Medieval Castles – The Magnificent Medieval Castle!
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.
Medieval times were brutal and 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 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 strong-hold 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.
Early Medieval Castles were of Motte and Bailley design that were sometimes built on old Ruins such as ancient Roman ruins.
The Bailley 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.
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!
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 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.
Where did the Name Castle originate?
The word castle is derived from the Latin word castellum, which is a diminutive of the word castrum, meaning “fortified place”
What is a Castle Exactly?
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. See link to Wikipedia
Origins of Castles
Defensive structures were built by ancient civilizations as a protected place in which to live a long time 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.
What was the Purpose of a Medieval castle?
Medieval castles were built not only as a show of the wealth and power of Castles owners but as a strategic base that served both a defensive and offensive purpose. They represent authority, power and would house important people and 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.
Who Owned Medieval Castles?
Usually a King, Baron or his tenant would live in a Medieval castle.
Medieval Castles and the Normans
The main Castle builders of Medieval Times were undoubtedly the Normans who conquered England in 1066. The Norman castle builders were the French elite who dominated France and had earlier conquered Italy.
Early Norman Medieval Castles
The Normans built enclosure Castles, in which a raised central mound of 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 Dojon.
The mounds were usually made from a combination of earth, rock, chalk, sand and flint and the sides could be re-enforced with wooden planks or other materials.
A Dojon was an name given to a watch tower, 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.
At the outer edge of the raised mound would be an enclosing fence (Palisade).
The Normans also built castles on existing ruins and old forts which they used as a base or starting point.
Definition of a Motte and Bailey Castle
A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, accompanied by a walled courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade.
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 wall, stakewall, paling etc. Sometimes wooden towers were added to this protective wall.
Was 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 design to be firm and stable. Often with a Hardcore top and clay covered sides.
The Normans conquered the Anglo Saxons in Medieval England who were replaced by Norman Kings, Barons and Knights.
Normans built castles so that a small garrison of men could dominate and control a large area of land, William the conqueror also stopped his own barons from dominating an area and potentially becoming a rival by scattering their lands so that they couldn’t dominate one area and build a powerful base.
Motte and Bailey 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 main reason that motte and bailey castles were built was because the design enabled a watch tower to be added. They were also ideal as a quick way to suppress the Anglo Saxon population.
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 store rooms for example and an inner bailey the Lords 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.
The Normans also built more simple castles these were known as Ringwork Castles. although around 75% of the Castles built by the Normans were of Motte and Bailey design. Most of these early moat and bailey castles were designed as a quick solution and not with a long term aspect of later stone castles.
Later Norman enclosure castles typically had shorter walls but more perimeter towers.
Castle Siege – Medieval Castle Attack
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 castles guards morale, food supplies and will to fight.
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.
The tower of Londonis 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 Bodiamin 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.
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 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.
The narrowness of the Arrow slits in the walls protected the archers from incoming fire from the castles attackers.
Battlements were parapets (low defensive walls) built at the top of a 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 know as “crenels” and the wall or building with them is called as being crenelated.
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 across the castle moat
Top 10 Castle Parts for Medieval Castle Defense
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.
Following is a look at some of the key defensive parts of the castle.
During the mid and late middle ages, various castles were built in Europe and 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 loop holes, were the thin vertical areas in the castle wall from where archers could fire arrows on 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 fishtail.
A medieval castle barbican was the most important part of the castle in terms of first line of defense. It was in the form of a tower or a gateway over the main gate of castle.
The castle wall and barbican were connected by a walled road known as the neck. There was a narrow passage which was also known as 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 towards the enemy.
These gaps were called crenels with a rectangular or square shape and a wall in which crenels were made was called crenellated.
Mostly they were placed on the top of the main castle walls but they could be placed at 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 drawbridge was for the people to get in and out easily. It stopped enemies from moving in their siege weapons as it could be raised and lowered quickly resulting in a surprise attack towards 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 which made it difficult for an enemy to attack and capture the castle.
If the enemy tried to enter into 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 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, these castle keeps 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 was 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 at 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.
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 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 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 invasion, enemy would get trapped in the passage way 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.
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.