Medieval Castle Defences

During Medieval times, it was common to construct castles and fortifications as a protection against enemy invasion. It was a common practice amongst kings all over the world to construct castles soon after conquering a country in order to solidify their hold on the new kingdom.

Medieval King William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror had a string of castles constructed all over England after the Norman conquest of the country in 1066. Thus medieval castle defences played a very important role in the defence of the country and a kingdom with a batch of impenetrable castles had a clear edge over its enemies.

Norman Conquest

Norman Conquest

Medieval Castle Defence *Strategic Location

Like any defence mechanism, strategic locations were very important in medieval castle defences. The most important component in the defence was the location of the castle itself.

Castle Defences Stategic Location

It was a common practice to construct the castle on high places such as mountain passes where it would be difficult for the enemy armies to attack. In actual defence, the walls of the castle served as the primary strategic location.

edinburgh castle g009624c55 640

If the castle was located on plain land, it could be surrounded by a ditch of water known as a moat to provide a solid defence.

Sullay Castle Moat tower

Castle Defence Tactics

Various defence tactics or methods were used for medieval castle defences. For instance, it was common to construct castles of a circular shape that left no corners for miners of the enemy army to explore.

Medieval Castle Parts Harlech Castle

Another important tactic was to construct concentric castles with multiple walls which made invasion progressively difficult.

medieval concentric castle parts

Finally, archers could shower arrows on the invading armies, stones, and hot liquids could be poured over the approaching enemy if the walls were thick and spacious enough to allow soldiers to walk around the Castle walls

A Medieval Castle Being Defended Under Siege

Commonly battlements were built at the top of Castle walls

Castle Battlement Crenels

The Castle Battlement parapet (small wall) and Gaps (Crenels)

Medieval Castle *Defensive Parts

There were various defensive parts of castles that served as strategic locations during invasions. For instance, round towers were constructed because they provided a clear line of sight to the archers.

A Trebuchet Catapult Siege Attack on a Castle

There were also slots built into castle walls that crossbowmen could fire bolts through. These slots were called arrow slits or loops and acted as an important component of medieval castle defence.

Castle Arrow Slit Inside

Arrow Slit or Arrow Loop Inside Castle

Among other defensive parts, there were also the holes around the castle entrances known as a murder holes which could be used to drop projectiles or burning liquids over the invaders. Many walled medieval towns had gatehouse entrances that contained murder holes.

Murder Holes Medieval Town

Murder Holes *Top of Arch *Gateway to Medieval Town

Castle Defenders *Military Personnel

During the early medieval ages, defending the castle was the responsibility of individual feudal lords who used their vassals to accomplish this.

Medieval Castle Staff Military

This was true for the castles which did not have regular armies. In the case of the latter, soldiers were responsible for the defence. Eventually, however, paid soldiers were used everywhere for medieval castle defences.

knight g5258aea20 640

The soldiers were usually commanded by a constable who was responsible for the medieval castle defences in the absence of the lord or higher ranking noble.

Medieval Castle *Defensive Weapons

Various weapons were prevalent in medieval castle defences. The most important of these was the simple crossbow, considering the central role of archers in medieval castle defences.

Medieval Crossbow Weapon

One of the most important defensive devices designed during the high and late medieval period was a catapult which was used to defend castles as well as in attack during sieges.

Siege Weapons Castles

Once a castle’s defences had been breached, a normal hand-to-hand battle ensued, and common weapons such as crossbows, longbows, swords, spears, and poleaxes were used as in common battlefield warfare.

Medieval Knights Warfare 1

Castle Defences Summary

Early medieval castles did not have the sophisticated defences of their later counterparts and were easier to attack and overrun, this led to constant improvements being made to keep pace with the advancements in medieval weaponry which led to all-around improvements in medieval castle defences.

Medieval Gunpowder Weapons

Medieval Gunpowder Weapons

In the later parts of medieval times with the invention of Gunpowder weapons such as Cannons Castles were fairly easy to destroy and the defensive walls could easily be destroyed, this and the new age of enlightenment at the start of the renaissance period led to the decline of Castles and this type of medieval warfare.