Europe in the Middle Ages
Life in Medieval Castles<
Castle de Coucy
Medieval Castles > Life in Medieval Castles
Life in Medieval Castles
As priest and knight were the typical figures, so castle and cathedral were the landmarks of the Middle Ages. That epoch of disintegration and reintegration beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire and merging itself in the Renascence was a complicated one.
There was a confusion of struggling states and tiny provinces, each capped with a coronet which might swell into a crown or lapse into nothing; a medley vague and romantic to us (though vital enough to contemporaries) of men and things which we find to-day in the,
miniatures of old missals, or preciously preserved in museums.
The very name of the Middle Ages suggests a thousand pictures of narrow-streeted cities crowded with quaint gables, where armored knights, long-gowned burgesses, and ladies with tall head-dresses walked grotesque and splendid, or of pinnacled castles on impossible heights, where portcullises and drawbridges were the commonplaces of daily life, and the now rusted swords struck each other into brightness.
We stand in the darkness of twisting tower staircases and peer through loopholes at the outer light. The tapers shine again in the colored gloom of the chapel, where the patron saint in the jewelled armor of the stained window looks upon the steel-clad suppliant at the altar; fierce eyes flash at us through barred visors, or from black cowls of inquisitorial monks; and in the dungeon underground, justice with axe and block and scarlet executioner stands in the shadow of the torture chamber.
We think of a time when there were plague and famine, pageants and monster feasts ; when men drank their wine by hogsheads and roasted oxen whole, or starved in their harried fields; when death walked abroad on the Roman roads, ambushed in the forest, and swooped down from the mountains; and when men, unglutted by all this slaughter, invited it to their holidays and rode out to meet it at the tournament. Or we turn from the more sombre side of the Middle Ages to a kind of romantic dreamland.
The king, always a king of clubs in those hard-hitting times, wears his crown daily, and the whole pack of court cards follows him in parti-colored splendor. The world is topsy-turvy, queens nurse beggars, warriors turn hermits, the robber is always generous, and the officer of justice always gets a drubbing. We fling whole purses of gold, never less, to our commoner whom we call yeoman or churl, as we wish him well or ill; while our hero, who is sure to be a foundling and a king's son, with muscles of iron under armor of steel, rides down armies. The horn blows from the castle watch-tower, and Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, followed by a long procession, from the seven champions of Christendom of our Boys' Books to the grave heroes of Froissart, ride through a chaotically picturesque dream.
But upon examination this romantic world becomes real; the two glittering pyramids of bishops and knights, with pope and emperor at either apex, separate into units of intense personality; the tapestries come to life; the carved furniture tells of growing crafts; the castles are no longer unsubstantial wonders outlined against the sky of troubled times, but can be examined, with their mechanics of defence and offence, as so many posts on the road of evolution. The master enchanters of fiction are followed by the scientific inquirer; and upon the pages of romancer and historian alike, of Green and Freeman and Viollet-le-Due, as well as of Scott and Reade and Kingsley, we see clearly through all the bloodshed and chaos that the great gift of the Middle Ages to the world was individuality, the sense of personal responsibility.
A complete system of fortification existed in antiquity, beginning in the East; but the true castle builders came from the North. As far back as the time when the barbarians hung up in their huts the spoils of Varro's legions we can find the germinal idea of the
feudal domain in the assertion of Tacitus that the Teutons loved to dwell apart, and even in villages kept wide spaces between their houses.
When the frontiers of the Roman Empire disappeared like a new Jericho before the trumpets of the Barbarians, the Frank watching the sack of Soissons, or the Saxon riding into Silchester or York, looked with curious interest at the Roman villas, and found them well suited to his purpose. Thus the first feudal chateau or castle became not a Roman castellum, but, as Viollet-le-Due says, rather "a villa provided with defences" the wooden dwelling of the lord arose in the centre, neither very high nor very large, and about it clustered the dependents in low out-buildings behind the general stockade. The Clovises and Canutes sat upon the marble tribunes of Roman basilicas or palaces, and Charlemagne laid hands on the columns at Ravenna and brought them to his palace; but the greatest counts and jarls, when they built upon their domains, set up low thatch-roofed manors.
At about the second half of the tenth century the true castle building epoch commenced; and even while Charlemagne was admiring the Greek ornaments of his Ingelheim palace, the fathers of the mightiest makers of strongholds were pushing out their narrow boats from the Norwegian fjords and sailing up the Seine and the Loire.
Every man's hand was against these pirates, and the Normans took up sword and mattock at once to defend their positions and to keep the rivers, the natural inlets of France, open to their oncoming northern brethren.
Solidarity was their only safety; and unlike the Frankish fortresses, built for individual defence and differing greatly from each other, their castles depended upon a general system of
fortification, where the same kind of natural position (notably the river) was defended in the same way, a whole province being guarded instead of a domain.
