Medieval Castles Q & A

Castle Moat Definition

Castle Moats were added to Castles in the middle ages, to protect the castle from attack. Read more about the Castle Moat Definition >>

How were Castle Moats Constructed?

Moats were a vital part of the defense of a  medieval castle and very successful. Read more about the How were Castle Moats Constructed? >>

What is a Medieval Castle Moat?

Both Wet and Dry Castle Moats were excellent defensively when defending a Medieval Castle Read more about the What is a Medieval Castle Moat? >>

Who Designed Medieval Castles

There were hundreds of stunning medieval castles built throughout Europe by renowned masons and Architects such as Gundulf, Robert de Belleme and Henry Yeverley Read more about the Who Designed Medieval Castles >>

Who worked in Medieval Castles?

Medieval Castles could be huge and would need a large number of personnel, they needed a strong military to defend the castles for example Read more about the Who worked in Medieval Castles? >>

Why Does a Castle Have a Moat?

A castle has a moat primarily to serve as a vital defensive feature. A moat makes it impossible for an enemy to dig tunnels under castle walls and effect their collapse. A moat also makes battering rams, ladders, and siege towers ineffective as they cannot be maneuvered to the walls or entrances of the castle.

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A moat also serves the purpose of being a solid barrier between castle walls and a potential attacker. While in the absence of a moat, an attacking army can reach castle walls and scale it with ladders siege towers, and grappling hooks, a moat makes such an assault effectively impossible.


In the medieval period, castles typically had moats filled with water, rocks, or spikes, making it very hard for an enemy outside castle walls to reach the castle’s boundaries.

There were moats that were man-made that were typically not as deep or wide as natural moats where a castle was built on an island for example. There were also dry moats that were filled with wooden spikes, rocks, and other things that would create an obstacle.

A Trebuchet Catapult Siege Attack on a Castle

Why Were Castles Built?

Castles became a popular style of construction during the medieval period. They were primarily built to serve as a form of fortified residence for the nobility and the royalty. The medieval period was marked by perennial warfare and unguarded construction was fraught with too many dangers for noblemen who were regularly pitted against one enemy or the other.

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Castles were a convenient solution in that they allowed a nobleman to keep his residence inside well-fortified walls and also house a military garrison without the vast interior of the castle.

Medieval Castle Staff Military

Another problem with pre-castle styles was that they were usually made of wood, they were prone to fire and frequent destruction. Stone castles, being highly durable and impervious to fire and other similar hazards, were an effective solution to this problem.

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When Was the First Castle Built?

The earliest castles in Europe were built during the 9th and 10th centuries. In England, the earliest castles were constructed in 1066, the same year when the Normans launched an invasion of England.

Norman Conquest

Norman Conquest

Following the invasion of England under William the Conqueror, Normans quickly began a widespread campaign of castle construction. This was done to cement the Norman hold over English territories and to protect Norman soldiers from potential backlash from the local populace.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

When was the First Concentric Castle Built?

The earliest concentric castles in Europe proper were built in the 13th century. These were pioneered by Edward I of England who built a large number of concentric castles all over the British Isles in order to cement his hold over the region.

Medieval King Edward I Illustration Portrait

Edward I of England

The origins of the concentric castles can be traced back to the Crusader states established in the 12th century. In fact, it is believed that the concentric castles built by Edward I were inspired by similar castles constructed in Belvoir where crusaders erected a castle with multiple layers of fortifications.

Knights Templar Costume Crusades

The key advantage of a concentric castle was multiple layers of defences and good defense against the best siege technologies of the time.

medieval concentric castle parts

Concentric Castle

What was a Castle Barbican?

Barbicans in medieval times were outposts situated at some distance from the main complex of a castle, although connected to it. The purpose of a barbican was to essentially serve as an additional form of defence at the point of entrance to a castle or any other residence.

Medieval Castle Barbican

In this capacity, the barbicans served as gateways that were heavily fortified. Most barbicans in the medieval period comprised of the main gate with two towers flanking it on each side.

The towers, in turn, were guarded by armed personnel who stood on alert for any potential enemy trying to break through the barbican and into a castle’s boundaries.

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Why did William the Conqueror Build so Many Castles?

In 1066, William the Conqueror launched the invasion of England. He was able to defeat the Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings and proceeded to gain control of most of England.

