Life in a Medieval Castle is one of a series of compelling historical reference books written by acclaimed husband and wife historians Frances and Joseph Gies in the 1970’s. Life in a Medieval Castle (along with companion books Life in a Medieval Village and Life in a Medival City) were re-released in 205 under the weight of recommendation by the ever-popular novelist George RR Martin, who celebrates the work of the Gies as offering all of the colourful reference material for him to write the Game of Thrones novels.
Although far from being a mere stuffy reference manual about medieval history, Life in a Medieval Castle, along with sister books Life in a Medieval Village and Life in a Medieval City all offer an evocative, vivid and historical novel-like experience of what medieval Europe was like.
Life in a Medieval Castle focuses on Chepstow, a crumbling Norman castle that survived the turbulent Middle Ages and has remained battle scarred but still standing today. The Gieses take us through the full cycle of a medieval year, governed by the rhythms of the harvest and occasionally punctuated by war, invasion and a bad crop. We learn all about how lords and ladies thought about themselves and others, and what they ate, wore, did for pleasure and how they imagined the world to be.
It’s written in an accessible, intriguing, and readable style that’s uncommon among historians. This book is all the more compelling because it is the background material of the ever-popular Game of Thrones series and you can find some symbols, words and political intrigue that occured in Chepstow Castle actually show up in the Game of Thrones series.
The book is all the more compelling because it’s factual and this adds further weight and colour to the already colourful descriptions of medieval falconry, sumptuous banquet menus, honourable knights, forthright and strong women and the currencies of power that flowed through these iconic castles.
The medieval magic and romance of castles isn’t dismantled in this book, but rather is celebrated in all of its imaginative glory and colour. I would recommend this historical account to anyone with a penchant for Game of Thrones, historical fiction books or film, the fantasy genre or fantasy/RPG gaming. If you liked this, you may enjoy this ramble through the medieval artisans of Poland, a chapel of skulls in Poland, how old Norse became modern English and the ancient art of Kulning.