Medieval Society I:  Aristocratic Lifestyle (Nobles and Knights)


The social structure which grew up in the early Middle Ages was clearly a product of the disorders of this period.
Much of society was organized on the local level.  Localities had to be as self-sufficient as possible; because they had relatively little contact with one another.
While a few groups, like soldiers, pilgrims, and merchants, might move around a good deal, the majority of the population remained close to home.  Most men and women lived their whole lives within sight of the village where they were born.  During the Middle Ages, particularly in the earlier centuries, most people led a fairly isolated existence, largely unexposed to the intellectual crosscurrents which help bring about change.
A medieval bishop characterized his society as being divided into three groups: "the men who work, the men who fight, and the men who pray."  These were the three great social classes of the medieval world.
Estates:  the name which people of the Middle Ages applied to these social classes.
(1)  First Estate = the Christian clergy (the men who pray)
(2)  Second Estate = the Warrior Aristocracy (the men who fight)
(3)  Third Estate = the rest of the population (the men who work)
The first two estates were the 'upper classes' or elite of medieval society.  Although they comprised a relatively small percentage of the population (never more than about 5%), they dominated that society.
Throughout the Middle Ages, most (though not all) members of the third estate were agricultural laborers known collectively as peasants.  Among the peasants there were three basic sub-groups (serfs, slaves, and free peasants).  It was largely their work that supported the Churchmen and warriors.
As the Middle Ages progressed, a new social group appeared on the scene -  townspeople who who lived in the fast growing towns and cities of late medieval Europe.  Despite great economic and social differences within the ranks of townspeople, medieval society grouped them in the third estate, along with the peasants.  Although they remained vastly outnumbered by the peasant population, their growing economic and political strength soon made them the dominant sector of the medieval working class.
When the bishop characterized medieval society, he referred to the men who worked, fought, and prayed.  This merely illustrates his masculine orientation.  Actually, women belonged to all three estates, including the clergy (albeit their role as members of the church was fairly narrow.)
The bishop was also referring to Christian society.  During the Middle Ages, virtually all of Europe converted to Christianity.  The relatively few non-Christians who were permitted to live among the Christian majority were, at best, barely tolerated.  They were social outcasts who did not really fit into any of the three estates.
Most of the non-Christians whose presence medieval society usually tolerated, but never welcomed were Jews.  A few, primarily in Spain and southern Italy, were Moslems.  Both groups were used as scapegoats for anything which went wrong in medieval society.
Examples of medieval intolerance:
(1)  At the beginning of the First Crusade (c. 1095), crusaders starting out for the Holy Land massacred Jews in France and Germany.
(2)  In the mid-fourteenth century, many European Christians blamed the Jews for the great plague that devastated Europe and which may have destroyed more than a third of the European population. Several of their explanations for the plague worked to the distinct disadvantage of the Jewish population.  
(a)  It was God's judgment against a society that would allow non-believers to live among Christians.
(b)  The Jews were causing the plague by "poisoning the wells." 
No matter that that Jews were dying from the plague every bit as quickly as Christians or that many who drank from those supposedly poisoned wells never got sick.  In what was considered 'just retribution,' many Jews were slaughtered by the frightened Christian majority.
Pogrom:  a word which refers to a massacre of the Jewish population.
Although the life of a warrior in the Middle Ages tended to be far better than that of a peasant, by modern standards, it would be considered quite primitive.  One need only remember how many things we take for granted simply did not exist during the Middle Ages.  They were no more available to the wealthiest king than to the humblest worker.  

Medieval Warrior

The medieval warrior was a member of the Second Estate.
Knight:  the English word for the heavily-armed, mounted warrior of the Middle Ages.
Knighthood:  the state of being a knight.
The usual candidate for knighthood was a young man who had been born into the warrior class and whose father had been a knight before him.  Only on fairly rare occasions did a commoner from the third estate win knighthood.
Knighthood was an exclusively masculine institution.  A women could not become a knight.  In fact, for a woman to wear men's clothing was regarded as unnatural and could get her in serious trouble with society and the church (witness the case of  the maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc. One of the charges brought against Joan was the wearing of men's clothing.)
Most Romance languages had a term meaning "knight" which was related to their word for "horse" - the animal with which the the medieval warrior was most closely-associated.
