Medieval Monday: A Slice of Hlaf

Welcome back to Medieval Monday at my blog “The Solar.’

This season, I hope to bring you a variety of information, from facts on medieval life to spotlights on old castles to something I had fun researching for my latest novella—Old and Middle English words.  And of course interviews with fellow authors spotlighting their books and their other interests.

In medieval castles, the solar was an upper story room, sometimes used as a sleeping apartment for the lord, sometimes as a retreat for the ladies. It was a place to get away from the general hubbub of the great hall.

According to the online etymology dictionary at, ‘solar’ meant a “‘living room on an upper story’ (also sollar)…from Old English, from Latin solarium…” 

It often contained larger windows allowing for more light in the chamber. This was possible because invaders were unlikely to be able to reach that upper story to gain entrance through the openings larger than the arrow slits, contained on the lower level—the great hall. 

Above is a photo of the solar at Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, England. Although the castle was originally built in the 13th Century (the 1200s), you can see that the current solar is somewhat modernized. But it gives you an idea of where ladies often gathered in medieval times to relax or to do handiwork necessary to castle living. Just use your imagination and see everything as much rougher—and that fireplace might have been a later addition. Some places heated with braziers—think a portable container made of a fireproof material like iron or metal in which fuel could be burned.  I can image that it wouldn’t be particularly safe in a tightly enclosed space because of the fumes given off.

‘Solar’ is one of the old words that have become familiar to readers of books set in the medieval period .

When the Normans invaded England in 1066 AD, they brought their language along with them. And for the next few hundred years, the nobles (read that the lords who served the kings, administered the lands, and manned the castles) spoke Norman French. On the other hand, nearly all the regular people, who were native to the land, still spoke the common language—English.

The smart knights and lords set about learning the native language, but many—perhaps even most—considered it below then to learn the speech of the common people. It was ostensibly up to the commoners to learn the language of their ‘betters.’

This sounds like a terrible stereotype, but to a certain extent it held true at the highest levels. Some of the medieval kings never bothered to learn the language of the people they ruled.

As I searched for one or two words for Annis to begin Hugh’s English lesson in The Right Knight (coming in December), I found a delightful site and I want to share some of those words with you. I hope you will enjoy them. The first one appears at the end of this blog.

One of my favorite classes was History of the English Language. I loved seeing how our current language was and is influenced by so many sources.

Although I couldn’t find a reasonable representation of an English medieval brazier, here’s a photo of an ancient floor model from Pompeii and another of a tabletop brazier, also from Italy.

Now—the Old English word for the month is –hlaf, meaning bread or loaf.

9 thoughts on “Medieval Monday: A Slice of Hlaf”

  1. Angelina Jameson

    Great post. I visited Stokesay sone years ago. Great memories. Best wishes with your new release.

    1. Sounds good to me 🙂 Same Idea! You’re fortunate to have that sunroom. I had one in my old house and loved having breakfast there. so nice to look out over the back yard and the trees beyond. Have a good week.

  2. Welcome back, Barbara! I’m looking forward to spending time in your solar. Very interesting post. Love it!

  3. Laura Strickland

    This is a fascinating post! I too have always loved the history of words and the manners in which they evolved. I like being able to see older words in some of those common today. Best of luck with your upcoming release! I know it will be wonderful.

    1. Oh, Thank you, Gini! I loved that solar too. Impressive that your do some weaving! I could see me writing there. Or sitting on the seat in the deep window and reading. 🙂

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