The word castle comes from the latin word Castellum, they were fortified medieval structures that offered protection to nobility and other classes of people, although there were exceptions where medieval castles were used strictly for strategic positioning.
Medieval Castles were a European innovation that originated in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Nobles of those times built castles to control the surrounding areas and to protect their families and wealth from rivals, It was also made it easier to plan and co-ordinate raids on other castles, towns and villages and you could always run back to the safety your own castle.
The Medieval castles during the period were divided into castles owned by the king and castles owned by Anglo-Norman Lords. The main castles of the medieval period were those of the king and other nobles and these were the castles of the time that offered the best protection. Urban castles which were also owned by the king were enforced by sheriff like people who were ordered by the king to keep peace in those lands.
Concentric castles had several outer walls that made them difficult to attack, because of the improved defences in concentric castle design they became very popular in late medieval times Read more about the Concentric Castles >>
Medieval times were brutal and Nobility needed to protect their families and wealth from enemies at home and abroad.
The medieval castle provided this protection and gave Nobility a base to launch attacks on other wealthy rivals and to maintain their power and wealth.
In the earliest of medieval times Castles were built in strategic positions and their main purpose was to protect supplies from any threat.
The majority of Castles were being built in the cities and their only goal was as a safe residence for the lords of England
In the medieval period that followed, invasions by foreign enemies against England and Wales resulted in several variations of Medieval Castles being built with the goal of improving castle Defenses!
The most popular design was the Motte and Bailey Castle, which was a simple design that consisted of a dirt pile called a Motte poured on one location – this would then support a wooden tower and a large enclosed area built alongside it which was called a Bailey.
After England was invaded by the Normans only two castles were built using stone, in Romanesque style and their purpose was military defense , as well as looking good.
All other castles were made from a mixture of wood and dirt and mixture of the two famous Motte and Bailey design and ring works.
The ring works design was easier and faster to make which consisted of earth being built up in a circular or oval shape and then topped off with a wooden rampart.
Medieval Castles – Medieval Castle Siege weapons and Armies
Medieval Castle Attack and Defense
In early medieval times, Castles could simply be avoided.
The usual area of which a castle could count as influential would be around 400 meters (1300 ft) and almost all their weapons (even in the early ages of artillery ) had a short range of fire.
During times of peace castles that did not have any significant importance to an area and were less manned than those with higher importance.
Usually the guard would consists of a few watchmen and gate guards.
During times of war, too many soldiers defending a castle could put a strain on supplies and impair the castle’s ability to withstand a long siege.
Medieval Castle History
The idea to build fortified structures first came up when the accumulation of wealth and resources was increasing and nobles started to lack safe places to store them.
The earliest types of fortifications originated in the lands of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt. China also had settlements which were protected by large walls .
The northern part of Europe started their defensive structures later than the eastern part and as soon as the Bronze Age came, hill forts started popping up in lands right across Europe.
Construction of castles used the early forms of architecture and all castles were built according to the surrounding region and country which they were protecting. The castles were built to house military units and nobility.
Early medieval Castles such as Portchester Castle in England
Early Medieval Castles
The oldest types of castles were used as a defence against invading tribes who only had one idea in their mind, to steal everything you had.
The first basic forms of castle defences originated from fortifications that were for the benefit of noble families.
The castles which survived the attacks and raids provided the castle’s lord further chances for improvement of the castle and more control of the surrounding lands. It allowed room for expansion, not just for lands but even administrative functions and unit garrisons.
Castle Siege – Medieval Castle Attack
If taking a castle is the mission, most of the time a siege will be laid upon it. A direct attack could be ordered but it was better and more tactically astute to place a siege upon a castle, which would penalise the castles guards morale, food supplies and will to fight.
Without relief from an external source, the defenders of the castle would eventually submit. A Siege could last weeks, months and in rare occasions the siege could last for a year, if the castles supplies permitted it so.
The English Medieval Castle Windsor castle is a famous medieval castle
English Medieval Castles
England is one of the best places in the world to see good examples of medieval castles, England has always been a country involved in warfare and and you can see medieval castles in great condition all over the country.