By the end of the tenth century the Norman, whose mind was as acute
as his conical helmet and kite-shaped shield, had pried with his sharp double-edged sword into the affairs of East and South, had served the Emperor of Constantinople in his capital and beaten him in Sicily, had learned the lesson of his civilization, and become
school-master to France in matters of military architecture. He built now with stone; and by 1040 from the ramparts of the great castle of Arques he looked greedily out upon the Channel toward the green island whose earls had only wood and earth to oppose to
Wood and earth indeed had been the materials of the successors of Charlemagne and Rollo and Alfred, but by the second half of the tenth century the Normans began to use more solid materials. For a long time the keep or donjon, the house of the Dominus, was the only portion strongly fortified. There lived the lord and lady, and there the garrison retreated as soon as a serious attack had carried the stockade or outer wall. The keep had an interior courtyard, was high, thick-walled, gloomy, and pro visioned for a siege. Throughout the Middle Ages it was the dominant mass of the castle, like the knight sitting on horseback among his men; but its relative importance gradually diminished till it was only a part of a general system of defence, and was surrounded by a brotherhood of towers, little less mighty than itself.
William the Conqueror covered England with castles; but he had only time to raise the donjon keeps, with slight outworks, for in that wasps nest of Saxons and Danes fighting for life and liberty, he was in haste to get his Normans and Angevins behind thick walls and in safety from their stings, and the weapons of the natives were but little else against his masonry. So Newcastle frowned upon Tyne, Rochester upon Medway, the White Tower on Thames; and scores of others rose, each one a visible seal of slavery, a great shacklebolt in the chain of the Norman.
By the time of William's grandsons, the keep was but the principal member of a group of towers. "How fair she is, my year-old daughter," said Richard Plantagenet, looking upon his famous Chateau-Gaillard, whose ruins are still reflected in the Seine near Rouen, and which, though built almost by ruse and in mortal haste against his rival, Philip Augustus, proves the King to have been much more than the knight errant of the "Talisman;" showing him rather a far-seeing strategist and great military architect, "perhaps the first to subordinate mere thickness of wall to the importance of flanking towers."
But to picture the medieval castle fully, one or two typical structures must be chosen. Coucy in France, near Noyon, and Pierrefonds near Compiegne are admirable examples, the latter restored from moat to watch-tower summit, and the former carefully studied by that greatest of authorities Viollet-le-Due.
About 1225, when Louis IX., called the Saint, reigned in France, Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy, and most powerful vassal of the crown, built him a castle so great that it has remained the typical
feudal dwelling. Let us consider broadly what necessities it had to meet. First it should contain the apartments of the lord and his family, for daily life went on, and one could not always be at war even in those troubled times; next it should hold a garrison and provision for the same; lastly the enemy was to be kept out and if possible at a distance.
This enemy, in the thirteenth century, had cross-bolts and long arrows for missiles, catapults, mangonels, and trebuchets to throw stones and beams and firebarrels, mattock and spade to undermine the walls, and battering rams to breach them. To oppose them there stood four sturdy towers ahundred feet high, while from the platform of the donjon, nearly two hundred feet above the moat, fragments of stone from the engines could be sent crashing into the distant country wherever outworks of attack might appear. Joining tower to tower, and flanked and raked by the same, battlement was a loop-hole, narrow on the outside, splaying widely within; and behind each loop-hole stood an archer watching for the glint of armor among the trees, or waiting for the enemy to step for a moment from behind the mantelet.
Soon it was found that the patrol walk was needed for manoeuvres, that the platforms of the towers were crowded by the engines and the heaps of missiles; beams were therefore set in the walls outside the battlements, and roofed wooden pent-houses, called hourds, were constructed; the archer stepping out between the crenelations were the curtains or walls of stone affording a patrol walk, a means of communication between the towers and lined with battlements; piercing each found himself quite covered and could fire with more ease, and the patrol walk was left free.
So much for keeping the enemy at adistance; at closer quarters the gates were the main point of attack. At the first approach of danger, the draw-bridge swung up and the portcullis of grating
slid down in its grooves, so that the enemy if they got so far found before them a wide water-filled moat, a blank wall, and but one opening grinning at them with iron teeth. If they were desperate and fortunate enough to force moat and portcullis, they found a second
grating, and heavy doors shod with iron; if aye and fire destroyed these, the assailants rushed into a long narrow vaulted passage, to be overwhelmed with stones dropped through machicolations or open spaces in the roof, by soldiers stationed in the room above. Meanwhile if the cat approached the walls, and under its roof of thatch and hides the battering ram struck the masonry, shaking it and opening wide cracks, men kneeling above at similar machicolations or openings between the battlements dropped stones, shot fire arrows, poured boiling oil, and the castle spat its venom
from a hundred mouths.It was almost impossible to take such a building by assault, and a year's provisions, with a spring of fresh water inside the walls, enabled it to defy any but a long siege.
