Life in a Medieval Castle 2: Food

Most people lived in thatched houses made of mud or clay, in tiny hamlets or small villages.[i] Their diet consisted of dark bread supplemented with vegetables, with meat only on feast days when they could get it.[ii]

Bread was the main staple of the aristocracy’s diet also, but it was of better quality[iii] and supplemented with a far greater variety of foods. The main supplement was meat or fish, with fruit and vegetables[iv], cheese and butter. Eggs were used in great quantities, but only in recipes, not eaten alone.[v] The biggest difference was in the amount of herbs and spices used. Medieval meals were very heavily spiced, and this was another way to show the status and wealth of the household, as spices were very expensive. Along with rice, they were kept under lock and key and every portion documented.[vi]

Of course, the advantage of an estate was that a lot of these provisions came from your own land, either grown by your own labourers or paid as rent by your tenants. The land around Swansea and Oystermouth was fertile, and it had the advantage of being on the coast where fishing was plentiful. The river Tawe would have had fish too. For those familiar with Swansea, Orchard Street is where there was an orchard just outside the town gate, and Brynmill was indeed the site of a mill. The disadvantage of an estate was that the number of mouths to feed varied widely, sometimes from day to day. When the lord was present with his knights, the numbers would be very high, as each knight had his own servants. When other lords would visit, they would bring a whole retinue of people too.

 

[i] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965), p.71
Briggs, Asa, A Social History of England, p.91,100
[ii] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965),  p.71
[iii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.184
[iv] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.184
[v] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965), p.71
[vi] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965), p.88
Briggs, Asa, A Social History of England, p.100

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Life in a Medieval Castle 1: Clothes

This is the start of a new series, based on material from my book.

Wealthy men and women wore similar outer clothes[i] – a tunic with long sleeves made of linen, an over-tunic with shorter sleeves made of wool lined with fur, and then a hood and a mantle, usually circular and also fur-lined.[ii] The length, style and decoration of the clothes depended on the sex and status of the wearer, but people loved bright colours.[iii] Men’s tunics reached to the knee or below and were worn with breeches, linen under a long tunic, more substantial fabric when they showed under a shorter tunic.

Women’s tunics were floor length and linen (like a nightgown – indeed, they often slept in it). The tunic was slit at the neck and fastened with a brooch, and a girdle or belt at the waist. These also gave the opportunity for ostentation.[iv]  The men who served in lordly households wore livery to mark out who they served.[v]

Clothes in Britain were of better quality cloth than those on the continent, due to the mechanisation of the fulling process, using local water mills. This process shrank and tightened the cloth and made it stronger.[vi]Later in the fourteenth century, fashion dictated a wide variation of styles.[vii] While unmarried, Alina would have worn her hair loose, but once married she would have worn her hair in plaits wound over her ears in a ‘ramshorn’ and over that a wimple, a cloth headdress that covered the hair. Many also wore a cloth around the neck.[viii]

 


[i] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.110
[ii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.106
[iii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England, p.9
[iv] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965),  p.139
[v] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.102
[vi] Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, p.152-154
[vii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.101
[viii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.112
Hull, Marvin, Medieval Women © 2001-2008, http://www.castles-of-britain.com/castlezb.htm

Oystermouth Castle Reopening

Well, today was the day we’ve all been waiting for – the Council, the re-enactors, the stallholders, the musicians, the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, and me. It was all arranged. And it rained. It poured. All week.

Today started with a few light showers and dry in between. Until the event got going. Then it poured again.

Having said that, the Friends at the castle entrance reported over 500 visitors, and everyone made sure the visitors that did come had a good time. Typical British people, we were all sheltering in the food tent when a band came on, so we all came out and stood in the rain, and joined in the songs!

I was there to promote my book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, which is about the woman who built the chapel on Oystermouth Castle. I handed out my postcards advertising the book to everyone I could intercept for about 2 hours. Everyone was happy to take the postcards and several expressed an interest.

I left before the end, so I don’t know how many books were sold. To hedge my bets, the postcard lists all the outlets where the book is available. So hopefully there might be increased sales in other places. I’ll ring the Friends tomorrow to find out. But, although it would have been so much better if it was sunny and crowded, I feel good about today.

