The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 4 – Types and Architectural Features

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Italy’s Castel del Monte was built in the 1240s by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. You may not know it, but it originally had a curtain wall. Yet, it’s a unique enough castle to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Finally, we get to the castle architecture. Over the 900 some years castles were built during the Middle Ages, they took on many forms with many different features. Most castles were made from wood since it was cheap, readily available, and an easy building material. However, a wooden castle was totally helpless against flaming arrows because we all know how wood catches fire, breaks, and decays over time. However, if a noble could afford it, he’d have his castle constructed from stone despite the high expense and maintenance. But stone was significantly less flammable and breakable with siege weapons and the elements. Early castles mostly consisted of simple fortifications and design. But as the medieval period went on, they became more complex with more towers, stronger gatehouses, and sturdier walls.

Castle Types

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Restormel Castle in England is an example of a shell keep which was a circular stone keep, are type of castle design. Though once a luxurious residence of the Duke of Cornwall, it was in ruins by the 16th century.

Adulterine Castle- a castle built without a liege lord’s or king’s approval.

Concentric Castle- a castle with 2 or more concentric curtain walls, such that the inner curtain wall is higher than the outer and can be defended from it. Often had round towers.

Courtyard Castle- a castle type consisting of a stone curtain wall surrounding a courtyard with buildings built inside it, normally against the curtain wall.

Knight’s Castle- a castle owned by a knight.

Motte and Bailey- an early form of castle where a large mound of dirt was built up. A wooden fortification was placed on top, which were shaped like a timber fence forming a circle like a crown.

Rectangular Keep- a stone castle with a square or rectangular keep with a second-floor entrance. The castle on Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic example.
Shell-Keep- castle style consisting of a circular or oval wall surrounding its inner portion. Usually stores and accommodates wooden buildings inside the hollow walls.

Stone Keep Castle- the classic medieval castle with a stone keep and a thick stone wall, which can be rectangular or circular in shape.

Tower House- a small castle consisting mainly or entirely of a single tower.

Architectural Features

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Built in the 12th century, the Château de Pierrefonds almost seems straight out of a fairy tale. Despite its 19th century restoration, it retains most of its defensive military architecture.

Aisle- space between an arcade and outer wall.

Ambulatory- aisle around an apse.

Apse- a circular or polygonal end of a tower or chapel.

Baluster- a small column.

Balustrade- a railing, as along a path or stairway.

Bar Hole- Horizontal bar for timber bar used as a door-bolt.

Barrel Vault- a cylindrical roof of stone or wood.

Base Cruck- a form of wood framed construction where the roof is supported by curved logs rising from the walls and not by aisle posts set on floor.

Bay- an internal division marked by roof principals or vaulting peers.

Blind Arcade- a line of arches on the face of a solid wall for decoration.

Bonnet- a freestanding fortification.

Boss or Keystone- a central stone in an arch or vault.

Bressumer- a beam to support a projection.

Cap House- a small chamber at the top of a spiral staircase in a tower or turret, leading to an open wall walk on the roof.

Cavalier- a raised structure containing a battery, usually sited above a bastion’s center to give better trajectory.

Cesspit- a wall opening where waste from one or more toilets were collected.

Colonnade- a range of evenly spaced columns.

Course- a level layer of stones or bricks.

Crossbar or Transom- a horizontal window division.

Cupola- a hemispherical armored roof.

Crow or Corbie Steps- a step-gabled end to a roof.

Diaphragm- a wall running up to the roof ridge.

Dog Leg- a right angle in a passageway.

Dormer- a vertically placed window in a sloping roof. Like you see on the top floors of a Cape Cod house.

Entresol or Mezzanine- a low story between 2 high ones.

Fireplace- a walled hearth used for heating a room. Most castles in the later Middle Ages had one in almost every room once they took off.

Gable- a wall covering the end of a roof ridge.

Garret- a building’s top story within a roof.

Groined- a roof with sharp edges at intersection of cross vaults.

Groin- junction of 2 curved surfaces in a vault.

Hood- an arched covering.

Impost- a wall bracket to support arch.

Jambs- side posts of an arch, door, or window.

Joists- wall-to-wall timber beans to support floor boards.

Lancet- a long, narrow window with a pointed head.

Label- a projecting weather molding above a roof or window to deflect rainwater.

Lantern- a small structure with open or window sides on top of a roof or dome to let light or air into the enclosed space below.

