There was a time when a stay in a castle might not have been high on the agenda of most common folk.
A stay in a castle, certainly in medieval times, meant being locked up for a crime and most likely executed. These days, one would certainly hope not to spend a night in the dungeons (or be executed); instead, you might be enjoying one of the castles we covered in our recent article ‘10 Best Castle Hotels in England to Stay in 2022’. Alternatively, you might be staying as a guest at some of the privately-owned castles across the country.
If you are, you will need to brush up on your etiquette. English high society still emphasises the proper way to do things, and those who have taken in the delights of Downton Abbey or Bridgerton will know there’s a certain way to behave around such magnificent buildings (and a certain way not to behave). Luckily, if you need tips for staying in a castle, we’ve got you covered.
Know Your Castle
The most basic etiquette one can observe when staying in a castle is to know and respect the location you’re heading to. Every castle is unique with its history and tradition, and if you’re a private guest, it likely has a long-standing family history. Understanding that and being able to hold a conversation, ask questions, and show interest in the castle, is highly important.
There are many ways to obtain this basic knowledge; books and the internet will help, but today’s digital media often goes much deeper. The English Heritage Podcast and This Is History with Dan Jones are both featured among the podcasts on Scribd and have episodes on individual castles. They’re good additional listening to ensure you’re up to date on where you’re going to spend the night.
There are certain ways to dress if you’re invited to spend the night in an English castle, and the nature of the event often dictates how you should look. Firstly, just because you can go to Warwick Castle as a visitor in Nike Air Max and a pair of jeans does not mean you should ever go to a castle for the night in such attire. Even if you’re asked to go smart casual, there are some rules; for instance, tattoos should be covered up, do not wear a t-shirt under a shirt and you shouldn’t look overly formal.
If the event requires you to wear a suit, you should always wear something patterned rather than plain. Your belt and shoe colour should match, and your socks should be knee-length. Things to avoid include a skinny tie, button-down collars and brown shoes.
If your host meets you at the entrance, there are certain things he or she will expect from the introduction. It is good etiquette to make eye contact on a first meeting and make sure you smile. Don’t go overboard and smile so much you project the image of a court jester; just be comfortable without grinning manically. A handshake should be less forceful than a knuckle cruncher but have some strength; the Art of Manliness podcast suggests a dead fish grip should be avoided. There are some things to remember; never shake with your left hand, and only shake twice.
Finally, your wording is also very important. Never say ‘pleased to meet you’ – you don’t know whether it is a pleasure or not before you’ve met someone. The correct greeting is ‘how do you do’, which is a rhetorical question that is answered in the same manner.
If your host engages you in small talk, then there are some key things to remember in terms of etiquette. Of course, one can talk about the castle and its history, as you’ll already know plenty, but there are other subjects you can approach. Topics such as the weather, how far you’ve travelled, and horses are always acceptable. Religion, money and politics are not.
There are certain words you should seek to use and others to avoid; for instance, it is always ‘dinner jacket’ rather than ‘tuxedo’, and a toast should always be to good health and never generic cheers. Remember, it is a loo, not a toilet and if asked, you would be delighted to have tea but not take tea.
The truth is in our modern world, etiquette and manners are becoming less important than ever. If you’re staying in one of the hotels we mentioned, it’s highly likely you can act and dress more or less how you please (within the confines of normal social behaviour). However, on the rare occasion a private castle owner invites you to stay the evening, this list should have provided you with some basic etiquette that will stand you in good stead and hopefully impress your host sufficiently to get a return invite!