If the postern or sally-port (a small gate at a level with the moat) was attacked, gratings and doors again had to be forced, and the assailants at last emerging upon a kind of blind alley, between
the donjon and a second inner wall that protected it, were crushed by missiles from one hundred and eighty feet above or destroyed by the guard of the inner wall. Did the enemy attempt to mine, the castle pioneers posted in a subterranean gallery at the foot of the walls listened for the sound of the pick and countermined. No wonder that the possessors of these "inexpugnable castles built even at the very steps of the throne" felt themselves secure, and whether provocation had been given through petulance or malice, were tolerably sure to obtain at least a compromise.
From the eleventh century to the middle of the thirteenth Europe rang as loudly with the mason's trowel as with the sword. This simultaneous growth of castles is an historical phenomenon.
Everywhere they were a menace to king and people. The Normans planted them upon each English river, in France they towered over plain and forest, in Swabia they crowned every hill-top, and in the
north they began their perpetual "watch on the Rhine." But from 1240 to 1360, comparatively few French chateaux were built; gentlemen by hundreds had mortgaged their territories for the arms and horses of their followers, and had swept eastward upon the great wave of
the crusades, to leave armor and life under the walls of Ascalon or in the Delta of the Nile, while the grand vassals who afterward absorbed their domains were broken by St. Louis.
On the other side of the Channel the barons were powerful, but under Edward I the England from which we spring was beginning to form, and in France the king and people grew yearly. Art, which for centuries had worn the monk's frock, now stepping forth from the convent doorway, put off cowl and scapulary, and slipping on the mason's
tunic walked straight to the gates of the city, where the rising cathedral spires soon pointed upward toward a freer atmosphere. Between the king whom he longed to defy and the people whom he
despised, the lord sat at home, made his chapel more splendid, painted his walls with legend and story, listened to the jongleurs, and watched the ladies embroider, but, for all that, gnawed his fingers in despite at the peace which turned escalader and thief, since the quiet times robbed him of half his revenues, and
ennui mounted his walls in defiance of crossbolt or catapult. The hundred years' war with England gave the French chivalry a new lease of life, and Pierre-fonds is the type of the later chateau:
built at the end of the fourteenth century, blown up under Louis XIII, in 1617, and restored in every detail by Viollet-le-Duc, it is one of the most remarkable objects in Europe.
Coucy was a fortress with habitable rooms; Pierrefonds, outcome of a more luxurious nobility, was a fortress palace, what Leland called in his itinerary "a castel with loggyns." Every castle was
a labyrinth. A labyrinth to the armored minotaur who, as suzerain, devoured villages and towns. The medieval tactics of defence necessitated this complication, but in the thirteenth century the
garrison was sometimes caught in its own toils. The network of passages and staircases prevented free movement, and it was captured before there was time to utilize its resources. Duguesclin with his ruses and escalades pointed out the weak spot, and a dozen burning castles were so many warning beacons to the barons. The mercenaries were unsure troops; treason might occur; it was therefore desirable that each post should be isolated and yet capable of communicating with all the others. Pierrefonds fills every condition: an entering enemy might lose himself hopelessly even if no one opposed him, so many are the blind alleys, bottomless staircases, gaps in floors, and unexpected doors; and yet the officers who knew their way could lead the defenders rapidly from point to point. Though the castle held its head no higher in 1395 than in 1225, it had grown to be a high-shouldered affair.
The engines had become more powerful, and to better avoid their projectiles, as well as to shelter the tall buildings in the courtyard, the curtains of Pierrefonds rose almost to the level of the towers, eight mighty Promachi, bearing the names of warriors historic or legendary, Caesar and Charlemagne, Alexander and Hector, Godfrey and Arthur, Joshua and Judas Maccabaeus, each having upon its front the statue of its eponymous hero. Instead of the single line of defences at Coucy, the curtains of Pierrefonds have a double row, battlements and loop-holes at the upper line, the same with the addition of machicolations at the lower, while the towers wear about their shoulders a triple necklace of parapets.
Such is Pierrefonds, massive and portentous, so individual that it seems almost a thinking organism, hydraheaded with its eight towers, belted with moat and battlement, calling defiance from its bells, ready to strike from its thousand loop-holes, overawing a whole province in its day. The modern visitor may not hope to find upon its newly quarried white stone the time-stained, ivy-covered loveliness of many an English or Rhenish castle. But the latter are ruined or changed by habitation, since no one could now endure the gloom of a feudal dwelling, while Pierrefonds is just as it was when
Louis of Orleans, in 1395, thought that the would-be regent of France, in managing the affairs of his insane king and brother, needed strong castles for himself. As the huge mass rises above the
trees our first impression is of inaccessibility. How could one get
either into or out of such a pile? Below is a blank, forbidding mass of masonry; above is the dominance of threatening embattled summits, behind which the skyline is fantastic with a host of pointed tower tops, vanes, weather-cocks, and statues. At the foot of the walls is
a castle in miniature, with curtains and turrets, looking a toy beside the other, yet this is the first entrance, the chatelet or barbican, the tiny throat of the whale.
