A gatehouse was added to medieval castles to make the most vulnerable part of the castle, the castle entrance more secure. By adding a Castle Gatehouse not only was a medieval castle’s entrance made more secure, it actually made it one of the most secure parts of the castle.
Gatehouses were also often built to protect the entrances of walled medieval towns and cities.
The Gatehouse was an excellent defensive addition to a medieval castle. The Gatehouse was a smaller structure comprising an inner passageway or section depending on the size of the castle.
Enemy soldiers that ventured into the gatehouse could be easily trapped inside if the portcullis on both sides were suddenly dropped.
The portcullis was a heavy grilled gate commonly made of wood (0ak) and metal (Iron), that was suspended in the air, held by thick ropes or chains it could be released in an instant by releasing the holding mechanism of winches and pulleys that suspended it from the ceiling.
The Portcullis was also designed to stop surprise attacks from enemy soldiers, built in advance of the main gate it could be dropped instantly during times of emergency, giving the castle’s defenders valuable time to protect the main gate entrance.
Scolding liquids could be poured through murder holes strategically place throughout the gatehouse’s ceilings, crossbowmen could fire bolts through arrowslits in the walls and stones could be dropped from the tops of the walls.
Commonly gatehouse passages did not have ceilings and were manned by archers at the top of the walls who could pick off trapped soldiers along the gatehouse passageways and were trapped by the closed portcullis at both ends.
Enemy forces trapped inside the gatehouse were in a lot of trouble.
Murder Holes inside a Gatehouse
Design of the Castle Gatehouse
Early castle Gatehouses were fairly basic but as the medieval period progressed and knowledge of building techniques improved so did the design of the gatehouse which went from a simple structure to a more complex structure.
Gatehouse *Bodiam Castle
The castle gatehouse needed to be strong but it also needed to look the part to impress other kings, this is why many castle gatehouses are impressive parts of a medieval castle and incorporated many features that also helped to protect the castle.
Towards the end of the medieval period, castle Gatehouses across Europe were transformed into stunning structures that were buildings in their own right. Most castles had one portcullis (heavy grilled gate with metal spiked ends) that was suspended vertically and could be released instantly to stop surprise attacks.
Gatehouse Entrance with Portcullis
The main castle door which was usually made of wood, metal, or typically a combination of both would be barred which strengthened it against battering rams and other similar siege weapons. Various other defenses were built into the Gatehouse area such as arrow loops and murder holes.
Battering Ram *Castle Gatehouse Gate
Castle Gatehouse *History
The idea of protecting the most vulnerable part of a defensive building like a fort or castle originated in a period before the medieval period (476–1485) a period referred to as antiquity, this period includes the bronze age and the times of the Roman empire.
The entrance to a castle or town was always the weakest link and builders had to come up with ways to make them more secure. As time progressed more advanced gatehouses were designed that became 2 and 3-storey buildings that incorporated advanced defensive features such as murder holes and portcullis which led to the development of the castle gatehouse.
Drawbridge and Entrance of a Small Gatehouse
Trapped in the Gatehouse
Just as in the barbican a besieging army could easily be tricked into entering a gatehouse and trapped with the heavy portcullis on both sides being dropped quickly, once inside hot liquids could be poured from the above murder holes, rocks dropped from the walls, bolts fired by crossbowmen from arrowslits or arrows fired from archers positioned on the castle’s walls, depending upon the set up of the gatehouse all options could be available.
Herstmonceux Castle Gatehouse
Castle Gatehouses – Did you know?
The name portcullis originates from the French word “Porte coulissante”
Concentric castles could have several gatehouses and many portcullises built into their complex design
Some Gatehouses morphed into castle keeps called “gate keeps” the structures built were so advanced they took on a different dimension
In late medieval times, some gatehouse arrow loops were made into gun ports to keep up with changes to medieval weaponry
Attacking a gatehouse was made even more difficult because of castle moats and drawbridges
Sometimes gatehouses formed part of medieval town fortifications, perhaps defending the passage of a bridge across a river or a moat
The French term for a small gatehouse is logis-Porche (porche)
A large gatehouse was called a châtelet which means small castle
Where Can I see Good Examples of a Medieval Gatehouse?
We hope you enjoyed this article on medieval castle gatehouses and would encourage you to look at our other articles on the medieval castle parts page which is linked at the bottom of this page, if you are interested in seeing castle gatehouses in person there are many scattered around Europe, good examples of gatehouses can be seen in France, Germany, and York in England which has many gatehouses built into its city walls such as the Micklegate Bar.