Castle Drawbridge

One of the most effective medieval castle defences was the water-filled castle moat that completely surrounded the castle.

This created a problem as the inhabitants of the castle needed to be able to enter and leave the castle easily, the solution came in the form of an invention called a drawbridge.

Castle Drawbridge - Parts of a Medieval Castle

Castle drawbridges were usually made of wood and had to be long enough to cover the width of the moat, early medieval drawbridges were very basic and were moved by hand, later medieval drawbridges were much more advanced and used mechanisms of pulleys and winches to raise and lower them.

Ropes and later chains were used to lower and raise the drawbridge of the castle, these chains were connected to a “windlass” which was positioned above the Gatehouses passage.

Castle Drawbridge Definition

A castle Drawbridge was a heavy wooden bridge that spanned the width of a castle’s moat or ditch, the Drawbridge was movable and could be raised quickly if the castle was under attack. Man-made moats were commonly around 12 feet wide and 30 feet deep.

Defending the Castle *Drawbridge

The drawbridge was needed so that inhabitants of a medieval castle could easily get in and out of the castle if it was surrounded by a moat, when the drawbridge was raised there was literally no way to get inside the castle easily as the castle would be completely surrounded by water.

Medieval Moat & Castle Drawbridge - Parts of a Castle

The main gate was commonly a solid wooden door that could be strengthened with metal strips, sitting flush against the main entrance walls, later castles incorporate a gatehouse which was added to further strengthen this vulnerable part of the castle and later outposts called barbicans also further strengthened castle entrances.

The drawbridge could be quickly raised under a surprise attack making it impossible for enemies to move in their siege weapons and soldiers, the moat would create the barrier but this was impracticable without the drawbridge. Commonly a heavy wooden or metal portcullis could be dropped quickly in an emergency situation such as a surprise attack whilst the drawbridge was being fully raised.

Castle Portcullis - Parts of a Medieval Castle

Castle Portcullis

Castle Drawbridge History

Early medieval drawbridges were of a simple design and just used manpower to put them in place or remove them, sometimes they were destroyed and replaced. Later medieval Drawbridges were more advanced and relied on a system of ropes (later replaced by chains) and pulleys.

Large or very heavy drawbridges used counterweights to help in the raising and lowering of the drawbridge as the chains and pulleys could not cope with the weight, sometimes the portcullis (Wooden and metal-plated grille door/gate) would act as a counterweight.

Portcullis Drawbridge Counterweight

The Portcullis was commonly used as a counterweight for the Drawbridge

How did a Castle Drawbridge Work?

The Drawbridge in later medieval times tilted up as it was closed, pulled back by thick chains, as castles were so big in later medieval times the entrances needed to be large and this meant that drawbridges were big and heavy. These later drawbridges were introduced in the 14th century and were also known as “Bascule Bridges”.

A bascule bridge is a french term for a lifting bridge such as a drawbridge is a moveable bridge that uses a counterweight mechanism!

Bascule Drawbridges needed a counterbalance to help them move them so that both ends moved in opposite directions, weights were added to help with this and the Portcullis (Metal Grilled Gate) that was positioned behind the Drawbridge was often used as a counterweight to help raise and lower the drawbridge.

Portcullis - Parts of a Castle

Castle Gate with Portcullis

Castle Drawbridge Fast Facts

  • Modern drawbridges are also known as “Bascule Bridges” and were introduced in the 14th century
  • Weighted counterbalances were added to heavy drawbridges to help lower and raise them
  • Some later drawbridges used the castle’s portcullis as a counterweight
  • A “Bascule” drawbridge was raised by “Gaffs” (lifting arms)

Castle Portcullis of Medieval Castle

Drawbridges Working Parts

  1. Gaffs and Rainures – held counterbalance Beams in place
  2. Trunnions – helped the drawbridge turn
  3. Windlass – The mechanism that lowered and raised a drawbridge

A Portcullis could be quickly raised

Castle Drawbridges – Did you Know?

  • Alnwick Castle in England used counterweights and a Portcullis system for its castle Drawbridge
  • Helmingham Hall in the UK has two 16th-century Drawbridges that still work!
  • Drawbridges could be quickly raised in a surprise attack by the gatehouse guards

Visit Helmingham Hall Drawbridge


You Can See a Working Drawbridge at Helmingham Hall


Alnwick Castle Drawbridge

Alnwick Castle Drawbridge - Castle Parts

See a Drawbridge at Alnwick Castle

Castle drawbridges were just part of a system of complex defense systems that were built into later medieval castles, please explore our castle moat, barbican, and Gatehouse articles to get a better understanding of these castle parts which will build on your knowledge of Castle drawbridges.


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