Behind the barbican and defended by it is the drawbridge, heavy enough to give passage to a squadron, light enough to be raised by a single soldier; under it flowed the moat, now dry, while between the foot of the walls and a stockade lining the inner edge of the moat were the lists, a patrol walk surrounding the castle. After the drawbridge comes the gate, and in another part of the walls the postern, narrow and low, mere mouse holes in the masonry and behind which descended the iron cat's claw of the portcullis. High above is the first line of defences, the crenelations or openings between the merlons of the battlements resembling the ports of a man-of-war. Over them appears their sloping slated roof, for in the fourteenth century the inflammable wooden hourds were replaced by corbelled parapets of stone, well covered and forming an integral part of the structure.
At intervals rise the demi cylindrical masses of Arthur and Judas and their six companions, while from the sides of Charlemagne and Caesar two slender watch-towers shoot far into the air. From their tops men look like flies, and indeed the besiegers seem to have been flies to walk up walls, fish to swim the moat, moles to mine, and tortoises unmindful of missiles, when we read the story of such a siege as the taking of Chateau-Gaillard in 1204 by Philip Augustus; the wildest romance is not stranger than the drily told chronicle. Once the door and its corridor are passed and the interior of the castle is gained, all changes : a wide courtyard opens ; there are columns, traceried windows, stately staircases, a chapel larger than many churches, whose great rose looks across to the arcades of the grand hall which, with its three stories, open balconies, and general lightness, might be the town-hall fagade of some northern city. On the side toward the donjon a handsome octagonal tower covered with mouldings, statues, and shield-bearing lions contains the staircase of honor, lighted by many windows and leading to the private apartments.
In a castle important posts such as the towers, and above all the gates, could if necessary be isolated, having each its garrison well, mills, magazine, and cellars. To provide all these, every chateau had connected with it, by entrances, yet separated by moat and walls, a second enclosure, fortified, but less strongly, a real fortress-farmyard, where the lowing of the cattle and the baying from the kennel mingled with the rattle of the weapons, and where the cackle of the geese may more than once have startled some mediaeval Manlius upon his post and saved the garrison from surprise. Beyond the walls of the second courtyard lay the orchard.
When spring came, the season so be praised and besung by poet and minstrel, so ardently desired by all the castle folk, the lute and the psaltery, the embroidery frame and the chess-board, even the
missal and the chair of state were carried into the orchard. What the garden was to the people of the Renascence the orchard was to those of the Middle Ages.
It was not geometrically laid out with bowers, statues, trim plots, and pleached walks, like the gardens of the Italian poets; in it reigned "a sweet disorder;" pear-trees and rose-trees grew side by side, and the forest encroached on its borders. Well without the castle walls it lay, a still, green place; dappled with. sun and shade, full of "leves and the odoure of floures and the fresh sight," the cool sound of running water, the rustle of breeze-stirred branches, where "smale fowles maken melodie," with fruit glowing in the sun and violets empurpling the shade. It was small wonder that to the castle dwellers, tired of the long dark days and the interminable evenings of winter, pining for fresh air and sunshine, the orchard became bower, dining-hall, and council chamber during the fine weather. "A veray Paradise" it seemed to them with its great arched roof of branches so thickly interwoven that twilight reigned under them at noon and the trunks of the century-old trees rose in the dim light like columns of porphyry, its brave tapestry of living green " which May had peinted with his softe showres," its thick carpet of velvet sward starred with flowers ; on one side lay a meadow, on the other a row of fruit trees all afoam with pale blassoms; in the shade were beds of tall white lilies; where the young trees let the sun through their frail branches, the roses flamed; beyond the espaliers the meadow dipped toward the lake, and in the purple distance the hills rose faint and dream-like. When our Baron sat under the old trees hearing complaints and dealing out rough justice to his dependents, he was but following the example of Charlemagne and St. Louis and the fair sovereigns of the Proven~al courts of love ; there, too, the story-tellers of the Decameron assembled in the cool darkness. Old carved ivory caskets and mirror-covers may show us our lady with her bower maidens gathering flowers, crowning themselves with garlands, whispering secrets, or dancing hand in hand to the sound of viol and
The orchard was the home of the mediaeval idyl; there the lute throbbed,there the poets outsung the nightingales, there lovers met and parted, and the loveliest forms of mediaeval poetry, the Serena and the Alba, the evening song of ardent longing, the morning
song of reluctant farewell, were sung by lips tremulous with passion. But if the poets loved the gloom of the grove, the soldiers preferred the meadow which lay beside it, where the level sward was
