DID KING ARTHUR USE THE BATHROOM? Until the development of plate armor in the 14th century, armor consisted of a breast plate and a chain mail shirt, so needing to “go” on the battlefield was no problem. But with the creation of plate armor came the same problem that astronauts face today. All those clothes and no way to get out of them in a hurry. King Arthur is usually depicted battling his enemies while wearing the full armor of a 14th century knight, so King Arthur and all his knights would certainly have a problem if nature called while they were busy righting wrongs and rescuing maidens.
A medieval knight preparing for battle could not dress himself, let alone undress himself. His armor weighed as much as 55 lbs and it would take his squire as long as an hour to get him dressed. But given the savage reality of medieval warfare, the last thing on a knight’s mind would be where and how he was going to “pee.” Records of the time indicate that it was not only acceptable but also inevitable that the knight would simply relieve himself in his armor, and it would be up to his squire to clean things up when the battle was over; always assuming the knight had survived. So, if the knight made it through the battle alive, what kind of facilities would he find when he returned to his castle? Let’s begin by saying that very little privacy attached to bodily functions. No one got to “go” in private. The modern idea of time behind a locked door did not apply to the sociable toileting of the medieval man. With hundreds of people living together in a castle there was no room for privacy. If our knight was fortunate, the castle might have benefited from the Roman occupation of Europe and would have a Roman style communal toilet for all the men.
Knights of the square seat!
- If the Lord of the Castle had shed the ways of Roman civilization, the castle would have latrine-like openings set in the outer walls. These chilly little rooms were built out and away from the wall so that they hung suspended over the moat with an uninterrupted drop into the waters below. Yet another reason why the moat provided such a formidable defense for the castle. Anyone want to swim the moat?
Where the knights hung out!
It was also not unusual to find the latrine set in the wall of a room used for feasting. Our medieval knight, fresh from battle and enjoying a victory feast, wouldn’t want to be away from the table for any length of time … so the latrine was set at a conversational distance. He could get on with his business and still hear the talk around the table. He didn’t want to miss the fun, and he didn’t want anyone plotting behind his back.
Medieval en suite Banquet Room
It’s interesting to note that the medieval name for a latrine was “garderobe” from which we get the modern word wardrobe (a place to keep clothing safe). But if this was in fact the latrine, why would anyone use this smelly place to store clothes? The simple answer is because it was so smelly! The medieval man or women preferred the stench of the latrine to the problem of moths in their clothing and moths would not invade clothing stored in the garderobe. The medieval castle was a smelly place and smelly clothing was preferable to moth-eaten clothing. Life in a medieval castle with its smelly latrines and even smellier moat was still preferable to life in a city.
Toilets for the citizens of London were located on the outer edge of London Bridge with a straight drop into the Thames River. So precarious were these toilets that men were stationed in rowboats beneath the bridge to catch the people who fell while “going about their business.”
London Bridge "Look out below"!
The poets promised that King Arthur would return. We’ve improved our plumbing so why isn’t he here? Look for answers HERE