Castles of England/Castle Life
In this chapter we look at what it was like to live in a castle for the different groups of people who typically lived in one - from the Lord to the serfs.
Man-at-arms was a term used to describe a soldier, almost always a professional warrior in the sense of being well-trained in the use of arms, who served as a fully armoured heavy cavalryman. It could refer to knights or noblemen and to members of their retinues or to mercenaries in companies under captains. Such men could serve for pay or through a feudal obligation. The terms knight and man-at-arms are often used interchangeably, but while all knights equipped for war certainly were men-at-arms, not all men-at-arms were knights.
Throughout the Medieval period and into the Renaissance the armour of the man-at-arms became progressively more effective and expensive. Throughout the 14th century, the armour worn by a man-at-arms would have been a composite of materials. Over a quilted gambeson, mail armour would cover the body, limbs and head. Increasingly during the century, the mail would have been supplemented by plate armour on the body and limbs. In the 15th century, full plate armour was developed, which reduced the mail component to a few points of flexible reinforcement.
From the 14th to 16th century, the primary weapon of the man at arms on horseback would be the lance. The lance of the 14th century was essentially a simple spear, 12 ft. in length, usually of ash. In response to the development of improved armour, however, heavier lances weighing up to 18 kg. were developed and a new method of using them in conjunction with a lance rest (arrête) fixed to the breastplate developed. This combination of heavy lance and arrête enabled the mounted man-at-arms to enjoy a new effectiveness on the battlefields of the later 15th and 16th centuries. Not all men-at-arms in the 15th century carried the heavy lance. A lighter weapon called a demi-lance evolved and this gave its name to a new class of lighter-equipped man-at-arms, the demi-lancer, towards the end of the 15th century.
When fighting on foot, men-at-arms initially adapted their ordinary cavalry weapons. In the 15th century, the increased protection of plate armour led to the development of a specialist foot combat weapon, the pollaxe.
A castle would have had a garrison of a number of men-at-arms and they would have fulfilled the role of both cavalry and infantry as demands required.
In a medieval castle the butler was a mid ranked member of the staff responsible for the storage, security and serving of alcohol. The name "butler" derives from the Middle English word boteler which itself is derived from the Latin butticula meaning someone who looks after butts, that is, casks of wine.
The castellan was the governor of the castle, responsible for all aspects of its domestic and military organisation. A castle that was not the home of a noble would be permanently run by a castellan.
The steward supervised both the estate and the household. In larger castles there may have been two stewards - one who managed the estate and the other (sometimes known as the majordomo) to manage the domestic household. For castles that did not have a castellan, the stewards would maintain the castle during the owner's absence.