all cut and trampled by the horse hoofs, for there every day bachelors, squires, and even the children of the castle practised horsemanship and rode at the quintain; a merry, bustling place it was, where the neighing of the horses, the dull thud of the lances on the shields, the laughter and shouts of the youngsters, and the commands of the old knight who was training them mingled in a joyous uproar. The last act in the ceremony of knighting took place here,
when the newly made knight in full armor, surrounded by parents, sponsors, and a host of friends, leaped on to his horse without touching the stirrup, took lance and shield, put the animal through its paces, and after a trial gallop rode straight at the quintain. This was the crucial test, and every youth must have felt that the decisive moment of his life had come, as he tightened his hold on
his lance and leaned forward in his saddle to strike. In earlier and ruder times a man's whole future depended on a good stroke. "I make thee Seneschal of my whole empire," cried Charlemagne to Renaud of Montauban when the split shields and the pierced hauberks fell be-
fore his lance. The wooden mannikin was often so arranged that if struck unskilfully it turned quickly and hit the awkward knight on the back with a bag of sand-a sad mishap, that brought upon him the laughter of the whole field. Few parents would have said with the terrible father of Eli of St. Giles, "An thou dost not hit the quintain I disinherit thee," but the act was felt to be a turning-point in a man's life, and no time nor pains were spared that he
might acquit himself honorably. So every day, in fair weather or foul, the meadow resounded with heavy lance blows, and the supply of shields and hauberks for the quintain was no unimportant detail in the long list of castle expenses. But it is time to re-enter the courtyard and pass into the hall.
The great hall of the castle was the theatre of indoor ceremonial. There were banquets, trial, and allocution; there liegemen and vassals came to put their hands between those of their overlord and swore to be his men; there delinquents were summoned, from the knight who slipped into his sleeve the silver spoons of his prince, to the fiery lord who, unclasping his mantle, threw it upon the floor in token of defiance to his adversary. The hall is rectangular, with high stained windows and wainscoting of oak; armors, scutcheons, and banners decorate it, and at the end, above the huge chimney place, the nine female champions, Semiramis, Tomyris, Penthesilea, and the rest, having exchanged their Assyrian jewels and Scythian furs for the triangular shields and straight swords of the fourteenth century stand in Amazonian guard above the banqueters. Even more important than the hall was the platform in front of the donjon door: there the ceremonial of knighting took place; the families of the young candidates thronged the courtyard, and the damoiseaux, all in white after their night of vigil in the chapel, bent to the accolade and arose licensed heroes and full fledged warriors. About them stood a group of the oldest and bravest knights, sponsors in this strange bridal, where the youth wedded battle and toil, and the richest marriage gift was the gaudium certaminis. An old lord stooped, and with fingers tremulous but still strong fastened on the spurs of the aspirant; others with hands that had cloven many a casque gave the undinted shield and helmet, and the suzerain himself buckled on the sword and belt.
Then the father approached; the youth bowed his head; a heavy blow upon the nape of the neck conferred the accolade, and the boy who the day before had groomed in the stables and stood behind his lord's chair at the banquet arose a knight, the brother in arms of Roland and of Arthur, the beloved and protected of the warrior angels. Within the walls of Pierrefonds the nineteenth century cannot penetrate, and it is easy to imagine the young knight at his most earnest work, the defence of his beloved castle. The pavement clangs again with armored heels; the walls echo the orders of captains; windlasses groan and pulleys strain, as baskets of missiles rise slowly from story to story of the towers ; the bow-strings twang behind the loop-holes; chips fly from the masonry as the cross-bolts strike it; battlements tumble inward under the blows of the mangonel stones; the walls thud dully as the ram batters them, and the smoke from the hourds, fired by the tar barrels penetrates even the stone entrails of Caesar and Charlemagne, where the women and children are sheltered from all but the noise; or if the garrison is hard pressed we may see the chatelaine and her ladies, like the women before Jerusalem, carrying stones in their long sleeves to the walls. But it was not always siege time, and the courtyard of a castle has echoed the procession of the whole Middle Ages; and as we see the people of the earlier times we wonder at fighting men gowned to the ground like women, forgetting that the mightiest warriors were centaurs. In the years when Britain was a vast anvil upon which sword and axe welded Saxon and Norman into Englishman, and when in the ears of Frank and German every trumpet sounded to Jerusalem, the Saxon white horse of Hengist and the destrier of the Norman baron were equally beloved. Ogier the Dane, sole survivor in his beleaguered castle, fed fresh oats to Broiefort and told him all his sorrows.
