Imagining Castles and their furnishing in 1192

When I selected the period for my novel I wondered how England would be faring 100 years after conquest. The Normans had built wooden, ‘flat-pack’ mote and bailey castles all over England soon after their arrival on land given them by the King and his barons. I was surprised at the number of local places that at one time had had a castle, long since destroyed. Of course the fighting between Matilda and Stephen meant many were victims of sieges by the other’s supporters. Marriages and changes of loyalty meant some lords would have lost land and others accumulated it. Most lords would have more than one castle (some in France as well) and would only spend a limited time in each castle. Henry’s reign was mostly a peaceful one for the southern counties of England, although North and Welsh borders would have seen fighting. And many lords would have taken part in the battles in France. They were essentially soldiers; imposing law and order on their lands and training men so they were battle-ready if, or rather when, needed.

I envisaged two very different castles for my characters. Sir Robert’s and Lord Westbury. Sir Robert is a vassal of Lord Westbury and Helena’s father. The family is improvised and does not have lands in France, thus relies on the income from the manors under him.

Oxenton’s original mote has been replaced by a stone donjon of three storeys. There is a wall with a gatehouse which houses the dozen or so soldiers that live there, also stone. Inside this wall is the Great Hall, kitchen, stores, stables, kennels and workshops but these are all wooden buildings. Outside the wall is a hamlet and church, the wall that once surrounded them is falling down, and was damaged in fighting. Church would have been Saxon and is stone, other buildings are wooden.

In Great Hall as wooden fire would have been centred. Trestle tables and benches for meals, dais with long table for family, two chairs for Sir Robert and his lady then benches for rest of family. Behind was original Lord and Lady’s chamber which is now Sir Robert’s room, it has bed, table and two chairs and stool in it. Coffers for clothes and parchments. Heat would be a brazier. Floor there would be wooden – extension of dais. Hall would be beaten earth covered with rushes.

Access to donjon means walking outside and across court yard. Sir Robert’s grandfather built this around 1130 prior to civil war. Ground floor has storeroom for weapons and valuables, a dungeon (outside entrance). The next storey became the boys’ chamber, and the top was two chambers; Helena and her mother’s. Walls would have originally been painted but have not been redecorated in years. All rooms have beds most with curtains for extra warmth, table for washing bowls, stools and coffers for storage. No fireplaces so braziers to heat. Curtains may have been used across rooms when guests were staying although privacy wasn’t seen as important.

Windows would have wooden shutters.

Keep of Goodrich Castle (Donjon at Oxenton)

Westbury Castle is owned by the wealthy Westbury family and over the years it has been developed to accommodate family and its growing retinue’s needs. Given the time it would take to construct the various buildings I feel that the stoneworkers, carpenters and blacksmiths would be permanently on-site! I envisage an outer town wall, and an inner castle wall with gatehouse and outside barbican for awaiting visitors. Inside the wall main buildings are stone, although workshops, stables and kennels are still timber. The courtyard would be cobbled, or partly-cobbled, to stop horses and carriages churning up mud. The closest existing Castle I based my imaginings on is Warwick Castle, although Warwick does not have an Abbey for that I thought of Gloucester. Warwick has also been extended over the years and other ruined castles have provided a better sense of structure).

Gloucester cathedral was began in 1089 and in 1215 Henry III was crowned there. I have Richard marrying in Abbey Church in May 1196, only seven years after building work began on Gloucester. Worcester Cathedral was originally built in 680, and rebuilt in 983 when a monastery was attached to it. In 1084 it was rebuilt again to become the present building. This makes the possibility of such an Abbey Church at Westbury feasible, no doubt the stonemasons were still adding the finishing touches but it would be possible to hold a marriage ceremony there.

Westbury Castle also has its own Chapel. Although I envisaged normal services and baptisms taking place here, the wedding is attended by the Dowager Queen and her court. I do not believe it was common practise for Royalty to attend weddings, but I originally had King Richard attending as a close friend of Richard’s, however he would not have been in England at this time. I decided to use Eleanor instead; Richard had helped to ensure her son’s release from captivity, she also knew his father from earlier days and she and Henry had stayed at the castle in happier times, why not revisit in her final years?

Westbury Castle has the original donjon which contains the Great Hall, the original Lord & Ladies chamber, which is now used solely by Lord Westbury and a tower containing chambers, including Helena’s room. The family rooms are in the newly built solar. This is reached by a covered walkway. It consists of a chamber which is used as a family room (in reality Lord & Ladies bed would have been in this room but I imagined trundle beds for house servants in here) above are chambers for the boys (shared), Lady Westbury and Lady Isabel’s chambers (shared with her ladies).

Cutaway showing chambers in a tower.

I Isabel’s chamber, note laver in wall, fireplace, light fittings and bed with curtains. Note painted walls.

I also imagined that carpets would be placed in these rooms from recent visits to Crusades.

Stairs in castle.

Minus iron safety rail!

Back of Great Hall Steps on right lead up to chamber (Lord Westbury’s room). Door on left into buttery. Steps on left to further chambers.

Basin in castle (Goodrich).

Finally there would be a room prepared for Helena’s laying-in, this I imagined as Ruth & Sarah’s room which would be near Lady Westbury’s.

Bed seems massive, the idea of parents and young children sharing seemed likely.

Dining with musicians and servers

This chamber shows window, bed and covered seat which are similar to seats in solar (I referred to these as settles but may need to confirm), also round table and chair. Floor here is tiled.


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