A sanctuary for a dark age. When there was little law in the land, and robbers and brigands were at liberty in the wild, a man’s home was his castle…
Taking in to account the enormous diffusion of castles in former times; medieval Germany alone had more than ten thousand of them, and the fact that the country’s population was quite thin by today’s standards, we can see that castles ranked high as dwelling places. It would be a mistake to see them purely as military installations. They belong more nearly in the category of civilian shelter that in wartime gave refuge to peripheral folk, villagers, peasants, even burghers of neighboring towns. These emergency uses have been all but forgotten; Hollywood has bullshitted and romanticized it down to insipid creatures, not even men who would never in their right mind burn down a village or torture an enemy. And there was no battle except when slaying a dragon and holding decorous, latter-day Andromedas in their clutches.
The bona-fide knight of yore was on intimate terms with the supernatural because his lair seemed to exert as special attraction for spirits, good and evil. But then, the earth was still flat, the heavens were hanging low, and divine intervention seemed more frequent than in our day. Saints still took a personal interest in people; so to did angels; to assist their charges, guardian angels would dive from a rift in the clouds, to a faultless landing on a castle’s battlements. Moreover, every castle had one or more resident ghosts as a matter of course, and was regularly visited by devils and demons. Best known in this respect is the Wartburg in Thuringia, the scene of the devil’s encounter with Luther, who, displeased with his visitor, threw his inkpot at him. The ink was of the best quality, for the spot it left can still be seen.
The Knight himself, as hero of the medieval epic poem behaves more like a comic book character,so his romanticization began fairly early. In the Chanson de Roland, four knights kill four thousand Saracens; Roland himself continues fighting with his head split open. Yet King Arthur, who was not a king but a general, becomes more elusive the deeper one gets entangled with the particulars of his household. Just take a sober look at the magical round table.
For lack of a proper protocol Arthur’s knights, an intensely sociable set- although like French gourmets, they admitted no women at table- were forever at each other’s throats to advance their standing, or to put more accurately, their seating. To put an end to their quarreling , tells Layamon, the thirteenth-century poet, a carpenter built a portable round table that seated sixteen hundred men. Now if each person had two feet for comfortable seating, the table’s diameter had to be more than one thousand feet, leaving several acres of waste space in the middle. No known castle hall could accommodate such an outsized piece of furniture.