Renaud of Montauban, besieged like Ogier, bled his horse Bayard to give food to his starving children, but when a secret passage offered them freedom, it was Bayard first of all who was led into the underground gallery. Cavalier, chivalry - the names themselves tell a story, and upon the chess board so dear to the castle dweller, the horse-head represents the knight. "Strike at the
horses," said Charles of Anjou at Benevent, winning the fight and the contempt of the nobles, for the horse was the knight's other self, the saddle his battlefield, and he dismounted from it a
victor or fell from it a corpse.
When Pierrefonds was built the long-robed cavaliers had passed away, and mercenary troopers in tights and doublets clanked into the courtyard returning from raid or skirmish, while the women and lads poured out to meet them, to count the booty, and to tend the wounded. Or maybe the horsemen came in stately visit or in princely
"progress" from point to point, escorting a friendly lord or some fighting bishop like him of Winchester, who threatened "if the Pope takes my mitre, let him look to it, I will clap a helmet on my head." More often, daily indeed, it was the hunt that clattered out over the drawbridge, lords and ladies, children and all, joyously galloping, with their mediaeval epitome of brute creation, their beloved triad of horse, hound, and hawk. For come good or ill, the mediaeval man must hunt, and in peace or war he would fly his falcon.
Edward the Prince might invade France "with bacinet on head," his father, Edward the King, would follow him "with bird on fist," the crows hardly settling upon the battlefield before the falcon rose into the air. But the longest day's hunt had its end, and
before dark lord and lady passed up the winding staircase of the donjon where lay their own apartments.
We can enter my ladies' chamber without touching the bronze doorknocker, or disturbing the page in waiting, for this room is at once oratory, sitting-room, dining-room, boudoir, and bed-chamber, where privacy is neither expected nor desired. Here the
bower maidens, girls of noble birth who have left their homes to attend their feudal superior, embroider, gossip, and tell their beads, under the strict surveillance of Dame Alienor, a severe duenna. Here the chatelaine with her children about her sits by the fire-side in winter, in the deep embrasured window-seats in summer. Here, in a well-lighted corner, the chaplain, not one of those easy-going priests who could gallop through a hunting mass in a small quarter of an hour while my lord, only half awake, pulled on his boots and buckled his belt, but a learned clerk, has his lectern, and bends over the tomes. Near him and well out of the range of Dame Alienor's sharp glances, two young people play chess, she with her little dog curled up on her lap, he with his pet hawk hooded and
belled on his fist. His great hound lies on the hearth, while its fellow, with forepaws on the window-seat, is amusing himself after the fashion of most castle folk by watching the passers by. The
room is very lofty and lighted by two long windows; the ceiling is of wood, carved, painted, and gilded, with beams resting upon angel-headed brackets. The double-sashed windows, behind their carved shutters, are filled with painted glass; and their deep embra-
sures in the thick wall, benched and cushioned, were a favorite seat throughout the Middle Ages. Here, half concealed behind the curtains, lovers whisper together, for looking out of the window was one of "the fifteen joys of the castle," paying court to the damsels another, and from some scenes in the old romances we may believe that both could be enjoyed at once.
Sometimes a knight or a squire riding by to chase or tourney saw a lovely fair head framed in a gray, ivy-wreathed casement, and returned by the same road -for all bachelors were not as insensible
as Gerbert of Metz, who, when his cousin Garin cried, "Look, Gerbert, by our Lady, what a lovely face!" did not even glance up at the window where Rosamond sat, "white as the flower de luce,"
but answered, " What a fine beast my horse is." Gerbert would have looked more readily at the painted frieze upon the chamber wall where in contemporary costume Arthur and the knights and ladies of the round table ride in long procession against a deep-blue back-
ground. Below hang tapestries, worked by the chatelaine and her women, representing months of labor, and setting forth in rich frames of flowers, shields, and devices the loves of Tristan and
Isolde, for the Baroness is sentimental and romantic, and like all the learned and polite of her time has wept and dreamed over Gottfried von Strassburg's wonderful tale of lawless love.
This tapestry, masking the doors and tempering the draughts and the chill of the stone walls, was also a convenient hiding-place, carefully examined before a secret was told or confidences were
exchanged, for the dying Queen Elizabeth was not the only one who thrust at the arras with a sword, nor Hamlet the first who found a human rat there. The tiled floor, enamelled in red and blue, is covered with rugs, Persian or Saracenic, the skins of wild beasts, and piles of cushions, laced and embroidered with curious devices-here lies a child's toy, a soldier doll, there a lady's ivory reel.
