Discover the Best Medieval Castles in England, Scotland and Wales to visit Read more about the Best Castles in the United Kingdom >>
As the medieval period progressed castle design became much more sophisticated Read more about the Castle Design History >>
Castle Entertainment kept the people who worked in the Medieval Castle in good spirits. Read more about the Castle Entertainment >>
Most of the castles built in Ireland during the medieval ages were built by Norman barons and lords Read more about the Castles in Ireland >>
Medieval Castles were located in Strategic Locations for defensive purposes Read more about the Castles Strategic Locations >>
Concentric castles had several outer walls that made them difficult to attack! Read more about the Concentric Castles >>
Early motte & bailey castles were easier and quicker to construct Read more about the Early Medieval Castles >>
Many famous castles were built during the Norman & Plantagenet periods Read more about the Famous Medieval Castles >>
Later Castles were made of stone blocks to withstand siege weapon attacks Read more about the Late Medieval Castles >>
The castle needed a large number of troops to defend it from besieging armies Read more about the Medieval Castle Military >>
A network of Norman castles sprung up around Britain after the Norman conquest of England of 1066 Read more about the Norman Castles >>
Discover the best medieval castles in Spain that are well worth visiting Read more about the Spanish Castles >>
Top 10 Castles in England - Discover 10 of the Most Magnificent Castles in England!Read more about the Top 10 Castles in England >>
Medieval times could be very dangerous and the Nobility needed to protect their families and wealth from enemies at home and abroad. Castles were also used by Kings to consolidate their power over lands during an invasion.
William the Conqueror the ‘Duke of Normandy’ was the first Norman King of England and was a prolific castle builder and used a network of castles as a way to secure his gains and provide a stronghold where he could dominate an area and further expand his empire.
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 Medieval Times mighty medieval Castles could be seen all around Europe and the Middle East.
In the earliest medieval times, Castles were built in strategic positions and their main purpose was to protect supplies from any threat.
Early Medieval Castles were of Motte and Bailey design that were sometimes built on old Ruins such as ancient Roman ruins.
The Bailey was the courtyard of the Castle which was enclosed by a curtain wall. There could be a series of Baileys within the castle walls with the inner bailey usually being the most important part and where the castle keep would often be placed.
Usually you would find the most important parts of a castle in the inner bailey and the less important parts such as stables in the outer bailey.
The castle would be surrounded by a palisade (defensive wall) made from stakes made of wood or metal and often a protective ditch. The Motte was a raised area of ground that important structures were built upon such as the castle keep.
A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble.
The word castle is derived from the Latin word castellum, which is a diminutive of the word castrum, meaning “fortified place”
Defensive structures were built by ancient civilizations as a protected place in which to live long before what we know now as the medieval castle with its defensive walls, moats, and Palisades. These ancient structures had some elements of the Medieval Castles and many examples can be found in places such as Scotland.
The Romans also built forts and strongholds throughout England and along the southern coasts of England. These structures also have some things in common with the Medieval Castle.
Some Medieval Castles were sited on these earlier fortifications.
Medieval castles were built not only as a show of the wealth and power of Castle owners but as a strategic base that served both a defensive and offensive purpose. They represent authority, power, and house important people, they could be centers of law, order, and even government.
Castles were often built in strategic locations and helped in the struggle to maintain power and authority over domestic and foreign attacks from rivals.
Usually, a King, Baron, Lord, or his tenant would live in a Medieval castle.
The oldest types of castles were used as a defense against invading tribes who only had one idea in their mind, to steal everything you had.
The first basic forms of castle defenses 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.
The Normans built enclosure Castles, in which a raised central mound of the earth would be formed with a v-shaped ditch at the bottom, this ‘bank’ was usually slopped at an angle and then on the large flat area formed at the top would be placed a large structure called a Donjon or keep.
A Donjon was a name given to a watchtower, great tower, or innermost keep of a castle.
A Keep is a type of fortified tower built within castles – This would be the most important part of the Castle that housed the most important people.