King William The Conqueror Medieval KIngs

However, he had to face stiff opposition from the local Anglo-Saxon and Breton populations, not only in 1066 but in subsequent years and decades as well.

Bretons Celtic People

He, therefore, built a large number of castles which were meant to show the local populations that the Norman conquest of England was permanent. The castles also housed Norman military garrisons which could launch counter-attacks whenever a rebellion occurred.

warwick castle medieval Castles

Who Built the First Castles?

The earliest castle in England was built by the Normans in the year 1066. It was the time when Normans, under William the Conqueror, invaded England and launched the construction of a large number of castles.

Early Stone and Wood Motte Bailey Castle

They built these castles to augment their control of English territories and to establish permanent military garrisons in the region. In Continental Europe, the earliest castles date back to the 9th century when noblemen in Western and Central Europe began constructing castles as a sign of their increasing might.


Norman Nobility

What Sort of Building is a Castle?

A castle is a combination of a fortified military structure and a residence. A typical medieval castle comprised of very high outer walls (curtain wall), well-fortified with towers, and housed a military garrison, all contributing to the role of the castle as a military fortification.

Medieval Castle Parts Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle

It also housed an internal portion where the residential quarters of the owner of the castle and his family were set up called the Castle Keep. In some cases, a castle served as a military fortification alone but this was rare. Most of the time, the castle was the fortified and well-guarded residence of the owning nobleman.

Castle Keep

Castle Keep

What is the Largest Castle in the UK?

Windsor Castle is the largest castle in the UK. The original structure of the castle was built in the 11th century and over subsequent centuries, a significant number of additional buildings and structures have been added to it.

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Today, Windsor castle occupies nearly 13 acres of area, employs 500 people, and is the only castle that has been used by the English royalty for the past 900 years. Even today, the castle is regularly used by Queen Elizabeth II.

The castle is also notable for featuring many different styles of architecture such as Gothic, Rococo, and Baroque.

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How Tall is a Castle Wall?

Castle walls in the medieval period were commonly around 30 feet high with few notable exceptions. This height pertains to the curtain wall which was the primary feature of defence on the castle’s exterior.

Medieval French Castle in Carcassonne

Medieval France French Castles Carcassonne Walls and Towers

The curtain walls were usually lined up with multiple towers and connected various apartments within the castle. In some cases, castle walls were much higher reaching as much as 44 feet in height.

The height of the castle walls was mostly determined by the nature of the siege technology of the period. For instance, once artillery became commonly used in Europe, the height of castle walls became mostly irrelevant and architects began to build castles with thick walls so as to withstand cannon fire.

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What was a Squint in a Medieval Castle?

A medieval castle was typically divided up into different portions. For example, the residential building of the castle included a large hall where meals were served and the sleeping quarters for the nobleman who owned the castle and his family.

Fenis Castle Boundary Wall and Towers Castles in Italy

Squints were small openings or peepholes which were concealed on first-floor or ground-floor chambers to allow a person to look from one portion of the castle into the other.

For instance, the castle steward on the first floor could use the small, often-slanting squint, to look down on the ground floor and see if the workers are going about their business.

What were Rushes Used for in Medieval Times?

Rushes reed-like plants and pieces of different types of grass were used to cover floors in medieval houses and castles. According to some sources, servants would simply bring in bundles of such plants and grass and strew them all over the floor.

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Later, some herbs were sprinkled on top of these plants to make them smell fresh and better. However, modern scholars also believe that in the houses of the nobility, reed-like plants were woven together into mats and then spread all over the floors, giving them a tidier look.

Why were Castles Built by the Normans?

Normans launched the invasion of England in 1066 under William the Conqueror. The same year, they defeated Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and effectively gained control of Britain.
However, they had to face frequent uprisings and rebellions from Anglo-Saxon noblemen in different parts of the British Isles.


Norman Nobility

Consequently, the Normans proceeded to build castles all over England where they would station their military garrisons. These garrisons would put down any rebellions in different localities.

Anglo Saxon Warfare

The Anglo Saxons used a shield wall formation as a tactic on the battlefield

The castles also served as subduing tactic by the Normans, giving the local Anglo-Saxon populations the impression that Normans were here to stay and that resistance to their rule was futile.