The Simple Act of Hospitality the Tudor Way

Summers for me always mean getting together with friends and family for BBQs and picnics. The simple act of hosting a party comes with a range of logistics for the host to manage: buying, cooking, and serving food, providing entertainment, ensuring everyone is enjoying themselves, along with more practical tasks such as cleaning communal areas that guests will frequent. The Tudor period did not entail many modern-style BBQs in the backyard; however, hosting celebrations was a large part of elite culture. Scholars of hospitality in the medieval and early modern periods have long recognized its social and cultural significance. Generosity was a Christian value and was expected from those who could afford to provide it.

Hans Holbein the Younger, ‘Henry VIII dining in the great chamber’ (c. 1548). Photo from the British Museum, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Hospitality leaves very little trace in architectural remains, so historians must turn to documentary records to investigate how castles were used to host feasts and celebrations. Household Books are one such record that provide a clue into the extravagance and hierarchy of these revels. These documents were created as a sort of ‘how-to-guide’ for management and maintenance of a large residence. Unsurprisingly, households played a main role in the performance of hospitality and therefore, protocols for dining and hosting are a common feature in these records. King Edward IV’s Liber Niger is one of the most used sources for demonstrating the splendour of royal households, and many of the large noble households of the late medieval period take some instruction from the king. For instance, Henry Percy, the fifth earl of Northumberland (1477–1527) kept a detailed Household Book for the year 1512 in which daily ritual and splendour are of the foremost concerns.[1] The Northumberland Household Book (NHB)is specifically for the earl’s main castles of Wressle and Leckonfield in Yorkshire.[2] It gives exact numbers of servants, their role and responsibilities, instructions for dining etiquette, and seeing to the lord and his family. In a theoretical sense, it provides us with an image of the perfectly run noble household.

A quadrangular stone castle with a river in the foreground, a village to the right, and gardens next to the castle and behind it.
Wressle Castle by Peter Brears, based on the 2014 survey. See the CST blog ‘Re-imagining Wressle Castle’.

One of the concerns in the NHB is the procedure for eating. It tells us that the earl of Northumberland sat at the high table with his wife, Catherine Spencer, and his son and heir, Henry Percy. Northumberland’s other two sons, Thomas and William, served the food for the high table.[3] The NHB continues to list a total of sixteen people to attend the needs of the lord and his family, including ‘the childe of the kechinge that shall help the saide Yoman or Groome to dresse my Lords Metes and Servyce for the Howsehold And to be ath the Revercion’.[4] After the list of those serving the high table, the NHB lists the people who should sit at each of the tables in the great chamber and subsequently in the great hall. Controlling where people sat, the food that they ate, and the order of service was one way for a lord to visually display and reinforce the social hierarchy on a daily basis.

Text Box: Figure 3: A section from the Portrait of Sir Henry Unton (c. 1558 - 1596), held at the National Portrait Gallery, London
A section from the Portrait of Sir Henry Unton (c. 1558 – 1596), held at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Some days called for special feasts and the NHB isolates the principal feasts of the year when the household could expect a ‘great repaire of Straungers’ arriving at the castle. These days include: Easter, St George’s Day, Whitsun, All Hallows Eve, and Christmas. These celebrations did not just provide food for guests, but entertainment as well. For the Twelfth Night celebrations at Wressle in 1512, the ‘hoole chappell’ was directed to ‘sing wassaill’, a carol celebrating the service of the wassail drink at the evening banquet.[5] On All Souls Day, Northumberland’s chapel performed the ‘responde callede Exaudivi at the Matyns-tyme for xij virgyns’.[6]

In an earlier blog post for the CST, Dr Kate Buchanan explored ideas of a social gathering around Christmas time at Huntly Castle and the sensory experience that those present might have experienced. She demonstrates that hosts could – and oftentimes did – blend business with pleasure when it came to hospitality. This is definitely the picture from other fifteenth- and sixteenth-century household books. Celebratory periods brought family, peers, political allies, and even tenants together under one roof. Castles facilitated the gathering of a community and it was the space in which relationships could be forged. 

