Medieval Monday: Inns


Last week’s post was about medieval taverns, so it seemed natural to make this week’s about medieval inns as their services overlap somewhat. Like commercially run taverns, medieval inns catered more to the wealthy than the average person. They were equipped to accommodate not just lone travelers, but people like merchants with carts full of valuable wares, and nobles with their families and attendants. Whereas taverns offered basic, or even poor quality food, inns were prepared to host elaborate feasts as necessary for guests–including wine and other alcoholic drinks. Inns also provided temporary storage and stables where horses could be cared for.

Inns were actually big business, and they made a considerable profit. Innkeepers were wealthy and played a prominent role in the community—sometimes also serving in the local government, or acting as banking agents. Inns were often centers of trade as well, and investors were eager to back them, expecting a handsome profit in return.

The layout of a typical inn included a main hall, possibly a secondary common space, a kitchen, storage space, quarters for the innkeeper and his family, and of course, sleeping rooms for guests. It is hard for us to imagine today, but not all of the sleeping rooms were private or even lockable. Many were communal, with a number of guests sharing a room together, sometimes even the same beds. Private rooms became more popular as the period progressed.

However, not everyone could afford to stay at an inn, even when they were available and had enough room. Ale houses sometimes provided basic shelter for the night for a very limited number of people. Monasteries might run hostels (hospitals) where travelers could stay free or for a minimal fee, particularly on routes that were heavily traveled by pilgrims. When there was no inn, hostel, or other building for shelter, people might sleep outdoors. If this was necessary, travelers stayed together in groups for safety. Nobles might have the advantage of finding hospitality with a fellow noble living nearby. They would send a harbinger just ahead of them to make all of the arrangements.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.



6 thoughts on “Medieval Monday: Inns

  1. Adam says:

    Inns sound reminiscent of a noble lord’s manor/estate; makes me wonder whether they were built as towns unto themselves, or if towns were built around them. Then again, such spacious demands might necessitate being far from the center of town.

    Interesting stuff. For some reason the word “harbinger” really stands out to me, though I think that may be due to a specific story from my past that recast the word as some dark and foreboding title.

    Thanks again for sharing. Love the index. Very user friendly.

    Who knows, maybe someday you could assemble this into a reference book for fantasy fans and authors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • weavingword says:

      I am pretty sure most inns were right in the middle of everything. There are some still standing today. Who knows, maybe I will make a reference book one day! Though I’d have to go through the tedious process of documenting all my historical sources, which is annoying. 🙂


      • Adam says:

        Out of curiosity, did you find that most inns were built as part of an existing town, or was the inn built first, and then the town gradually grew around it?


      • weavingword says:

        None of my sources really delved into that question, but with a bit more poking around it SEEMS as though the towns were there first. Inns were built in places where there were enough people, resources, and regular traffic, to support the inn. In towns/cities that were on major trade routes, or had important pilgrimage sites, etc., there might be a large number of inns to accommodate travelers.

        I can only speculate as to why inns didn’t seem to be built in isolation, but here’s my theory. For one, they were expensive to construct and maintain, particularly as they catered to the wealthy. (One source mentioned this as a reason why the common threat of fire was a source of dread for innkeepers. They didn’t exactly have insurance back then.) The owner, and any investors, needed to be sure they could recover their expenses and make a profit too. Inns also needed close access to good, steady suppliers to make sure the demands of their upscale clientele were met.

        A big issue might also be security. Towns/cities provided better protection for guests and their valuables. One of the reasons travel beyond city walls was hazardous was because of bandits and other threats. Merchants loaded down with expensive wares, and wealthy nobles were no doubt choice targets!

        Liked by 1 person

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