(1)  Chevalier (French)  (Horse = cheval)
(2)  Caballero (Spanish)  (Horse = caballo)
(3)  Cavaliere (Italian)  (Horse = cavallo)
Chivalry:  a word, derived from French (cheval, chevalier); it refers to that whole code of honorable conduct in accordance with which a warrior was supposed to shape his actions.  Knighthood is often used as an English synonym for chivalry.
The institution of knighthood probably grew out of the primitive German ceremony - described by the Roman historian Tacitus - in which young warriors, upon coming of age, were given their arms in the presence of the tribe, making them full-fledged members.
Many aspects of medieval society can be seen to have their roots in either the Roman or German past.  Knighthood is just one illustration of this important fact. 
Over the course of the Middle Ages, knighthood, like almost everything else, underwent an evolutionary process.  The whole concept of the knight and his duties to society grew increasingly complex.
In the early period, the knight was called upon to be loyal to his lord; and faithful to his vassal.  He was to show courage (prowess) in battle.  He was to defend his own rights and honor; as well as the rights and honor of family members.  Thus, early knighthood was almost exclusively a military ethic which centered around the individual and his family.  The only outsiders to whom he owed a duty were his lord and his vassal.  In this early period, knightly training was also rudimentary.  While a person might spend a short period of time in some other warrior's household, leaning the rudiments fighting, much of his real training was what we might call “on the job.”  The young warrior would be introduced to battle where he could sharpen his skills by actually fighting the enemy.
Accolade:  tap on the shoulder with the flat of a sword making a man a knight.
Forces which helped reshape the ideals of the medieval knight as the Middle Ages progressed:
(1)  Christianity
(2)  Changing view of women
As the Middle Ages progressed, an ever more elaborate code of chivalry infused with Christian values tried to impress upon the knight that his obligations extended beyond just himself, his family, and his lord or vassal; that in fact, he owed various duties to the larger society in which he lived.  In particular, chivalry came to embody his obligation to promote the interests of the Church, to spread the faith, and to protect the poor, the defenceless, and the downtrodden of society.
Around the year 1000, the new rules were set forth by the Church in two remarkable documents:
(1)  The Peace of God (pax dei): listed the non-combattants of society whom the knight was not to harm.  These included widows, orphans, travellers, merchants, priests, pilgrims, and peasants.
(2)  The Truce of God (truga dei): specified certain days of every week, and whole seasons of the year when all fighting was to cease.
Although often ignored in practice, these rules helped define chivalry in its more developed state.  All of these changes reflect Christian influences on the code of chivalry.
Later in the Middle Ages, the Church also decreed that it was part of the knightly function to participate in crusades, both to protect and to spread the faith.
Crusade (from the Latin word 'crux' meaning 'cross'):  holy war that Christian society conducted not against pagans and the followers of Islam, but also against heretical Christians.
Another significant force which helped alter the concept of chivalry was the improving status of women in the Middle Ages.
Early medieval society, like many other past societies, did not have a particularly high regard for women.  Nor did Christian theory help much to improve their standing, since it tended to view women in a rather unfavorable light - as the temptress, Eve, whom men should avoid as much as possible.
Dowry:  the property that a woman brought to marriage; an important consideration in estimating her "value".
However, once again over the course of centuries, there were counter-currents which did tend to improve the status of women:
(1)  The important role aristocratic women played in a rough-and-ready society where warriors were often away fighting or had died young
(2)  The cult of the Virgin Mary
(3)  The cult of Courtly Love
The lady of the manor played a major role in running the household and even the estate, particularly when her husband was absent, injured, or dead - all of them fairly frequent occurences in the Middle Ages!  In an age of disorder, as in any frontier society, the demands on everybody tend to be greater.  Consequently, both men and women are required to pull a heavier load.  This often results in a rise in the status of women, society's way of acknowledging their contribution.
In the early church, Mary had not been the highly important figure she became during the Middle Ages.  By raising her to a leading position in Christian doctrine, the church helped improve, by association, the image of women as a whole.  There was now a new Christian image of women--Mary, the compassionate mother--to counter the older image--Eve, the temptress who leads man into sin.
Courtly love was a "secular idealization" of women.  It created the powerful image of the "knight's lady," a woman whom the knight was to place upon a pedestal and in whose name he was to do his great deeds.  Starting around the 12th century, this image began to permeate the chivalric literature.  Spread by the troubadours, the cult of courtly love called upon the knight to adore, honor and serve a particular lady; and, to be courteous and good to all noble ladies.  (Note that the words "courteous" and "courtly" derive from this phenomenon.)