Hospitality was just one way that castles were used to promote and uphold the social hierarchy of Tudor England. We must remember that hospitality was not just an act that the host actively placed on the passive guest. It was very much a performance with the household servants as many of the main players. Servants prepared and served the food, attended to guests, and ensured that everyone adhered to protocol. Castles played a much greater role than being the theatres on which this performance took place. The great hall and the household chapel were key areas in the castle that hospitality was dispensed. These spaces brought everyone in the castle together for entertainment and allowed for interaction of people across the social and gender hierarchy. These interactions were of course heavily regulated. Although castles accommodated people from across the social spectrum, they helped to ensure, through visual cues, the social order of premodern England by promoting the owner’s wealth and status through ritual and display.

If you would like to know more my forthcoming book, The Culture of Castles in Tudor England and Wales will be available in September 2019 from Boydell Press.


[1] Henry Algernon Percy, The Regulations and Establishment of the Household of Henry Algernon Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland at his Castles of Wressle and Leakenfield in Yorkshire (London, 1905).

[2] The Castle Studies Trust has funded two projects at Wressle. You can explore the findings here: http://www.castlestudiestrust.org/Wressle-Castle.html

[3] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland,pp. 349-353.

[4] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, p. 351.

[5] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, pp. 342-3.

[6] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, pp. 342-3.

Grant applications are open

As it’s September, we are now accepting grant applications for projects to run next in 2020. Grants are for projects which improve the understanding of castle and cover up to £10,000 and applications close on 28 November. Since we started awarding grants in 2014, we have given a total of £100,000 across 24 projects.

If you’re searching for ideas previous grants have supported fieldwork such as excavations at Shrewsbury and geophysical survey at Tibbers, and interpretative projects such digital reconstructions of Holt and Ruthin and a series of videos by Dig It! TV.

It is always exciting to see the applications come in and learn what people have in mind. Our website has more information on our grants, including the criteria projects are assessed on and the application form. If you have questions about grants or want feedback, please contact Jeremy Cunnington (our Chair) at admin@castlestudiestrust.org

Our work is entirely funded by our donors; if you can donate to support our work please do so that we can fund more projects in the future.

Fresh from Fotheringhay

We have the results of the survey at Fotheringhay Castle. You can find out more about what we found in Steve Parry’s excellent blogpost, complete with the earliest depiction of the castle.

The castle is most famous as the place where Mary Queen of Scots was tried and executed. It was thoroughly dismantled in the first half of the 17th century, leaving the motte intact but little else above ground. Thanks to work by the Museum of London Archaeology and funded by the Castle Studies Trust, we now have a better idea of how the castle was arranged.

The Shrewsbury Castle excavation: end of dig report

The investigations funded by the Castle Studies Trust at Shrewsbury Castle, one of the most important castles along the Anglo-Welsh border have now finished. Dr Nigel Baker reveals the preliminary findings of those investigations.

Before the dig began two weeks ago, our geophysics survey showed (with complete accuracy as it turned out) a spread of hard material just under the grass directly opposite the castle hall – possibly the remains of demolished buildings. Almost immediately the turf was off it became apparent that the hard material was not rubble but a low ridge of gravel, curving slightly as it headed south towards the main gate. Cut into this road surface (as we took it to be) were round, flat-bottomed topsoil-filled cuts, probably Victorian and later flower beds.

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Excavating through the gravel immediately revealed further, cleaner gravel, that appeared to be of natural/geological origin; further testing demonstrated that all the gravel was natural – the natural/geological top of the hill. It had been levelled, planed-off horizontally, in the fairly recent past, possibly in 1925-6 when the castle was restored, and any archaeological layers or building remains above the gravel would have been removed.

