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10+ Curious Facts About Castles and Palaces That You’re Unlikely to See in Movies

When watching movies or TV shows, we enjoy seeing inside palaces, exploring their luxurious halls, secret passages, beautifully decorated rooms, and fireplaces. But in reality, life in palaces and castles was not as romantic as we think.

At Bright Side, we decided to find out how truthful these things about castles and palaces are. And in the bonus section, you’ll know what other wrong ideas we have about those times thanks to movies.

  • First of all, it’s necessary to understand that a castle and a palace are different things. Castles, among other things, were built for protection, which implied thick walls, heavy gates, towers for observation, and defensive ditches. A palace is a building for a peaceful life. It had various rooms for balls and dining, along with throne halls, all of which were luxuriously decorated.
  • Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine that a castle could be cozy. Castles were huge, drafty, cold buildings, which were dark most of the time. The light came from small windows, often without glass since in those days, not everyone could afford them.
  • Palaces and castles were heated by fireplaces. To keep the heat in, the walls were decorated with tapestries. And bed canopies were used to protect the sleeper from the draft.
  • Tapestries originally depicted historical and religious subjects. One of the advantages of this type of wall decoration was that it was easy to transport. If necessary, a tapestry could be moved to another room. The owners of castles and palaces often took them along when traveling.
  • Life in a palace or castle was very hectic. Castles were not nobility’s permanent residences. Rich people could afford to change houses and move with all their servants and utensils. So, the number of people moving varied from 30 to 150, including family members, grooms, nannies, and other servants.
  • Since all housework was done by hand, castles and palaces housed a lot of servants, especially if the master was at home. Countess Joan de Valence, for example, had nearly 100 servants at her rather small Goodrich Castle.
  • With so many people around, cooks had to work hard. In Goodrich Castle, the countess’s cook fed 200 people, twice a day. Moreover, the menu included complex dishes that we practically never eat now. Swans, peacocks, larks, and herons were cooked in the kitchen.
  • King Henry VIII was against the dirt, dust, and odors. He even had to issue a decree forbidding cooks to work naked or in dirty clothes, and also to sleep on the floor near the hearth.
  • This ruler was considered a neat freak of those times. However, after he and his court moved to another residence, the scrubbing and airing out of the castle began, including removing waste from non-flushing lavatories that was held in underground chambers.
  • There were rats in castles and palaces. For example, Buckingham Palace has been trying to get rid of them since the reign of Queen Victoria. There was even a special profession created, known as the rat-catcher. In pest control, things like traps, poison, and cats were used. Of course, rat-catchers didn’t successfully catch rodents — this is a myth.
  • The smell in the palaces was not really good. The rooms were filled with dirty clothes, and the inhabitants didn’t bathe often, if ever. Some courtiers didn’t bother to look for a chamber pot, but would defecate wherever they were. Even in the Louvre Palace, excrement was everywhere: on the grand stairs and behind the doors.
  • If the inhabitants of the castle did decide to relieve themselves without polluting the premises, they either did it in chamber pots, which were then taken out by the servants, or they used a “garderobe,” a small room with a simple hole discharging to the outside of the castle. Also, they used a portable toilet, which was a chair with a hole in the middle.
  • To prevent the servants from urinating in the garden, King Henry VIII had large red Xs painted in problem spots. But instead of using the toilet, the servants began to use these marks as a target.
  • In many castles and upper-class residences, people would often sleep in the upright position. This means that their upper body wouldn’t be lying on a bed, but against a wall or bed frame. While we can’t know for sure the reason why they did this, the most popular explanation was because it helped with digestion.

Bonus: another curious fact about life in a palace

In the Middle Ages, cats had a bad reputation: people associated them with witches. Scientists have come to the conclusion that the reason for this hostility was the independent nature of cats.

Medieval people believed that animals were created to serve humans. And a cat, even a domestic one, can’t be trained like a dog. However, some people were not afraid of cats. They were kept as pets by people like by nuns, for example.

What did you find really weird about life in palaces and castles? Tell us in the comments below.

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