Warwick Castle in Warwickshire is a fine example of a medieval castle, it was built by William the conqueror in 1068 and is a grand highly fortified castle that was very advanced in medieval times.
The tower of London is also classed as a medieval castle and it is located right in the middle of London on the north bank of the river Thames.
A lesser know medieval castle is Bodiam in East Sussex, this is an almost perfect example of a late medieval castle was built with a moat. It was built as a compact but well defended medieval castle.
European Medieval Castles
The medieval castles of Europe first appeared in Normandy France and were usually a Motte and Bailey design, which was basically where dirt was removed to make a large mound in the middle and a ditch around the structure, they began to appear around the 900’s in Europe.
The Bayeux Tapestry in France actually shows images of the first European castles, there was usually a wall that enclosed the Bailey.
A tower was built at the top of the mound and wooden palisade that ran around it.
There are many stunning castles scattered around Europe that were built during the medieval period
Medieval Castles Parts Harlech Castle with castle parts indicated
Medieval Castle Parts
Although castle design varied widely throughout Europe, there were some similar features that many castles incorporated.
Medieval castles design and features differed across Europe, however there were some similarities that all castles shared.
As the name suggests Arrow slits were narrow gaps at the castle walls to protect the castle and allowed archers to shoot arrows at Castle attackers in relative safety from height.
The narrowness of the Arrow slits in the walls protected the archers from incoming fire from the castles attackers.
These were basically gaps that allowed soldiers within the castles to fire upon attackers in defence of the castle whilst still having a wall to hide behind for protection.
A castles curtain wall stretched around the castle as a walkway so that people could patrol around the castle easily looking for any dangers and potential attacks.
The castle wall also helped soldiers use different parts of the castle quickly and helped them move weapons to defend the castle to the areas where attacks were taking place.
The Castle keep
The Castle keep was a kind of safe room, a place where soldiers, royalty and others could seek refuge if the rest of the castle had fallen into enemy hands, the keep was a large tower structure and usually a place where a last stand was made by medieval soldiers defending a castle.
This was built at the entrance of the castle at the castle gate because the gate was the weakest point of the castle’s defences, the castle gatehouse helped to reinforce this area against enemy attack.
This is effectively a deep ditch which was dug out around the castle and was commonly filled with water, this extra obstacle against attackers gave the soldiers inside a castle more time to injure and kill people attacking the castle.
Usually there was a drawbridge at the entrance of the castle to allow supplies, weapons, military and other personnel into the castle.
Medieval Castles French Castle Carcassonne
Famous Medieval Castles
Chateau Gaillard in France – a beautiful medieval castle was built in France by the famous Richard the Lion-heart.
Cite de Carcassonne – Another beautiful medieval castle built in France it was started by the Romans but is still a medieval castle.
Leeds Castle – was the residence of King Edward and is a well built medieval castle it is believe it was built in 1119 in the early part of the medieval period
Windsor Castle – Windsor Castle is home to Queen Elizabeth the Queen of England, it is a beautiful medieval castle that was built by William the Conqueror after he had conquered England and become its ruler in 1066.
Tower of London – This is another castle that was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 he started building the large white tower, this was the place that many traitors were executed and where torture took place, it has served as a armory prison, royal palace and Treasury amongst other things during its great history
Medieval Castles of Today
The great country houses, built from stone or wood in the seventeenth to twentieth century were, and always will be, castles of their day.
These famous structures have very little military use in the 21st century and almost all of the remaining castles and their features are used as tourist attractions with guided tours and detailed historical activity about their medieval pasts.
Restoration of the castles was usually required if the castles were badly damaged during wars or conflicts and some were fitted with new staircases, walking path and restored towers.
The main use for castles today is the memory they bring of the darker ages of war, whether they were urban or rural, it does not matter, they are forever scarred with the marks of war.
Even if we cannot know for certain what exactly has happened in some castle, we can always look at the interior or exterior that has been damaged by the siege engines of war.