Do you have a castle to defend? I’d imagine not. What are you, a king? You are a king of your room or dorm, not of a castle… but let’s pretend that you do have a castle: *pretends that you have a castle* …you have a castle! Great! Now, let me ask you this—how are you going to defend it?
Such was a question which kept many kings, especially crusader kings, up at night. In medieval Germany, for instance, castles were entrusted to unfree knights who maintained upkeep in the lord’s absence. Some parts of France also relied on such hereditary systems to man the castle garrison. Meanwhile, in Anglo-Norman England, castle garrisons would change with the local guard and thus was part of their feudal service, part of their forty days of field service.
The length of service would vary dramatically; sometimes, it could be as little as fifteen days of service per year or it could be as much as four months of service per year. Other than pulling straws from a hat or visiting a witch, there was no way to determine, for sure, how to discover your length of service ahead of time. If you were lucky, would be assigned to a lord who only expected you to discharge your service in time of war, thus freeing up a substantial amount of free-time on your end (free time to, well, you know… plow the fields and get drunk on cold winter days?).
Needless to say, castle guardship was a tedious affair. Such a state of affairs was widespread and so it is unsurprising that the garrisoning of such castles soon transitioned to a money-payment system. So, this meant that if a knight did not wish to serve in a castle garrison, then he could forfeit some of his payment and refrain from serving his term. Thankfully for the feudal kings, this arrangement proved valuable and made crusading fairly easier now that mercenaries could be hired to protect the castle while crusading was done (or vice versa, depending on the Lord and circumstance).
All of this said it should be obvious that such garrisons were always on a war footing, especially in the Holy Land where at any time, the knights stationed within might be called to battle. In such cases, even more so with the knight orders, the hiring of mercenaries mattered little and the castle defenses would suffer as a result. But, hey, what can you do? You can either have a well-defended castle or you can have a knighthood of pure, radiant knights who adhere to a shared code of conduct—you can’t necessarily have both, or at least have both all of the time.
So, Mr. Lord-Man, I will ask you again: how. Are. You. Going. To. Defend. Your. Castle?
Choose wisely, because if those skeletons slouching over those tables is any indication, the previous occupants and ruler did not carefully consider their defensive options when staffing, and I would just hate to see you suffer the same fate! Now, if you will excuse me, my boss has recalled me to his lair of doom and gloom to talk to me about Acre, or something…