Life in a Medieval Castle (Harper Colophon Books)

by Joseph Gies

Paperback, 1979



Call number




Harper Perennial (1979), Paperback


Describes conditions and everyday life in a medieval castle. Centers on the twelfth-century fortress of Chepstow on the Welsh border.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Medievalgirl
This was the first and thus far the only book I have read by these authors (though I own several others I have yet to find the time to read) – it is a fascinating exploration of socio-political history the authors help to put flesh on the ‘bare bones’ of the crumbling stone ruins and empty
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shells which are all that sadly remains of castles today. They go beyond examining only the political or military function of castles (though this is covered) to explore castles in their roles as homes, and the ‘headquarters’ of estates with the central focus on Chepstow on the Welsh borders, but also other castles.

In chapters under titles such as ‘The Lord of the Castle’ ‘The Lady’ and the ‘The Household’ the inhabitants of castles are vividly bought to life, from the highest to the lowest, and the society in which castles played such an important role is examined. Along the way there are many gems of information, useful, enlightening and entertaining. One of my personal favourites was the section on table manners and dining etiquette which belies the popular misconception that medieval people were uncouth, uncivilised and vulgar- and reveals striking parallels between the etiquette of the middle ages and today. The sections on hunting, which reveal its roles as a social activity, ‘The Making of a Knight’ and ‘The Castle as a House’ are also fascinating.

My only complaint was that some of the information the first chapter did seem a little over simplified in some parts, and the claim that the Normans beat the English and Hastings because they were ‘better’ than them seemed represent a rather outdated interpretation- although this may be a reflection of the fact that the book was written in the 70s. As a result of the nationality of the authors there are some Americanisms (such as Richard the Lionhearted) which may prove a slight annoyance to British readers, and some might find the numerous photographs peppered throughout a history book distracting or irksome. Personally I had to problem with these, and felt they illustrated some of the themes and points made rather well.

The writing style of the authors makes the book accessible and not too high-brow or scholarly but not at the expense of primary source material which is used and included throughout the book. This said, those looking for a more detailed and in-depth examination of some of the subject matter with and academic slant which analysis and some of the sources won’t find much of it here. Although written by Medievalist Historians, ‘Life in a Medieval Castle’ is very much popular history- and very good popular history too.
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LibraryThing member CKmtl
A good reference work.

I found the sections dealing with the architectural and structural aspects of castles a bit hard to follow, however. Diagrams would have helped a great deal.


Original publication date


Physical description

288 p.; 7.9 inches


006090674X / 9780060906740
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