The object of a knight's courtly love was not ordinarily his own wife.  Not infrequently, it was somebody else's wife (a fact which has led one historian to characterize courtly love as "adultery raised to the level of social obligation!")  This could often lead to marital problems: witness the most famous "love triangle" of the Middle Ages, the case of King Arthur, his wife, Queen Guinevere, and her "courtly lover," Sir Lancelot, which destroyed the king's friendship for Lancelot and brought down the Round Table.
 Eleanor of Aquitaine:  the strong willed duchess who married the king of France, then deserted him for the younger and more handsome king of England, Henry II.  Eventually, she mothered two of England's most famous (though by no means most competent monarchs--Richard the Lionheart and his brother, John; and, when they came of age, plotted with both of them against her husband, Henry.  She played a key role in pioneering and promoting the idea of courtly love, by gathering around her minstrels and troubadours who composed the romances of chivalry that became the embodiment of courtly love.
Despite improvement in image and condition of women, widowhood remained the freest time in a woman's life - a period when she was not under the control of some male - and noblewomen often paid for the right to remain widows when their lords or relatives tried to marry them off for a second or third time!
 As the medieval period progressed, training for knighthood became more elaborate and institutionalized.
There came to be three stages through which a knight was expected to pass:
(1)  Page (age 7-14)
(2)  Squire (age 14-21)
(3)  Knight
Training was usually conducted in someone else's household.  Thus, the would-be knight had to leave his home at a relatively young age (approximately 7).
Only while he was still a page could a future knight be required to do menial tasks.  At that point, it was considered good discipline.  Later on, such tasks would be considered to be below him.
Important Aspects of knightly training:
(1)  use of weapons
(2)  riding
(3)  hunting
(4)  falconry
(5)  gaming (!!)  (A warrior had to know how to gamble like a gentleman!)
In some relatively refined households, there might also be some training in poetry, music, and dancing.
Rarely would the education including reading and writing, for which the warrior class saw little use throughout most of the Middle Ages.
Even the ceremony of becoming a knight became much more elaborate.  It was the secular equivalent of ordination to the priesthood.  A young man dressed in special clothes, fasted for 24 hours, and spent a night in prayer and contemplation before the accolade was administered.  The higher ranking the person to administer the accolade, the better.
There was also a ceremony for stripping a man of his knighthood, in which he was declared "dead to the world," not dissimilar to what happened in the ceremony conducted for lepers, the most despised segment of medieval society.
Not all squires became knights.  While some failed to complete the training, others were simply not wealthy enough to take on the mantle; in fact, the elderly squire became a medieval literary stereotype.

Medieval Weaponry (Arms, Armor, and Training)

The primary weapons of the medieval warrior:
(1) sword
(2) dagger
(3) lance
The sword was the weapon most typical of the medieval warrior.  In fact, the right to wear a sword was a distinguishing feature of membership in the warrior class.  In many European countries, right up into the nineteenth century, it remained a privilege of noblemen to wear a sword in everyday life.  However, while an aristocrat might at times put aside his sword, he would rarely be found without his dagger.
Broadsword:  a heavy, two-handed type of sword used only in battle.
Other aristocratic weapons:  battleaxe, mace, morning star, war hammer, ball and chain or battle flail
Use of the Battleaxe:  In some parts of northern Europe (for example among the Vikings) , the battleaxe was used at least as extensively as the sword.
There were also some weapons which  a medieval knight would not use in battle.  (For example:  the pike, club, bow, and crossbow.)
Reasons for Not Using a Weapon:
(1)  The weapon was not well suited for use on horseback. (The pike was a long spear designed for use by a footsoldier.)
(2)  It was regarded as a lower class weapon (pike, club).
(3)  It was not as effective as other weapons available.  (A club was potentially less lethal than an edged weapon such as a sword or battleaxe.)
(3)  It was regarded as unfair or ungentlemanly.  (Although aristocrats might make use of a bow or crossbow in hunting, they would not normally use such weapons on the battlefield.  Since a gentleman was expected to fight his enemy in hand-to-hand combat, these weapons, which could kill a man at a distance, were regarded as unfair.)