Selling ‘Alina’ at the Castle

I have now met with the chairman of The Friends of Oystermouth Castle and made arrangements for Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth to be sold at Oystermouth Castle.

I am dropping off my entire stock (currently 85 books) with the treasurer the night before the grand re-opening, so it can be taken to the castle in the morning and laid out with all their other stock on a table in the castle gateway. I am going to be there within an hour of the opening, and walk round the grounds wearing my Alina t-shirt and handing out postcards advertising the book.

I can’t sell the book myself, as I don’t have permission from the council, who are running the day. But I can point people to the table where the Friends are selling it. My daughter Aggi and her boyfriend Al are taking me down, and she has offered to help too.

I’m actually concerned that I might not have enough books! Wouldn’t that be great! And then it will be sold by the Friends every day until the castle closes at the end of September. And then again next year, I hope. Who knows, by then, there might be a second book!

Planning for the Re-opening of Oystermouth Castle

As the Council’s event announcement says, on 16th June:

Celebrate the castle’s official re-opening with our spectacular medieval tournament and re-enactments. Let the children explore the castle and its grounds, complete with medieval sports, live music, fire juggling, storytelling and arts and crafts. Guided tours of the castle available.

The castle has had a £3.1 million conservation project, which has seen the Visitor’s Centre put inside the chapel, and a glass bridge constructed so that visitors can access the chapel top floor, but still have a clear view from below. Much restoration and conservation work has been done, including improvements to the grounds, and better access.

The chapel has been named ‘Alina’s chapel’, but until now there was no detailed information about who Alina was. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth fills that need, and will be sold inside the castle. I have produced a poster linking the book to the re-opening, which will be distributed in the next week to all local outlets selling the book.

News and Reviews

I am shocked to find that I haven’t posted here for a month – my apologies if you’re following. It doesn’t mean nothing has been happening, but I have taken the opportunity to return to my sci-fi writing, before the next push.

The great news is that my initial print run of 200 has sold out! There are still books out in the shops, but I have only a couple of copies at home, so I have to work out how many to print on the second run. The major factor in this is the re-opening of Oystermouth Castle.

As reported on the council web site, Oystermouth Castle has had a major refurbishment, and will have a grand re-opening on 16th June, with a medieval tournament and re-enactment. I plan to be there and advertise the book to the public, and either sell copies, or point customers to the stall where they can buy it. Final details will be worked out in a meeting with the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, Roger Parmiter, on 1st June.

I’m producing a poster to tie my book in with the re-opening, which I’ll distribute to the shops in the next week or two. I’ve also ordered postcards to hand out.

As for reviews: there aren’t any. I haven’t sold many ebooks, where people are likely to be prompted to review it, and the people who buy print books, aren’t necessarily ones who are web-savvy. So a plea to all my friends and followers – please review the book. I’m not asking for falsely good reviews – please be honest – but I hope you genuinely liked it, and it would be great to tell the world.

You can review the ebook on Smashwords.

You can review the ebook and the print book on Amazon.

Thanks.

Book Launch Night

Sorry I haven’t posted for a week, but it’s been all go. The book launch was on Wednesday night (day before yesterday) and it went better than I could have hoped.

My daughters made gorgeous cup cakes and cookies, and Carrie (the illustrator)’s mum made punch and brought some other nibbles. The shop was so packed that we ran out of chairs and there were people standing at the back.

Carrie’s family came down en masse, my family were there, my housegroup from church were well represented, and there were friends from my writers circle and a few others. David, the lecturer who put Carrie and I together, came, and so did Colin from the Historical Association, Swansea.

I was wearing my new T shirt with a picture of the book and ‘Ask me about Alina de Breos’ on the front and back, which went down well. I welcomed everyone and spoke about how I came to write the book and the beginning of the story, then Carrie spoke very well about the illustrations. Then it was everyone queueing to buy the book and have it signed by both of us, and Carrie sold lots of prints of the illustrations. She presented me with a print of the White Lady and we bought one of Queen Isabella on a horse, which seems to be quite a favourite.

I had my photo taken by the Evening Post the day before, as the photographer wasn’t free on the night, but I didn’t see the reporter on the night, and it’s not appeared in the paper yet. We’re keeping watch.