How Accurate Are Medieval Themed Restaurants?

medieval, middle ages, history, foodI came across this article by Mark Schatzker on “How do medieval-themed restaurants get it wrong?” It’s an interesting read concerning the accuracy of food served at such restaurants as Medieval Times. He dispels several myths in regards to the eating habits of medieval people:

  • Myth No. 1: Medieval food was bland.
  • Myth No. 2: Medieval chefs were lousy when it came to presentation.
  • Myth No. 3: Medieval feasts were merely big.
  • Myth No. 4: Medieval feasters ate off pewter plates.
  • Myth No. 5: Medieval feasters had atrocious manners.
  • Myth No. 6: Medieval feasters ate in set courses.
  • Myth No. 7: Medieval people ate food they couldn’t possibly have eaten.

The Siege of Chateau Gaillard

Constructed in little more than 12 months by Richard I of England (“The Lionheart”), Chateau Gaillard was an imposing castle upon the French landscape, built to deter King Philip Augustus of France from invading Richard’s Norman territories. The stronghold was placed along the Seine River on a cliff extending above the towns of Grand and Petit Andelys, and built such that an invading army could only assault it from one direction, from the strip of land linking the rocky spur to the plateau beyond.

The castle had three wards: an inner ward laid out at the end of the spur near the cliffs and housing the living quarters and keep; the middle ward that included two towers protecting the entrance, a large chapel, latrines, and other mural towers; and the triangular outer ward that served essentially as a barbican, for to gain access to the castle, attackers had to go through the outer ward first. A dry moat separated the middle and outer ward, the two connected by a fixed bridge.

In the year 1203, Philip Augustus laid siege to the stronghold of Chateau Gaillard. To avoid starvation, Roger de Lacy, commander of the castle garrison, forced the elderly and the women and children to leave in order to conserve his food stores — his supplies were only sufficient for a year — and while the French army allowed one wave of villagers to pass through its lines, Philip Augustus would not allow a second group to pass, forcing the refugees to roam between the two camps in mid-winter, causing many to die from cold and starvation.

In the spring of 1204, the King of France ordered the assault on Chateau Gaillard. The French army hurled projectiles, and sappers undermined the base of a tower, and finally a section of the wall collapsed, and the French army stormed the breach and took the outer ward. The English retreated to the middle ward, and the French, now in control of the outer section of the castle, began their assault on the middle bailey, though crossing a dry moat under relentless fire would not prove so easy. They had to find another way to capture the castle.

As luck would have it, the French discovered an unguarded garderobe shaft on the cliff side, and some men crawled through and entered the chapel, and since the chapel was locked from the outside, they broke a window and climbed along the castle wall. Taking the English by surprise, the French soldiers killed several guards and then set fire to the buildings and lowered the drawbridge, and Philip’s army entered the outer ward, and the English retreated to their final line of defense: the inner ward and keep.

A trebuchet then pounded the thinner walls of the inner bailey, and weakened by the construction of mines and the relentless pounding of the siege machine, the castle walls finally collapsed, and then the French army rushed through the breach, and the English retreated to the keep, where 140 defenders ultimately surrendered and were taken prisoner, thus ending the months long siege of Chateau Gaillard.

Main Source:

J.E. Kaufmann, H.W Kaufmann, and Robert M. Jurga. The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages. De Capo Press, 2001.

Additional Online Readings:

*Photo is a 3D Reconstruction of Chateau Gaillard by Jacques Martel Harnois

Medieval History Resources Online

The following are some medieval history resources I have run across online. Please let me know of any interesting sites you may have found as well.

Writing and Historical Research

I was chatting on a forum the other day, and the conversation sparked the idea for this blog post. When writing your novel, what is the best way to incorporate research and historical details into your writing? I’m not sure there is a best practice for doing this; everyone most likely has a method that works best for him or her. Some like to do a lot of research and planning up front, while others choose to research as they are writing their novel. I can only share what my experience has been and what works best for me.

When I began the first draft of my novel, I had a basic knowledge of the medieval period, and I had an idea for a story, and so I just started writing. As I was writing, I went to the library and collected books and read as much as I could about the time and location in medieval history I wanted to cover. I focused on Medieval England and France, around the turn of the 13th century. By the time I finished the first draft, I had learned so much more, and I realized I had a lot of errors, and for the second draft, I spent time correcting these errors with the new knowledge I had gained. But I never stopped researching. Throughout the second draft, I was constantly reading new books, and even after I finished the second draft, there were still new things I had learned that I wanted to incorporate in the third draft.