However, at the east end of the trench the gravel was found dug away at a 45-degree angle by a single, massive cut, with medieval pottery in the soil within it. The cut was recognised as the edge of the great defensive ditch that formerly encircled the base of the Norman motte. This would have been about 12 metres wide; the geophysics suggests there was probably a bridge over it, just north of the excavation, opposite the present hall entrance. The objects found in the ditch include pottery – cooking pots and glazed jugs – from the period roughly 1100-1400, and a large quantity of animal bone from food waste. There were also two arrow heads or crossbow-bolt heads, both of the ‘bodkin’ type: sharp, square-edged heavy points designed to penetrate armour and clearly for military use rather than hunting.

The principal conclusion of the excavation was that, when the castle was first built by the Normans in or just before 1069, the motte, with its defensive ditch, was enormous, and the inner bailey was tiny – it was little more than an extra layer of fortification wrapped around the approach up to the motte.

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Exploring Shrewsbury Castle

This year we’re funding investigations at Shrewsbury Castle, one of the most important castles along the Anglo-Welsh border. Nigel Baker told us how the work has been going.

Phase 1 of the Castle Studies Trust’s Shrewsbury Castle 2019 project is underway. Archaeological research is a long and painstaking process, so instant results are not to be expected – it must have taken a whole three hours to establish for the first time a number of simple but really fundamental facts about the hitherto-unexplored inner bailey.

Work started on Wednesday 8th May with the arrival at the castle of Tiger Geo, specialist geophysical survey contractors. Using ground-penetrating radar and resistivity, the lawns of the inner bailey interior and the slopes of the ramparts were gridded out and surveyed; the geophysicists never stopped, nor did the rain. But two basic conclusions emerged on screen from the raw data.

Tiger Geo doing sterling work despite the weather.

The first is that a ditch did once encircle the base of the motte within the perimeter of the inner bailey. This implies that the flat area within the inner bailey must originally have been a crescent-shaped area less than twenty metres wide from motte ditch to rampart tail.

The second conclusion is that there is, under the grass opposite and parallel to the standing early 13th-century ‘Great Hall’ (which houses a very fine Regimental Museum), another big building range backing onto the motte ditch. Given that the standing first-floor Great Hall was built as a royal chamber block (‘camera’) in the 1230s-40s, there is a possibility that a real Great Hall awaits excavation in the summer. But we’ve already answered one of the project’s main questions, ‘how was the inner bailey planned?’ The answer is there were two main ranges of buildings and no room for anything else.

While Tiger Geo mowed the lawns, the writer was busy in a bush at the base of the motte, freeing-up a manhole cover sealed for a decade. Under, a 20th-century brick inspection chamber gives access to a stone well-shaft alongside. The writer had been shown it surreptitiously by a kind gardener in the 1990s but without the opportunity for much recording. Now it has been photographed (though not with stunning competence), measured at just over seventy feet deep from ground level down to water level, and the masonry identified as probably late medieval – and not something done by Thomas Telford in the 1790s. So – Shrewsbury Castle retains its medieval well.

The medieval well. It’s a dizzying 21m down to water level.

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Five New Awards and £100,000 in six years

We are excited to announce five grants totalling a record £27,000 that will advance our understanding of castles. These awards mean we have reached the landmark of giving away £100,000 in grants. It has taken six years for us to do that during which time the Trust has doubled the maximum amount we can award to £10,000.

Before you read about the five projects below, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter if you haven’t already.

  • Druminnor, Aberdeenshire – Using GPR for an investigation of the 15th century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.
  • Hoghton Tower, Lancashire – This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.
  • Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire – Excavation to try to confirm the findings of the geophysical surveys the CST funded in 2018. These indicated that the castle was placed right on the top of a high status Saxon dwelling.
  • Shrewsbury, Shropshire – Geophysical survey and excavation to determine how the castle buildings were laid out in the bailey. This will be the first time the well preserved motte-and-bailey castle has been excavated. First mentioned in 1069, Shrewsbury Castle was a key point along the Anglo-Welsh border and fell into ruin following the conquest of Wales.
  • Wressle, East Yorkshire – A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Earls of Northumberland.