One of the most popular early Norman Castle designs was the Motte and Bailey Castle
A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone Keep *Tower *Dojon situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, accompanied by a walled courtyard *bailey, surrounded by a protective palisade and surrounding ditch.
A keep was built on the Motte which was basically a large mound of earth, however, it was much more than this and was quite a well-developed system of earth, rock, chalk, sand, and flint designed to be firm and stable. Often with a Hardcore top and clay-covered sides.
The main reason that motte and bailey castles were built was that the design enabled a watchtower to be added. They were also ideal as a quick way to suppress the Anglo-Saxon population as they could be quickly constructed.
The Bailey of a Motte and Bailey castle is described as a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall, usually, an outer bailey would often house a kitchen, chapel, stables, and storerooms for example and an inner bailey could have housed the Lord’s castle keep.
The v-shaped ditch could be wet or dry, when wet this made the bank very slippery and therefore made it even more difficult for castle attackers.
A palisade is simply a defensive wall that was usually built by driving wooden stakes into the ground, it could be described as a defensive wooden stake wall, paling, etc. Sometimes wooden towers were added to this protective wall.
Motte and Bailey’s castles were popular with the Normans as they were relatively easy and quick to construct you would have a conical-shaped mound of earth (motte) and bailey (enclosure) surrounded by a bank and wooden Palisade (surrounding fence usually wooden stakes)
The medieval period progressed and advancements in the materials and technology used to build castles developed, more advanced castle designs made of stone began to dominate the landscape of England and the rest of Europe.
In time Norman’s stranglehold on England grew stronger and this gave them more time to build and develop bigger and better Castles made from stone!
In later medieval times, the ultimate defensive castle was built, the concentric castle had walls within walls, that allowed for castle defenders to pull back and defend a castle with confidence, even if one of the walls had been conquered!
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 you can see medieval castles in great condition all over the country.
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 built with a moat. It was built as a compact but a well-defended medieval castle.
Cite de Carcassonne – A beautiful medieval castle built in France it was started by the Romans but is a medieval castle.
Leeds Castle – was the residence of King Edward and is a well built medieval castle it is believed it was built in 1119 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 where many traitors were executed and where torture took place, it has served as an armory prison, royal palace and Treasury amongst other things during its great history
Chateau Gaillard in France – a beautiful medieval castle was built in France by the famous Richard the Lion-heart
Castle design varied widely throughout Europe, there were some similar features that many castles incorporated.
Medieval castle’s design and features differed across Europe, however, there were some similarities and Castle Parts that many 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.
Battlements were parapets (low defensive walls) built at the top of castles’ main walls with gaps that were usually rectangular that allowed soldiers within the castles to fire upon attackers in defense of the castle whilst still having a place to hide behind for protection. These gaps are known as “crenels” and the wall or building with them is called being crenelated.
A castle 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 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 the 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 defenses, the castle gatehouse helped to reinforce this area against enemy attack.
This is effectively a deep ditch that 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.
If taking a castle was the mission, most of the time a siege would 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 penalize the castle 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 on rare occasions, the siege could last for a year, if the castle’s supplies permitted it so.
The medieval castles were primarily built as defensive structures. This is why they typically featured a wide range of defensive features which could be used in the event of an attack on the castle.
During the mid and late middle ages, various castles were built in Europe and the Middle East. These castles were built to protect the city from enemies and as residences of monarchs and lords.
There were various parts of the castle, each having its own significance. Arrow slits, also known as loopholes, were the thin vertical areas in the castle wall from where archers could fire arrows at the enemy.
These were built in a way that allowed the castle archers to be easily moved around and fire arrows at a wider target, which was called embrasure. The bottom of the arrow slit was known as a fishtail.
A medieval castle barbican was the most important part of the castle in terms of the first line of defense. It was in the form of a tower or a gateway over the main gate of the castle. The castle wall and barbican were connected by a walled road known as the neck. There was a narrow passage that was also known as a death trap as it helped in trapping the invading enemy.
