Medieval Occupations and Jobs: Servant. The Life of a Castle Servant.

Domestic servants in the Middle Ages were in charge of procuring, storing, and preparing food. Many male servants were military personnel and worked as gatekeepers and esquires. Some of them served other functions as well.

At the lower level, servants were recruited from the localities. Higher-level positions (such as attending a Lord) were often filled by men of rank, relatives or retainers. 

Servants made up the bulk of the people who lived in a castle. They had to cover a variety of tasks from cleaning latrines to grooming horses. Everyone except the lord’s family and their high-ranking guests slept in the great hall, a very large room and the centre of the castle.

Castle servants were normally men, as service to a master was part of the structure of their medieval life. Lords expected to be served by well-born men and boys – while a king would expect to be served by the sons of great nobles.

Servant Ranks

Life in a medieval castle followed a very hierarchical structure. The Lord was, of course, at the top – governed and acted as a judge. The servants had very defined positions too.

The steward (seneschal or major-domo) oversaw the responsibilities for the domestic affairs. 

The chamberlain was responsible for the chamber or private living quarters, and the Master of the Wardrove, in charge of clothing and domestic items. 

The marshal had roughly equal authority as the steward. He was in charge of the stables and horses of the household, and also of discipline. 

The seneschal kept the records and did bureaucratic jobs. The chaplain saw to the spiritual needs of the castle folk. 

High ranking servants had assistants that helped them perform their tasks. These could be grooms, pages, and valet de chambres – usually younger boys but sometimes also artists, musicians, and other specialists. 

Servant, wearing hat, supporting with both hands platter on which is bird, approaches draped round table.
Servant, wearing hat, supporting with both hands platter on which is bird, approaches draped round table. Breviary. France, ca. 1511. MS M. 8 fol. 1r

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