Be sure to follow us on social media where we’ll be bringing you updates from the field, with work starting this month. In the meantime, here are some of our supporters discussing our work. we hope you’re looking forward to this year’s projects as much as we are!

The projects we’re considering for 2019

The deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 12 projects, coming from all parts of Britain and one from Ireland, are asking for over £75,000.* They cover not only a wide period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

Collyweston, Northamptonshire

  • Contributing towards a community excavation at the early Tudor palace commissioned by Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. According to building accounts the palace was built around three courtyards and was the first brick building in Northamptonshire. The palace was demolished in 1640 and the site has never been excavated before.

Druminnor, Aberdeenshire

[10] Druminnor Castle - "Woops!"
Using Ground Penetrating Radar for an investigation of the 15th-century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.

Hoghton Tower, Lancashire

hoghton tower
This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.

Lathom, Lancashire

Excavation to establish the form and location of the southern perimeter of the curtain wall of the 15th-century castle known as the Northern Court of which nothing remains above ground from the period. It was one of the most important castles in the north west of England in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The castle was besieged twice in the English Civil War and then slighted. In 2017 we funded analysis of masonry recovered in earlier excavations, which indicated architectural links with Caernarfon Castle.

Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire

Photo by Mike Neid

Following on from last year’s grant, this project would undertake excavation to investigate features identified during the geophysical survey. The survey suggested that the castle was built over an Anglo-Saxon lordly residence, and the excavation would test whether there is further evidence to corroborate this.

Lewes, East Sussex

Photo by Richard Gailey, licensed CC-BY 2.0.

This research aims to answer an intriguing question: why does Lewes Castle, East Sussex, have two mottes? Do they represent a highly distinctive architectural statement, or did burial mounds of possible Romano-British or earlier origins influence the form of the 11th century fortification?

Loughmoe, County Tipperary

Castles of Munster, Loughmoe, Tipperary - geograph.org.uk - 1542634
To produce the first-ever detailed survey and structural history of the building which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and to determine using geophysics the extent of the original castle and whether the renaissance part had a precinct, other buildings, and gardens.

Raglan, Monmouthshire

Photo © Jeremy Cunnington

Using inferences from previous geophysical surveys to focus on key areas of the lower terraces and bowling green of the castle potentially revealing more about the clandestine political activity of the Somerset family in the late 16th and 17 centuries.

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Shrewsbury Castle looking West
Geophysical survey and excavation concentrating on the inner bailey to in particular examine the tail of the north rampart. Despite being one of the main fortresses on the Welsh border no major excavations have taken place in the bailey. Thus the medieval plan of the enclosure, and the missing domestic ranges that should be there, are completely unknown.

Snodhill, Herefordshire

Photo © Jeremy Cunnington

Excavations in this important Welsh border fortress that was in use from just after the conquest to the English Civil War. The aim is to answer some key questions about the castle e.g. the keep’s entrance and final form, to establish the form of the North Tower and along the south side to see if that was where the entrance was.

Tarbert, Argyll

East Loch Tarbert and Tarbert Castle - geograph.org.uk - 1624617
Funding post-excavation costs of a community archaeology project. The project will be trying to see discover a number of things about this royal castle including if there was a southern entrance into the outer bailey, and what buildings there were along the north east range of the inner bailey.

Wressle, East Yorkshire

A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Dukes of Northumberland.

The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. You can see how the assessment process works from our blog back in January 2016. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

*The article was updated at 15:28, 10th December to remove Halton Castle.

The six projects we’re funding this year

From 15 high quality applications we had to choose which ones we could fund. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but we have managed to support six different projects – the most we’ve supported in a single year – with a total of £22,000. You can learn more below, and if you would like to hear about the results when they are ready be sure to sign up to our newsletter.

Old Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, England

Photo by David Hitchborne, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Bolingbroke Castle was built by the Earl of Chester in the 1220s and Henry IV was born here in 1367. It is unclear how the Rout Yard and Dewy Hill were used, so Heritage Lincolnshire will carry out geophysical surveys at the castle to find out more about the site.

Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Photo by ‘Jez‘, licensed CC BY-SA-NC-ND 2.0.

Founded in 1093, Pembroke is the oldest castle out of this year’s projects. Rebuilt by William Marshall, one of the most famous knight of his age, the castle was also the birthplace of Henry VII. Neil Ludlow and James Meek’s project will excavate in the outer ward to find out more about a late medieval hall. We also funded a geophysical survey at the castle in 2016.

Dig It!, castles of southern Scotland

With funding from the Castle Studies Trust Dig It! will be producing a series of eight videos exploring castles in southern Scotland, and sharing them with an online audience. By making it easier to access information about these important historic sites through YouTube and Wikipedia the project aims to inspire the next generation of castle enthusiasts!

Keith Marischal, East Lothian, Scotland


The Castle of Keith belonged to the powerful Keith family. The castle has since been demolished, with some parts built into Keith Marischal House which now stands on the site. Miles Kerr-Peterson and and Rose Geophysical Consultants will be carrying out a geophysical survey to search for the castle’s lost tower and great hall.

Laughton-en-le-Morthen, South Yorkshire, England


The castle is undocumented in medieval sources, but the earthworks of the motte-and-bailey castle are impressive: the motte itself is 9m tall. To find out more about Laughton-en-le-Morthen Castle, Duncan Wright will be carrying out a geophysical and aerial survey.

Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales

Photo by Eirian Evans, licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

First documented in 1277, Ruthin Castle was controlled by Reginald de Grey in 1282. This once great castle is a ruin today and much in need of interpretation. To help with this, Chris Jones-Jenkins will create a digital reconstruction of Ruthin. Chris also worked on the reconstruction of Holt Castle, which was built around the same time some 18 miles to the east.

Stay in touch!

We will have updates from these projects throughout the year. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss out.

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Castle Studies Trust Awards Five Grants to Advance the Understanding of Castles

The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to announce the award of five grants, totalling £21,000.

Castle Pulverbatch, Shropshire, England

©Shropshire County Council

Geophysical and photogrammetric surveys of this motte and bailey castle. Abandoned by c.1200 this has the potential for us to advance our understanding of early castles along the Welsh border.

Clifford, Herefordshire, England

One of the earliest castles in the UK and one of the most important along the Welsh border the geophysical survey and excavations, along with separately funded building analysis, will help understand the morphology of this little understood site. The CSG visited it as part of the 2016 annual conference. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

Dinas Bran, Denbighshire, Wales

Photo by Eva Mostraum, CC-by-NC-SA

Co-funding with Cadw a geophysical survey of the most complete, but little understood, native Welsh built castle to discover what structures lie beneath the surface.

Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, England

Photo by Iain Simpson, CC-by-SA

With almost nothing left above ground the geophysical and earthwork surveys will help shed light on the form of castle with strong royal associations, in particular the C15 palace associated with the House of York and birthplace of Richard III. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

Lathom, Lancashire, England

Analysis of castle masonry from the completely destroyed late C15 castle built by Thomas, Lord Stanley either found via excavations or reused in the current building. This will help understand what the castle looked like and early Tudor palaces around London, like Richmond.  Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

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The Castle Studies Trust grants are now open!

1st September can mean only one thing: the Castle Studies Trust is now accepting applications for funding. The deadline for submissions is 15th December.

There is one very important change on previous years: the maximum award per grant has been increased from £5,000 to £7,500. Previous grants have provided excellent value for money, and the increase allows for more ambitious projects.

We have also broadened our criteria for sites for which we will award grants to include sites managed by major heritage bodies subject to caveats. For full details please view our grant giving criteria.

We already have a number of very interesting possible applications and we are looking forward to receiving more. If anyone would be interested in applying, please do not hesitate to contact the chair of trustees, Jeremy Cunnington at admin@castlestudiestrust.org

Want to learn more about previous grants or looking for inspiration? Read our grants page for details of projects from the last three years.