A few knights were usually responsible for defending the castle barbican due to the limited space. A barbican helped in trapping the invading enemy, for firing missiles or shooting arrows on the enemy.
Around the defensive castle walls, structures were built which were called battlements. These comprised of a parapet with gaps that allowed a bunch of arrows to be fired toward the enemy. These gaps were called crenels with a rectangular or square shape and a wall in which crenels were made was called crenelated.
Mostly they were placed on the top of the main castle walls but they could be placed on any part of all walls. The width between the crenels was known as merlons. Battlements defended the castle’s military and protected the soldiers inside the castle from an enemy attack.
In the late middle ages, medieval castles advanced by introducing new defensive techniques like castle drawbridges. It was a heavy movable bridge at the entrance of the castle. The bridge would be raised or lowered using ropes or chains above the gate passage.
The main purpose of the drawbridge was for the people to get in and out easily. It stopped enemies from moving in their siege weapons as they could be raised and lowered quickly resulting in a surprise attack on enemies.
The castle gatehouse was built to secure the gate entrance of the castle which was the most important part of the castle. It was an effective defensive addition that made it difficult for an enemy to attack and capture the castle.
If the enemy tried to enter the castle, they had to face the obstacles and traps through the gatehouse. The gatehouse consisted of thick stone walls and unexpected murder holes from where heavy objects like stones and boiling water could be dropped.
At the end of the middle ages, gatehouses were developed into complete buildings in their own right with the top floor used to store weapons and host murder holes while the first floor with guards stationed.
The castle keep was a fortified tower that played an important part in the defense of the castle. It had a protected entrance and an extra thick wall. The keep was considered the safest place during the siege warfare and for keeping political prisoners.
These castle keeps were constructed after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Other than keeping the political prisoners, the castle keep also served the purpose of housing the lord of the castle.
The charge of the keep was given according to its different purposes. For instance, if the keep was used for defense purposes, its charge was given to the knight.
Machicolation was the floor opening between the corbels of the parapet at the top of the wall. Through this opening, stones, arrows, or boiling water were dropped by the defenders on the attackers. Machicolations were added to medieval castles in the late medieval period after the Norman Conquest of England.
They were also added to various parts of the castle walls that would be more commonly attacked. Machicolations were either built from wood or stone. The wood machicolations were called ‘hoarding’ and they were quicker and easier to add to the castle wall but stone Machicolations were stronger.
A medieval castle moat was the deep set of water surrounding the castle for defensive purposes.
The water was usually 5 to 15 feet deep and lay between the outer and inner walls, helping in stopping the enemy invasion. Medieval moats also became an effective defensive technique in the late medieval period as they made it difficult for an enemy to approach the castle with heavy weapons.
These moats were an effective tool against the practice of digging tunnels under the castle. For building a castle moat, a water source close to the castle was important for channeling the flow of water.
For overcoming the castle moat during the invasion, a drawbridge was used if the moat was filled with water. If the moat was dry, it was filled with rocks and stones until the ditch would be crossed.
Murder holes were an important part of the medieval castle entrance. It was the opening in the ceiling of the gateway of the main entrance through which the defenders could throw projectiles, arrows or other objects on the attackers.
Some gatehouses had very long passages so there were many murder holes all along the passage.
They were built in the late middle ages as the earlier designs of castles were weak in their defense. At the time of the invasion, the enemy would get trapped in the passageway from where archers could attack the invaders.
Ramparts were the defensive walls built around the castle and forts. The outer top wall was known as battlement and to reach it, the archers would stand on a walkway. This walkway was built against the outer wall which was called a rampart.
Ramparts were the early defensive castle walls and they were replaced with thinner defensive walls in the late middle ages. The defensive wall of a rampart was built from stone that surrounded the medieval castle.
Earlier ramparts were called dump ramparts that were made of earth and stone.
The wonderful thing about medieval Castles is there are so many still around today in great condition that you can visit. 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.
Medieval Castles Resources List Below