimed 1.

2. that all castles and lands in England and Wales belong to him. When one of the feudal lords who lived in the citadel died, his property was returned to the possession of the monarch. A special official at the court determined who could become the new owner. If the feudal lord had heirs, the castle passed to them. If not, then he returned to the king.

This practice allowed the monarchs to put pressure on the nobles. If you are not loyal to the king, you will quickly fly out of your estate. Remember this before you want to say anything to His Majesty. And after the removal of the rebel, the castle and adjoining lands can be handed over to more loyal vassals - there is a queue of those who wish behind the fence. Rather, behind the fortress wall.

When the fortress did not have an official owner, it was ruled by an official appointed by the monarch - a castellan.

And by the way, the feudal lord could get permission to build a castle only from the king. The paper was called Crenellate, "a license to construct loopholes," and some waited years for him to wave it.

11. Crocodiles were allowed into the moats around the castles

Medieval Castle Myths: Almourol Castle, Portugal
Medieval Castle Myths: Almourol Castle, Portugal

There is a popular misconception: a typical castle must be surrounded by a moat with water in which crocodiles, sharks and piranhas live. But naturally, nothing of the kind existed in reality. And that's why.

First, the animals had to be looked after and fed. And these are unnecessary senseless expenses. Secondly, crocodiles in medieval Europe were too rare guests. No, maybe they could have brought an animal from Africa to some duke as a gift, but hardly anyone would have decided to make such an expensive wonder with a weapon.

And thirdly, even trained fighting dogs will not be particularly effective against enemies in plate armor and with melee weapons. And to set them on the besiegers would only be those who do not mind losing these animals. And the crocodile is even more useless: at best, it will scare the illiterate warriors and make them think that there is a dragon in the service of the castle defenders. True, their fear will quickly pass when it turns out that he does not know how to breathe flame.

In reality, the moats in the castles were not filled with any guard animals.

They were useful on their own, as they prevented the attackers from placing ladders and siege towers to the walls of the fortress. The attackers were forced to run under fire and fill the ditch with bundles of straw and brushwood so that they could get over it.

Medieval Castle Myths: Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England
Medieval Castle Myths: Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England

It is not known where the fashion for stories about crocodiles in castle ditches came from. Perhaps, in the Indian fortress of Sigiriya, reptiles really could live, but there is no evidence of this. And in the Czech Krumlov castle, several bears were kept in pits - though not for military purposes, but simply as a curiosity.

And, finally, there is information that in some fortresses the owners bred fish in reservoirs around the walls - as an additional source of food. Imagine how nice it is to sit on top of a tower with a long fishing rod and catch yourself a snack for the evening. The main thing is that there are no besiegers around, otherwise an arrow will fly to the knee.