Warrior churchmen were a common feature on medieval battlefields.  Despite the fact that churchmen were still banned by Christian law from spilling blood, despite their ability to send a substitute to render military service in their place (called an advocatus), many churchmen still took in battle.  High churchmen (abbots, bishops, archbishops) tended to come from the warrior class and shared their relatives' war-like ethic.  Some tried to rationalize their conduct:  for example, the bishop who plead a split personality.  He said that when he was in his church, he was a cleric; when out on the battlefield, a warrior vassal of his lord.  Some used a club on the grounds that killing with a blunt weapon like that was not actually spilling blood, as would be the case with an edged weapon like a sword or axe.
Armor also constituted a critical part of the medieval warrior's equipment.  It came in two forms:
(1)  Shield
(2)  Body armor
Over the course of the Middle Ages, both medieval weaponry (both arms and armor) underwent an evolutionary process that tended toward greater lethality and greater weight.
  Armor grew heavier.  Although heavier armor provided greater protection, there could be trade-offs:  in some cases, it limited both vision and mobility.
Four kinds of medieval armor (in order of development):
(1)  Thick, tanned leather
(2)  Such leather with small metal rings or plates sewn to it
(3)  Chain mail
(4)  Plate armor
Chain mail
(often simply called mail):  a flexible, interwoven mesh made of metal which was capable of turning aside or at least slowing the penetration of hand-held metal weapons and stopping arrows from the short bow of the early Middle Ages.
Plate armor:  a suit composed of iron plates molded to fit the human body and joined together to allow some degree of movement.  When one thinks of a suit of armor, one is thinking of plate armor.
Shields:  There was a change in shape from round to kite-shaped (roughly triangular) as the Middle Ages learned that this shape gave greater body protection for less weight.  Later in the medieval period, as body armor became heavier, shields tended to become somewhat smaller - to the point where they could no longer fulfill one of their earlier functions as stretchers for the wounded.
The increasing weight of body armor raised a key question:  how much weight could a person carry and still be an effective fighter?  It has been argued that if a fully armored knight of the later Middle Ages were to fall off his horse, and land on his back, he be relatively  helpless, akin to a turtle suffering a similar misadventure. However, recent research into the use of good suits of plate armor have shown that they could be relatively flexible.
Reasons for the changes in armor which occurred over the course of the Middle Ages:
(1)  Improved metal-working techniques
(2)  Improvement in weaponry (crossbow, longbow) necessitated the use of stronger (and therefore heavier) armor
Crossbow:  although present at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the crossbow did not come into general use until after the First Crusade, around the year 1100.  It fired a bolt or quarrel that had great penetrating power and which, due to its relatively short length, was fairly easy to transport.  It could be fired from behind cover, making it a perfect weapon for castle defense.  In the field, crossbowmen often fought behind a stand-up shield known as a pavisse.  
The crossbow was such a fearsome weapon that in 1139, the papacy issued a decree at the Second Lateran Council, outlawing its use against Christians.  Henceforward, according to the pope, it should be used only against second-rate folks such as Moslems, pagans, and heretics!  This is history's first example of an attempt to prohibit a weapon, on the grounds that it was too terrible to use; and, like most other such attempts, this one failed.
Knightly attitude:  even those skilled in the use of crossbows in hunting tended to hate the use of this weapon which undercut their preeminence on the battlefield.  There are instances in which they rode down their own crossbowmen (e. g. the battle of Crecy, 1346) and crossbowmen captured often had their hand cut off. 
Nevertheless, most European armies made use of crossbowmen in their armies; they were simply too useful in warfare to put aside because of knightly scruples.  Some places, most notably the Italian merchant city of Genoa, trained crossbowmen to serve as mercenaries in feudal armies.
Longbow:  Essentially an English weapon.  In the 13th century, the English, in their conquest of Wales, ran afoul of the heavy Welch bow.  They were so impressed  that they borrowed and improved upon it.  It was this borrowed piece of military technology became the feared English longbow.  The longbow was as powerful as the best crossbows and could fire at a much greater rate.  It was the best missile weapon before the invention of the gun and helped account for England's victories over the French in the Hundred Years War. However, its use required considerably more training than use of a crossbow and required carrying arrows that were longer and therefore less portable than crossbow bolts.
Various of the entertainments most important to the warrior class actually constituted forms of weapons training.