and everywhere rushes are strewn, fresh cut from the lake. Ranged along the wall are huge carved dower-chests serving as seats, and clothes-presses filled with fine Holland linen, rich clothing,
and the splendid hangings of silk and gold brocade which decorate the rooms on gala days. Between two doors stands the dresser, with its prescribed allowance of shelves, two if our hostess be a baroness, three if a countess, five if she wears upon her surcoat the blazon of a queen-shelves splendid with goblets, beakers, and flagons, vases for comfits and spices and plate of gold and
epamel, all of which were carried to the great hall when the feast was spread there. Opposite the dresser is a long low cabinet, panelled withlittle pictures and exquisite with wrought steel hinges
and locks, this is the Baron's treasurehouse; its keys hang at his lady's girdle and never quit her side. Bertrand du Guesclin would have found it harder to force than his mother's chest when he paid his men at arms with the old lady's savings and she "son argent regreta." Within are family papers, the great seal, whereon the knight gallops fully armed, jewel caskets, a little ready money, best and most precious of all a gold reliquary shaped like a miniature cathedral, where-in are piously preserved a tooth of St.
Elizabeth, some hairs from the beard of St. George, and a bit of the identical mantle with which St. Martin clothed the beggar. This is the palladium of the castle; has it not already on one momentous occasion so heartened up the soldiers that after seeing and kissing it, they made the famous sally which raised the siege; and has it not also, when placed upon his pillow, cured the Baron of the tertian ague that he brought back from the dikes of Flanders-such facts convince the most skeptical, and skepticism was not common in those days of faith, when nevertheless certain balms prepared by the ladies after the prescriptions of Master Peter of Pavia and other learned leeches were not disdained. Just beyond the treasure cabinet, so that her protection may perhaps extend to its contents, is a fair ivory image of Our Blessed Lady gleaming whitely from the
gorgeous and dusky color below it; before it burns a silver lamp, and a jar of lilies is set beside the hassock and the Hours. Raised upon a dais, curtained, canopied, covered with fine linen, heaped
with pillows, furs, and brocaded coverlets, its four posts, where the evangelists watch amid a medley of birds, beasts, and flowers, reaching to the beamed ceiling, the bed of our Baron is a formidable piece of furniture and would dwarf a room less noble in its proportions.
In the fifteenth century it even became bigger, and after some high ceremonial often held a dozen gentlemen all arow and honored by the special distinction of sleeping with their host and peer. There, after tilting and feasting all day, they lay story-telling,boasting, and, to use their expressive mediaeval word, gabbing (gabants) till daylight, not at all crowded in a bed so big that a special officer
beat it nightly with his wand before the prince retired, lest an assassin should hide within its covers. Between the windows is the huge fireplace, its heavy chimney piece a stone bower of leaves, flowers, and birds, among which two strange heraldic beasts ramp
upon either side of the Baron's painted scutcheon. Below in the fire-place a man could stand upright, a whole tree be burned at once upon the tall fire-irons. Willow screens of all sizes protect the face or body from the heat, and there are baskets, too, of willow in which
the feet may be warmed without scorching the silken hose. The fire on the hearth was the beloved companion of castle folk during the longevenings of the cold season. Hearth and altar were concrete realities to the mediaeval baron, and one was not more sacred than the other, so many associations, so many tender and sacred memories gathered about the fireside. There the first born, the heir, was bathed, wrapped in his swaddling clothes, and swathed in stiff bands by the good wives -there the child leaning on his mother's knee heard the story of Roland, sobbed with rage at Ganelon's treason, breathed fast at the story of Roncesvaux, as its
details of neighing horses, of sword-strokes dinning upon the armor, of mailed bodies falling with ringing thud to the earth, was told with mediaeval minuteness by those who described what they had seen and heard in actual fight. More than once, clenching his little fist, he cried as did Clovis at the story of the crucifixion: "Oh, why was I not there with my men at arms !" There, too, the mother talked to him as she plied her distaff, of Caesar, Hector, Alexander, and the nine champions-useful information, as he found on the next feast day when the town was hung with tapestries and he recognized his heroes, every one of them, Alexander his favorite, on account of Bucephalus, first of all. There, too, on a little stool beside the mass priest's desk he learned his lessons; and the strong young fingers found the pen harder to wield than the lance. As a youth, with all the assembled household, he had sat around the red mass of glowing coals, late into the night, listening to the tales of the jongleurs, envoys from fairyland to a credulous and imaginative race of warriors, who declared a perpetual truce of God with these wandering minstrels. Oh, those wonderful evenings when at
the touch of the enehanter the golden gates of fiction swung open and revealed a new world to his spell-bound auditors, a world where it was always spring-time, where every woman was a princess and
had golden hair, where dragons were provided for the especial glory of young knights, and a man might have a battle every day in the week-the glittering, unrealworld from whence a strange company passed into the firelight. There rode the sons of Aymon, featureless, visored, and all four on one horse. Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, golden locked and flower crowned, with trailing sleeves and gorgeous clinging vestments, strolled by. Guillaume Fierabras galloped past, bleeding from his fifteen wounds, to tell his sovereign that Heathenesse had triumphed at Aliscans.
