Medieval Gardens: Form and Function

Standing as stone skeletons on cliffs or hilltops, we know castles are really only a shadow of their former selves.  On a day to day basis, castles fulfilled purposes beyond the defence of the realm and were also administrative centres where a myriad of activities would have taken place but the evidence of which have been erased by time.  We know, for example, many castles would have possessed gardens.  Medieval gardens might have produced foods like a kitchen garden, but also would have also been the source of herbs that were used in medieval medicine.  Garden spaces were pointed out to us at least two of our Battle Castle sites.  Medieval gardens did embrace key ideas about form and function. At Conwy Castle the east side of the castle was dominated by a second barbican which provided access from the sea gate, meant to resupply the castle in case of siege.  This was the site of a garden overlooked by the royal apartments. Sometimes a flower garden, its function changed over the years and at one time even contained fruit trees. My theory is that a good garden space is anywhere you find people absorbing sunshine. Benjamin Michaudel, our castle architecture expert challenged us to imagine that this space in front of the Knights Hall at Crac des Chevaliers would have likely housed a garden.  With a healthy dose of imagination, the stone walls give way to rich textures of green.  Given that the knights who built the castle were of the Hospitaller Order and they provided medical services to pilgrims in the Holy Land, we can be sure that medicinal herbs...
Medieval Plumbing and Castle Crappers

Medieval Plumbing and Castle Crappers

Lots of assumptions have been made about the state of personal hygiene and the disposal of human waste in medieval times.  But unlike towns and cities where raw sewage was dumped in the streets well past the Middle Ages, we are able to draw on numerous examples from the castles we visited to demonstrate that castle builders seemed to have a clear understanding of the vulnerability created by human waste and went to great lengths to construct strategies to deal with it. Medieval plumbing was much more than buckets. The earliest adaption we found was the so called Toilet Tower at Crac des Chevaliers.  As you may recall, Crac was constructed by the Knights Hospitaller who provided medical care and refuge to pilgrims in the Holy Land.  As a result, their castles contained a hospital wing or ward.  Very wisely, when designing Crac, they located the bank of toilets very close to the ward where they would receive great use. One of the most famous toilet castle legends dates to the siege of Chateau Gaillard.  According to this story, after having taken the Outer Bailey, Philippe Augustus’ men probed the perimeter of the castle looking for a weakness by which they could enter the Inner Bailey.  Apparently, the only opening they found was a latrine chute.  The two intrepid soldiers climbed the chute and set fire to the Chapel.  In the resulting chaos, the French were able to gain access to the Inner Bailey.  Researchers have since argued that it was a window into the Chapel itself (installed by King John) that allowed the French to take their objective.  This...
Secrets of Castle Design Revealed

Secrets of Castle Design Revealed

We’re always surprised by the things that we learn while on location filming.  Of special interest are the secrets of castle design we see in some castles given their rather skeletal condition.  This is the especially true of castles like Crac des Chevaliers and Conwy, but less so of Dover Castle which has been better maintained and restored as it has stayed in near constant use over time. So there is no substitute for being there and seeing in person the things you’ve been reading about.  We loved searching for evidence of features that were built right into the structures.  Take for instance this tower at Conwy Castle.  You see the shape of the fireplaces on each level, as well the supports for the floors and floor joists. These things can be explained of course, but being there gives you the added benefit of scale. So this was the case when Dan visited the kitchens which are located on the ground floor of the Keep at Dover Castle.  Check out his vlog post and to see the surprising flaw in the design.  It could be that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! What has been your best discovery when you’ve visited a castle in person? Share a photo or video to our Facebook page or via Twitter. Come back every week for a new Medieval Monday...