(1)  Horsemanship:  the horse was the animal most closely associated with the warrior class.  Only a warrior enjoyed the right to fight and hunt from horseback.  Many places, the very possession of a warhorse constituted proof that one was a member of this class.  Consequently, mastery of the horse was a duty, a necessity, a pleasure, and a point of pride. (1)  For many in the warrior class, warfare was a major entertainment as well as an occupation.
(2)  Mock warfare
(a)  Joust - single combat between warriors carried on for sport (not to be mistaken for a duel or trial by battle!)  
(b)  Tournament - a fight which involved a number of men on either side.  Sometimes they fought as teams; sometimes as individuals.
Melee:  an alternate name for tournamen; it is still used to refer to a brawl.
Although the joust and tournament were sporting events, they were very dangerous ones and not infrequently, participants were severely wounded or killed while taking part in them. The most famous joust in history occurred in 1559 when the French king, Henry II, was killed during the celebrations for his daughter's wedding.
Duel (Trial by Battle):  a serious combat, often fought to the death, for the purpose of settling a quarrel.  A joust, which was a sporting event, was different than a duel.  Nevertheless, both not infrequently ended in severe injury or death.
(3)  Hunting:  Either on foot or on horseback, using swords, spears, javelins, and crossbows, medieval aristocrats spent much of their time slaughtering the wild animals which still inhabited the European world.  In addition to relatively peaceful game, like deer and elk, there were a number of animals which could be quite formidible: for example, wolves, bears, and wild boar.
Falconry (or "Hawking"):  The use trained birds of prey to hunt for smaller birds and animals.  It was a form of hunting which was highly favored by medieval aristocrats (and which is still practiced in various parts of the Near East.)
Henry the Fowler:  an example of the passion for hunting displayed by nobles.  When messengers arrived telling him of his election to the imperial crown, rather than thanking them, he scolded them for scaring away the birds he was hunting.
On the Art of Hunting with Falcons:  a book written by an intellectual emperor of the thirteenth century named Frederick II, dealing not only with the life and training of falcons, but also with the many bird and small animals that falcons hunted.  Many historians regard this as the finest scientific book of the Middle Ages.
Throughout the Middle Ages, hunting was a jealously guarded privilege of the aristocracy in many parts of Europe.  Peasants were not allowed to hunt.  If they defied this ban, it was considered to be poaching (illegal hunting), for which there were savage penalties, including branding, maiming or, in certain places, even death.  In fact, the peasant was not even permitted to kill gave on his own land, to protect his crops from destruction.  The famous case of this in literature involved a legendary English hero (we do not know when he live or even if he lived):  Robin Hood.


Most of the homes of medieval aristocrats were heavily fortified places of the sort we call castles.  These tended to be dark and drafty.  To afford better protection and to help keep out as much of the cold air as possible, castles had relatively few windows, and those usually on upper floors where they were less vulnerable to attack.
Castle:  derived from the Latin word 'castra,' meaning the fortified camp in which a legion was quartered.  In the centuries of disorder which accompanied the fall of Rome, private individuals began to construct fortified dwellings of their own.  Such a dwelling became known as a castellum, or "little castra".
The medieval castle was the chief architectural expression of the feudal age, comparable to the cathedral in the religious sphere.  It served as the center of local authority and as a refuge for the local population in times of disorder.
Whenever possible, such structures were erected on an easily defensible spot, such as a hilltop or behind the natural protection afforded by a stream.  If these natural features were not available, it might be constructed on an artificial mound, surrounded by a man-made ditch.
Moat:  the man-made ditch surrounding the castle.
Palisade:  the wooden fence enclosing early castles.
The earliest castles were built primarily of wood.  By later medieval standards, they were quite primitive structures - blockhouses of rough-hewn logs, sometimes containing just a single large room with narrow slits for windows which let in a minimum of light.  Such a structure would be surrounded by a wooden stockade (the palisade), with the earth pushed up around it to give it added strength.  Every so often, along the length of this stockade, the builder might strengthen the defenses by putting up a tower.  Outside the stockade would be the moat.
Drawbridge:  the bridge across the moat, which could be drawn up in time of attack. There might be several drawbridges incorporated into the castle defenses.
