Castle Keep

What was a Castle Keep?

Early castle keeps were made of wood, an example of this would be the motte and bailey castles used by the Normans in their conquest of England. Later castle keeps were built of stone. The castle keep was the most important part of a medieval castle.

Castle keeps could also be known as a donjon which was the French term for a strong-hold. Castle keeps were often centrally located and could be placed on higher ground than other areas of a castle as was the case with the Norman motte and bailey design.

Nobles lived in the castle keep in earlier medieval periods, but as times changed and castles became grander buildings the keep became more of a defensive fortified structure, with nobles residing in more opulent chambers.

Tattershall-Castle-Keep-Parts-of-a-Castle

Tattershall Castle Keep

A castle keep was a kind of fortified tower that had central importance in the defence of the castle. It could also serve the purpose of imprisoning political prisoners since it was considered one of the most impenetrable castle parts in a dungeon located on lower levels.

Medieval Castle Keeps came to be constructed castles after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 when Motte and Bailey’s castles gained prominence.

Who lived in a Medieval Castle Keep?

The Keep of a Castle was often centrally located and a stronghold of the castle, as it was the residence of the Lord, his family, and all the important people of the castle.  The keep was considered to be the safest place in the castle. Important people lived in the upper areas of the keep whilst lower-ranking workers lived in lower sections.

Portchester-Castle-Keep-parts-of-a-castle

Portchester Castle Keep

Who was in charge of a Castle Keep?

A Medieval castles keep was among those castle parts whose charge was not permanently given to a single person. This was because a medieval castle keep could serve different purposes at different times. When it was used for defence purposes, its charge would be given to the knight responsible for defence. Similarly, in other cases, its change would be shifted over to someone overlooking storage or managing the living quarters.

Dover-Castle-Keep-Parts-of-a-Castle

Dover Castle Keep

Purpose of a Medieval Castle Keep Serve

The Castle keep just like many other castle parts, served multiple purposes. The most obvious purpose was to act as the residence of the lord of the castle. For this, the top portion of the keep was reserved. The bottom part of the keep was generally reserved for storage while the middle one was the great hall.

During the late medieval times, the castle keeps also served the purpose of imprisoning political prisoners. Finally, during invasions by enemy armies, the castle keep would also serve defence purposes since it was located at a higher point and could be used effectively by archers.

How was a Castle Keep Constructed?

During the middle medieval times, it was common to make the medieval castle keeps from wood. However, during the late medieval times, medieval castle keeps also began to be constructed with stone. The keep made of wood was always in danger of catching fire in case of an attack while keeps made of stone would be more secure. However, these latter types of medieval castle keeps were hard to construct and came at a considerably higher cost.

Medieval Castle Keep Summary

Medieval castle keeps became important among the castle parts of a medieval castles after the Norman Conquest of England. Initially, the keeps were mainly constructed of wood but as time passed, the stone began to be used for the construction of a medieval castle keep. Other than living and storage purposes, a medieval castle keep was also important with the defensive point of view in mind.