I’m currently on the fourth draft of my novel, and there are still things about the Middle Ages I’m learning. Just yesterday, I was talking with a knowledgable historical fiction author, and she informed me that the term “chain mail” was actually a term created in the Victorian era and was not used by people in the Middle Ages. Simply the term “mail” would be more accurate. Now, I have to be more conscious of this in my writing, and for the fourth draft correct any misuses of this term. As many medieval historical sources I have read, I have never noticed the distinction between “chain mail” or “mail” before. Either the sources referred to it as both “chain mail” and “mail” interchangeably, or they failed to mention “chain mail” was a term conceived after the medieval period.

The important thing is to never stop learning; you can never know enough about a certain period of history, and there are many areas left open for interpretation and debate that the writer will have to make certain choices about in his or her novel.

What I’m Reading

The following is a list of blogs/sites I’m currently subscribed to:

Historical Fiction:

On Writing:


  • George R.R. Martin – The official blog of author George R.R. Martin
  • David Anthony Durham – Official blog of the award winning author of Acacia, Pride of Carthage, Walk Through Darkness, and Gabriel’s Story.
  • Neil Gaiman – The official blog of author Neil Gaiman

 Literary News:


Medieval Resources – Weaving History into Your Novel

The following is a list of medieval resources I have used while writing my novel. This list does not include all the medieval history books I’ve read, not even all the books I have in my library, it’s simply a small selection of the books I feel have been most beneficial throughout the process. Any other suggestions of medieval non-fiction books to read are much appreciated. I’ve included the name of the book and a brief summary describing it. I pulled the summaries from Google Book Search results or from the books’ back covers.

  • Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman – Although life in the Middle Ages was not as comfortable and safe as it is for most people in industrialized countries today, the term “Dark Ages” is highly misleading. The era was not so primitive and crude as depictions in film and literature would suggest. Even during the worst years of the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome, the legacy of that civilization survived. This book covers diet, cooking, housing, building, clothing, hygiene, games and other pastimes, fighting and healing in medieval times. The reader will find numerous misperceptions corrected. The book also includes a comprehensive bibliography and a listing of collections of medieval art and artifacts and related sites across the United States and Canada so that readers in North America can see for themselves some of the matters discussed in the book.
  • The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages By J. E. Kaufmann, H. W. Kaufmann -The great walled castles of the medieval world continue to fascinate the modern world. Today, the remains of medieval forts and walls throughout Europe are popular tourist sites. Unlike many other books on castles, The Medieval Fortress is unique in its comprehensive treatment of these architectural wonders from a military perspective. The Medieval Fortress includes an analysis of the origins and evolution of castles and other walled defenses, a detailed description of their major components, and the reasons for their eventual decline. The authors, acclaimed fortification experts J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann, explain how the military strategies and weapons used in the Middle Ages led to many modifications of these structures. All of the representative types of castles and fortifications are discussed, from the British Isles, Ireland, France, Germany, Moorish Spain, Italy, as far east as Poland and Russia, as well as Muslim and Crusader castles in the Middle East. Over 200 photographs and 300 extraordinarily detailed technical drawings, plans, and sketches by Robert M. Jurga accompany and enrich the main text.
  • Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Francis Gies – Life in a Medieval City evokes every aspect of life in the Middle Ages by depicting in detail what it was like to live in a prosperous city of Northwest Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.
  • Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Francis Gies – “The authors allow medieval man and woman to speak for themselves through selections from past journals, songs, even account books.”– “Time”
  • Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph and Francis Gies – A lively, detailed picture of village life in the Middle Ages
  • Medieval Siege Warfare By Christopher Gravett – During the Middle Ages siege warfare played a vital role in military strategy. Sieges were far more numerous than pitched battles, ranging from small-scale affairs against palisaded earthworks to full-scale assaults on vast strongholds. Needless to say, the art of siege warfare assumed a unique importance to both invader and defender alike. In this title Christopher Gravett explores the different aspects of medieval siege warfare, from chivalrous formalities to ‘surprise and treachery’, in a text backed by numerous illustrations including 12 full page colour plates by Richard and Christa Hook.
  • Art of War in the Middle Ages A. D. 378-1515 by C. W. C. Oman – This book covers the entire period of medieval history and looks at the distinct fighting styles and tactics of various groups including the English, the Franks, and the Swiss.
  • The Story of the Middle Ages, 5 Volume Set: The Birth of the Middle Ages / The Crucible of the Middle Ages / The Making of the Middle Ages / The High Middle Ages / The Waning of the Middle Ages by H. St. L. B. Moss (Author), Geoffrey Barraclough (Author), R. W. Southern (Author), John Mundy (Author), Johan Huizinga (Author) – This collection provides a great overview of the entire medieval period, starting with the fall of Rome and ending with the decline of the castle.

I am constantly trying to learn about the Middle Ages. I read as much as I can, watch documentaries — I have my Tivo set up to record anything that airs with the terms “Middle Ages” or “Medieval” — I listen to podcasts, and I talk with other knowledgable people about the subject. It’s important to inundate yourself with your subject and keep it fresh on your mind.