As the medieval centuries passed, the castle underwent major changes:
(1)  An increase in the number of different buildings within the castle complex:  Originally, the main building might serve a number of functions - fortress, residence, storehouse and stable all combined into one structure.  However, over the course of centuries, new buildings were erected, each to serve a special function.  The creation of separate stables and storehouses, as well as new residential wings, provided the castle's inhabitants with greater space and privacy.
(2)  The switch from wood to stone as a building material:  With the cultural decline following the fall of Rome, the use of stone in construction had become far less common throughout the west.  Over the medieval centuries, however, the west relearned the the art of the stone masonand the techniques of stone architecture.  This relearning process seems to have been stimulated by increasing contact with the eastern Mediterranean, where both the Byzantine Empire and Islam were culturally far ahead of the west.  Eventually, the wood blockhouse was replaced by a multistory stone tower known as the donjon or keep. Even with the switch-over to stone, wood continued to be an important building material in the construction of castles.  Furthermore, some parts of the structure (eg. roof and floor) continued to be regularly made of wood.  In addition, stone tended to be more expensive and required the hiring of specialized craftsmen known as masons.  Consequently, even the wealthiest aristocrats would build stone dwellings only on their most important estates; making due elsewhere with wood or a combination of wood and stone.  
(3)  The move from square to round forms:  The original building material - wood - had dictated more or less square or rectangular buildings.  These had been carried over into the original stone castles, in which the buildings and the towers lining the walls were square.  Eventually, however, two factors encouraged the switchover to rounded structures: 
(a)  The re-introduction of siege artillery gave medieval armies an effective means of attacking castles. 
(b)  It was discovered that rounded walls were more resistant to artillery than square walls.  This does not mean that square forms were entirely superceded.  Many later castles contain a bewildering combination of square and rounded towers and buildings.  However, it is safe to generalize that more and more, round elements replaced square ones - especially at those points in the defenses where resistance to siege artillery was vital.
(4)  The creation of concentric fortifications:  Concentric fortifications were simply a system of walls within walls.  In attacking these multi-layered defensive structures, an enemy might manage to overrun the outer wall, only to encounter another wall which he would have to attack.  Since this inner wall was usually stronger and built on higher ground than the one he had just captured, the fact that he held the outer wall was not of much use to him.  Furthermore, it would often be harder to find a good spot from which to bring his siege artillery to bear against this inner wall.
By the late twelfth century, the engineers and masons of western Europe had combined to construct the great stone fortifications which dominated the rural landscape.  As engineering feats, many of these massive structures rivalled the great gothic cathedrals of the age.
Examples:  Krak des Chevaliers (Syria); Chateau Gaillard (Normandy); Coucy le Chateau (north of Paris)

Lifestyle of the Medieval Warrior

Not every member of the warrior class could afford his own castle -  even one made out of wood.  The majority of medieval warriors served other, more important members of their class; and many of them lived in the castles of the men whom they served.  In medieval society, a warrior who served someone else was known as a vassal; the person whom he served was his lord.                                                                                                                                                                                                       For lord or vassal, life in a medieval castle, whether it was wood or stone, would have been relatively uncomfortable.  Such structures were cold, damp, and drafty; and tended to be quite crowded.  Privacy for the inhabitants of a castle was usually at a minimum. Move from wood to stone actually made castles colder, since wood is a better insulating material.
Relatively few varieties of furniture existed, even for the use of the upper classes (chairs, tables, benches, stools, chests for storage, beds for the leading figures in the castle.)
Although the more important occupants of the castle, such as the lord and his family had beds, the majority probably slept on pallets or bedrolls brought out at night and thrown on the floor.  Four poster beds with bed curtains increased warmth and privacy.
Starting around the time of the crusades, rugs and tapestries were added to the castle's furnishings.  These floor and wall coverings helped make castles somewhat warmer and more habitable places.  However, both dcontinued to be luxury items throughout the Middle Ages.
Most castles, especially in the earlier period, had as their only form of insulation a layer of straw thrown down on the floor, in order to help protect against the winter cold.
Disadvantages of a straw floor-covering:
(1)  Food thrown to the animals would often get into the straw and decompose.
(2)  The animals which frequented the castle would urinate and defecate into it.
By spring, the inhabitants of the castle were usually glad to see the winter covering swept out the door!