Godfrey of Bouillon led his crusaders to the assault, crying, "Do not fear deathnay, seek it." And with the heroes of legend and history rode a train from fairyland, Morgan the fay, Oberon the
dwarf, the sorceress of the Venusberg, the fairy wife of Thomas of Ercildoune, the Melusina of the Rhine legends, and a crowd of Kobolds, Brownies, Nixies, Undines, Sylphs, and Vampyres, all those
shapes fair or foul that danced in the moonlight, sang in the rivers, flew through the forest, darted among the blazing logs, haunted the church-yards, and lurked in the mines, daunting "the
dauntless mind of infancy " and putting even the knight's courage to the proof. By the fireside, too, was heard the gossip of the traveller, the adventures of holy Palmers, Pilgrims, and Crusaders, who could have said, with the Count of Soissons to the Sire de Joinville at the battle of Mansourah, " Senneschal, lessons crier et braire cette quenaille-Et par la Creffe Dieu, encore parlerons nous,
vous et moi, de cette journee en chambre devant dames." It is a long way from the bed-chamber to the chapel-through half-a-dozen smaller chambers, down the great staircase and across the court-so that a
yawning page has time to tie more than one point on his way thither to early mass.
The chapel is our lady's especial care. Here every morning mass is said, with chalice and pyx graven with quaint Byzantine figures, brought back by some crusading ancestor from the sack of Constantinople. The daylight struggles through panes of painted glass, and a galaxy of gold and silver lamps shines before the altar. The largest was vowed to our Blessed Lady by the Baron's
mother, if her son should return alive from the English wars, and when he came home after Poitiers with only a cloth-yard shaft in his shoulder, the dame's first care, in spite of harried lands and diminished revenue, was to pay her debt to the mother in heaven who had remembered the mother on earth. Although on feast days the family go in gay procession to the parish church, sometimes a baptism or a churching or a high mass is celebrated in the
chapel, and only last year the Baron's oldest son kept his vigil at arms there, and passed the night kneeling before the altar, keeping guard over his armor, the armor he was to wear on the morrow for the first time. By the beginning of the sixteenth century it was time to bid good-bye at once to our knight and his castle, donjon-towers, chapel and all. The feudal fortress had become an anachronism-
the gunner's linstock was an enchanter's wand, before which the castle vanished; for a half century more the huge towers panted under the blows of artillery; then opened wide window lungs to the
air. From eaves to base of the donjon a segment of masonry was cut away and stained casements stood one above another in their framework of late Gothic. Warwick and Kenilworth and a hundred English castles set perpendicular tracery in their frowning Norman walls. Francis I threw down the tower of the Louvre. The nobles followed his example. The springtime which the feudal lord had sought in orchard and forest invaded the castle, and the Renascence, the Reawakening, stood triumphant over the dead Middle Ages.
There has been no room in this section to consider the ideas and ideals of the Middle Ages, the strange mixture of
ignorance, superstition, shrewdness, valor, and poetical fancy that buzzed under the helmet of the feudal noble, and found vent in conquest and penance, tournament and amulet, fabulous history and fantastical legends, for the romance of mediaevalism would
fill volumes. We have only had time to pay a short visit to the castle, and as we bid it farewell and look back upon its
inmate-standing among his horses and dogs, with falcon on wrist and sword on thigh, we see in him a being of 'a very chequered complexion' of character, not to be regarded as an extinct phenomenon but as a natural and a useful instrument.
An autocrat by necessity, a tyrant often by inclination-something
of a robber and much of a brute, he was also often a fine gentleman and at times a true hero, like his own sword, hard and sharp, but tempered to the hilt. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the knight was merged in the courtier and the diplomat. Sidney and
Bayard were exceptions reverenced by all Europe; for the real preux chevaliers we turn to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Through four hundred years the abbey had sheltered civilization from the Barbarian, but the celibate monk could not spread it. The knight
graved upon his sword-blade the Christian virtues, mercy to the weak, and defence of the helpless together with the more secular virtues of fortitude and courage, and he enforced them with its
edge. In an age when all men were violent, his code of honor was an unmixed good. In. both England and France, between king and priest, the patriot noble often, like a new Brennus, threw his heavy sword into the scale upon the side of the public weal; and in England it was not until when, in the wars of the Roses, the sword of the
baron was broken at Tewksbury and Barnet Field, that the Tudor kings built upon a submissive church a despotism which necessitated the great rebellion. Thus we may look back with gratitude at the splendid pomp of mediveval days, faded now and unsubstantial as the
worm-eaten tapestries that pictured it; and at the life that once filled the castles which on Rhine and Thames and Seine still rise in their armor of ivy and mist like the ghosts of the old Paladins.