Knights and Castles… Oh My!

If your children are anything like mine, they’ve gone through a phase where they adore knights and castles and jousts. I dare say no trunk of play clothes is complete without royal capes and foam swords. It’s a right of passage, a nearly universal fascination, and our kids have been right in the thick of it.


Taking a child’s natural curiosity and then layering it with a bit of actual history or science is one of my greatest interests. A child’s brain is a wonder, isn’t it? I’m constantly amazed at what kids can retain and use when they’re interested in something.

We’ve stumbled upon a few fun resources for young kids (early elementary) interested in medieval history and thought it might be fun to share these. There’s certainly nothing magical here other than great illustrations and clever stories.

Here are our favorites (pictured above):

The Usborne Time Traveler KNIGHTS & CASTLES

We found this at our public library and later bought a copy. Walk through life via the fictional family of Baron Godfrey and Lady Alice and their castle community. Daily life and societal roles are explained for each character, ranging from the royal to the peasant. What do people wear? How do they interact with one another? Why are jousts and tournaments held?

See inside Castles: An Usborne Flap Book

Another great book from Usborne. This one traces the history of castles and how they improved and transformed over hundreds of years. From wooden structures to stone castles, each element of a castle is explored. Moats, drawbridges, and the areas within the bailey are outlined with adorable illustrations. If you don’t know what a bailey is (I didn’t!) it’s the area outside the castle itself but within the walls where stables and tradespeople live and work under the protection of the noble family. See what I mean? You’re already learning something!


We were given this one by grandparents and it’s a winner. Available at Barnes and Noble, there are lots of these 100 Fact books on various topics. The Knights & Castles edition has architecture, social structure tidbits, and funny I DON’T BELIEVE IT items scattered throughout.

Happy reading!

Knights and Castles… Oh My!

The Bayeux Tapestry

We chose to stay in Bayeux on a whim. When I started researching Normandy I read that Bayeux would make a good spot for day trips to both the D-Day beaches and Mont St-Michel. My main resource for this entire trip was the Rick Steves’ France 2013 book and his Paris book. We are Rick Steves’ fans, having previously used his guidebooks for our trip to Germany and Austria when we got married. I listen to his podcasts while I drive or fold laundry and we even youtube’d his Normandy episode and watched it in the kitchen while cooking dinner one night before we left.

But I digress. Bayeux.
Not knowing what to expect, we bought our train tickets in Paris and hopped aboard the SNCF train. When we arrived, we walked a few blocks to our hotel, when all of a sudden we see THIS:

The Bayeux Cathedral. Large-scale cathedrals like this really shouldn’t surprise us any more. They are all over Europe. However, they always catch us off guard because we are just not used to this kinda stuff being right off the sidewalk.

This picture above really doesn’t do it justice. It’s about twice as large (wide) as the picture shows. Our first day was solidly booked with the D-Day tours, but after returning from Mont St. Michel, we headed over to visit the cathedral and another amazing site – the Bayeux Tapestry.

I don’t always love visiting church after church after church. But the only church we had on our agenda this trip was Notre Dame so this was just a pleasant little surprise.

The church historically held the Bayeaux Tapestry (more on that in a sec) and good Normandy folks were supposed to come visit and relive the epic battle tale it tells. It would wrap around the inside of the cathedral.
As in most churches, there were corners filled with statues and relics and opportunities to light candles (for a donation of a euro or two) and say a prayer. I personally enjoy taking a minute to do this. But this one was actually a bit more meaningful because I noticed a picture of a saint who I actually had read about in the last couple of years.

Saint Therese of Lisieux (pronounced Lee-soh). There is a small town near Bayeux called Lisieux… Duh. It all fell on me like a ton of bricks. I’m so used to France being this hugely faraway place that I sorta forgot that places can be so incredibly close once you get over there. Again, if I’d had all the time in the world, I would have visited her home there.

I’ll spare you all the history about Saint Therese. However, the thing she was a Carmelite nun who died quite young and is most known for encouraging love and humility and living “the little way.” She is also known as the “little flower.” Here’s the wikipedia page if you’re interested!
I have a devotional that I picked up awhile back at a used bookstore with notes from her memoir and scripture for each day, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf. While I was walking through the cathedral, I had a renewed curiosity to to dust it off.
Now the biggest draw for the town of Bayeux is its tapestry. This amazing work of art is a UNESCO world heritage site. A tapestry? Yep, a tapestry.
Essentially, it’s a giant embroidered tapestry that tells, scene by scene, the story of William the Conquerer (heir to the English throne) and how he secured the throne from Lord Harold, who tried to take it in a rather underhanded way.
No photos are allowed of the tapestry, but if you click here, you can see photos and read about it. Now if you’re like me and thinking… really? a narration of a battle? this is interesting?

Oh my gosh! It was so incredible. The audio guide walks you through the story and each section of the tapestry. What a story. The king is about to die. He names a successor (William, Duke of Normandy) and asks Harold (a contender for the throne himself) to carry the message to William.  But Harold gets angry and ends up taking over himself– despite the fact that William saved his life when Harold was captured en route. There’s a scene where men are running through and getting stuck in the quick sand at Mont St. Michel (we had been there that very morning) and all sorts of crazy battle highlights. The saga continues with a final victory — William becomes known as “the conquerer” and history is forever changed.

And then you get through the whole story and the audio tour says… this would be known as the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Oh jeez, yeah, I’ve heard of that. Ashamed to admit I couldn’t have told you anything about it.  But, yes, I probably should have known a little something about this.

This might be the most amazing gob-smacking part of travel. If I can go somewhere and look at the place and read the history, I am infinitely interested and open to everything. To be quite frank – I feel really smart. The ability to see and feel things rather than read a chapter in a book is what makes my head spin and my world explode.

This little visit was yet another reminder that the world is real. These things I’ve read about really happened somewhere and there are lands and buildings and people and families touched by this rich history. I feel so incredibly lucky to have seen this tapestry. Mike and I agreed that we actually felt like we had seen something priceless.

Previously posted elsewhere on our family blog on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Bayeux Tapestry