Clothing:  The selection of clothing available in the Middle Ages was relatively limited.  Most of it was made of either wool or hides.  Although silk was also available, it was an extremely expensive import from the Far East or the Byzantine Empire, beyond the price range of low-ranking members of the warrior class.  Cotton, which had to come from India, was virtually unknown.  Linen was widely used, but probably more costly as wool; brocades were expensive.
There was no underwear until around the thirteenth century; nor were there special nightclothes.  People habitually slept at night in part of the same clothing they had worn during the day; and, in cold weather, spare clothing often served as blankets.
The problems of cold, lack of privacy, and lack of clothing are all reflected in the design of medieval beds.  These tended to have high bedposts at the four corners; from which were hung bed curtains.  These bed curtains provided both warmth and a certain measure of privacy to those lucky enough to have such a bed.
The interior of a castle, especially in winter, was more often than not filled with smoke which came from both the sources of heat (an open fire either on the stone floor or in an iron brazier) and of light (primarily torches, and occasionally the more expensive candles).
Chimney and fireplace:  It was not until later in the Middle Ages that the chimney introduced into western architecture, making possible the kind of enclosed and vented fireplaces we know today. The appearance of the chimney caused a revolution in the lifestyle of western man.  It made it possible to construct a number of rooms, each of which could be heated by an individual fireplace.  No longer did everybody have to huddle around the common fire in the main hall.  This, in turn, greatly promoted the growth of privacy in the west.
Getting enough food tended to be a much more serious problem in the Middle Ages than it is in modern western society.  Given the technology of the period, agricultural surpluses were smaller and harder to store successfully than in the modern world.  Nor was it usually possible, given the primitive system of transportation, to move food supplies from one district to another.  As a result, medieval men and women were far more vulnerable to famine than their modern counterparts.  Although this critical problem particularly threatened peasants, it could, upon occasion, affect aristocrats as well.
A member of the warrior class not only got larger quantities of food than the average peasant; he ordinarily enjoyed a far greater variety.
Food varieties available to aristocrats:
(1)  Meat from domesticated animals (beef, pork, lamb, pigeon)
(2)  Wild game
(3)  Vegetables (in season)
(4)  Bread
(5)  Drinks (fruit juice, ale, wine, beer, mead; and, later in the Middle Ages, distilled liquor)
Distillation Process:  Increases the alcoholic content; appears to have been developed in the monasteries, probably by the Benedictine Order, and became a significant source of revenue.  The process soon spread into the secular world.
The aristocrat's major food problem was normally neither abundance nor variety, but rather preservation.  The primitive methods of storage guaranteed that much which was served, especially during the winter, would reach the table in a moldly, rancid, or semi-spoiled state.  Knights, as well as peasants in the Middle Ages, had to have good digestive systems!
Other than fingers, the only eating utensils common in the Middle Ages were the spoon and knife, often one's own dagger for cutting and spearing meat.  An aristocrat's dagger rarely left his person.  (If a woman did not have a dagger, she would borrow one from the nearest male at the table.)  Forks, which were only introduced late in the Middle Ages from the Byzantine Empire, took a long time to catch on.
Although plates were used with some kinds of food, eaters often dispensed with them.  The bread trencher shaped like a bowl was often used.
Table scraps were thrown to the animals or saved for the poor.
Entertainment of medieval aristocrats (other than combat related):
(1)  Games:  backgammon, dice, and chess.  Cards seem to have been invented only in the later Middle Ages; according to tradition to entertain an insane, late fourteenth century French monarch known as Charles the Mad.  They quickly spread and, by the late fifteenth century, were highly popular in Europe.
(2)  Occasionally, travelling entertainers would arrive at the castle and put on a show.  These included travelling actors, acrobats, animal tamers, and strolling players to put on what passed for drama in this period..  Most popular of all were the story tellers who were called minstrels (English), troubadours (French) and minnesingers (Germany).  They recited the great epic poems, known as chansons de geste (literally "songs of deeds") which told of great heroes such as King Arthur, Roland, and Sigfried.
(3)  Visiting the medieval fairs
(4)  Feasting, drinking, sex
Reading is not included among the common entertainments of aristocrats.  Throughout most of the Middle Ages, most members of the warrior class were no more able to read than the peasants they dominated.  Reading was largely confined to clerics or churchmen.  In fact, at one time, simply demonstrating an ability to read was regarded as sufficient proof that one was a member of the clergy.  It would only be toward the end of the Middle Ages that the aristocracy would become literate when it was to their advantage to do so.