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Basic Information

A castellan was, effectively, a manager for a castle who saw to its operation and defence on behalf of an absentee owner. This, in most cases, would mean serving as an immediate deputy for the landlord in a variety of roles. As a military commander, they were presumably responsible for making sure that the eligible tenants were scheduled for, and performed, their tours of duty in the castle and/or paid scutage (in which case they would need to hire the necessary substitutes), and to organise the castle's full time garrison (such as any resident knights bachelor or other retainers). Collecting other taxes, rents, farms and assorted dues would also need to be within their purview as these would have included goods in kind required to supply the castle, and money needed to purchase anything not supplied by the castle's fief. They were also likely to have law enforcement responsibilities - if only those of arrest and detention - as keeping the peace locally would be standard part of the duties of a castle garrison. Besides this there was also the matter of managing the day to day operations of the resident craftsmen, servants and other population of the castle and seeing it maintained and kept ready against its lords requirements. Some or all of these jobs could be the day to day responsibility of other officials, but given the low bandwith of medieval communications, it would generally be impractical for a Lord to operate more than one reporting structure out of a given castle so, sooner or later, it all flowed through the castellan. It is also worth noting that in order to own one castle a man needed to be a person of significant consequence1 … to have more than one castle and therefore need a castellan would generally make you a very important person indeed and the castellan all the greater with your borrowed authority2.

Depending on exactly which castle they controlled, all of this could amount to some fairly serious authority - in England, for example, the castellans of the Tower of London and Dover Castle (both positions somewhat confusingly referred to as Constables) had substantial crown authority and, in practical terms if not socially, were equivalent to peers of the realm … not that surprising given that one was effectively in charge of the security of the capital city and the other held a castle known as "the key to England". This was apparently even more of a feature in France where royal castellans (chatelains to the French) effectively formed a class of provincial governors.

All of this made selecting a castellan a potentially tricky problem - the man in question needed to be highly competent and entirely trustworthy, and to have sufficient authority to do the job without too much insubordination from the higher status tenants owing fealty to the castle. At the same time, the castellan needed to have a clear understanding that he was an employee not a tenant - a distinction which could be tricky in a feudal milieu. Family ties could be useful, but a Lord would want to avoid anyone with the slightest risk of seeing a path to usurping his title. Whatever happened, anyone appointing a castellan needed to know (or at least have reasonable confidence) that, when trouble started, their castle would be in the best fighting order possible … and that its gates would be open to him when he needed them, and closed to his enemies.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • An interest situation for a castellan when his employer is in dispute with the king. How does loyalty stack against lawful authority?
    • This could lead to the sort of "administrative siege" where the royal army camps nearby and the castellan agrees to surrender after a given time if not relieved, thus sparing both sides the unpleasantness of an actual siege without sacrificing anyone's honour or antagonising anyone unduly.
  • Retainers of a given lord might arrive at one of his castles to notice that things are a bit "off" … perhaps their greeting is somewhat colder than might be expected, there's an impression of something hidden … the castellan certainly seems uneasy with the idea of news of … something … getting to his boss. Or maybe it's obvious and the castellan is just a little too comfortable living in the lord's apartments.
  • Come civil strife and a lord and his retinue are riding hard for his castle … time to find out just how reliable and effective the castellan has been. Will the castle be in good repair, fully manned and supplied with additional wartime facilities already assembled, will it be short in at least one of those articles … or might it already be in enemy hands one way or another?
  • Flipping that, a castellan and his officers await their lord's arrival amongst strife and uncertainty - what is going on in the land? Whose side are they on? What side is everyone else on? Who and what can they trust?
  • This could well be a good job for a Lord's acknowledged bastard - a man who had blood ties to him and possibly an aristocratic upbringing, but no realistic chance of being an heir and with no noble powerbase in his own right … low tier legitimate relatives might also be in the running, but needed to be far enough removed from the chance of succession that they would not be tempted to move things along a bit. Otherwise a lord might consider someone elevated from the lower orders.
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