Lattice- Lines crossing to form a network whether on a window, fence, or gate.

Lintel- a horizontal stone or beam bridging an opening.

Loggia- a covered arcade or colonnade.

Louvre- a potter vent allowing smoke to escape from the hearth.

Meurtriere- an opening in the roof of a passage where soldiers could shoot into the room below.

Molding- masonry decoration that’s long and narrow as well as casts strong shadows.

Mullion- a vertical division of a window that’s constructed in panels.

Newel- Center post of a spiral staircase.

Nookshaft- a shaft set in a jamb or pier angle.

Pediment- a low-pitched gable over porticos, doors, and windows.

Pilaster- a shallow pier used to buttress a wall.

Piscina- a hand basin with a drain, usually set against or into a wall.

Pointed Arch- a sturdy arch that distributed the force of heavier ceilings and bulky wall. Can support much more weight than previous, simply, spindly pillars.

Rear Arch- an arch on a wall’s inner side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built up in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Rib- a raised molding dividing a vault.

Roofridge- a roof’s summit line.

Soffit- an underside of an arch, hung parapet, or opening.

Spur- a triangular buttress used to strengthen a round tower’s bottom.

Spiral Staircase, Corkscrew, or Turnpike- a winding, circular staircase spiraling up clockwise which allowed added sword room for defenders. Steps were built unevenly to make it difficult for attackers to climb and fight. Said to be among the most economical and convenient method of accessing upper tower floors and easier to defend.

Squint- an observation hole in wall or room.

Traverse- a small bank or wall cutting across a covered way’s line.

Tympanum- a space between a lintel and arch over a doorway.

Vault- stone roofing.

Vaulted Ceiling- a ceiling with sturdy pointed archers and pillars that allowed ceilings to be taller than ever before. Also provided an impression of height, grandeur, and elegance. Can be built in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

Wall-Plate- a horizontal roof-timber on wall-top.
Wall-Stair- staircase built into a wall’s thickness.

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The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 3 – The Keep, Bailey, and Interior

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Built in the 14th century, the French Château de Vincennes boasts one of the tallest medieval fortified medieval structure in its keep. Within Paris, this castle served as the French royal residence during the 15th century. Yet, it’s had a long and colorful history with memorable moments.

Once you get through the walls, it’s on to the castle’s interior. First, we go into the courtyard with the bailey where you’d find plenty of animals grazing, gardens, and buildings. These buildings consisted of stables, workshops, barracks, water suppliers, and storage facilities. You may even see a chapel there. Yet, the central heart of the castle was the keep, which was considered the strongest area and the last place of refuge if outer defenses fell. During times of peacetime, it was the lord’s main residence where he’d conduct his business. He’d hold meetings and entertain guests in the great hall. At banquets, the kitchens would be bustling preparing lavish feasts while everyone was treated to dinner and entertainment. In some castles, the lord and his family would eat and sleep in the hall. Sometimes you might even find a chapel or dungeon, too.

The Courtyard

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Scotland’s Doune Castle was built in the 13th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Its 14th century reflected current ideas on what a royal castle should be. Yet, we remember this as the castle featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Its courtyard isn’t particularly big in this aerial shot. Yet, it at least includes a well.

Bailey, Courtyard, Enclosure, or Ward- open space surrounded by a castle’s walls. Walls making up the bailey could be considered part of it. A castle could have several of these like an upper bailey, lower bailey, west bailey, and/or east bailey. Had room for buildings to house the Lord and his immediate followers along with space for animals and storage. During attacks, the local people could enter the bailey for safety.

Bake House- building that would’ve baked fresh bread for everyone living within the castle since bread was a dietary medieval staple.

Barmkin- a yard surrounded by a defensive wall in smaller castles.

Brewery- a building where an ale wife would’ve brewed ale and beer. Mostly because brewing beer was said to sterilize highly polluted water.

Death Hole- the space between the inner and outer curtain walls of a concentric circle that trapped attackers.

Garden- green area located in the bailey near the kitchen. Was split into several sections: fruit trees and bushes, herbs for cooking, herbs for medicine, vegetables, flowers for cooking, and flowers for medicine. There were often stairs leading up to it.

Inner Ward or Quadrangle- large inner courtyard inside a castle, usually around the keep. A focus to day-to-day residential life within the castle.

Outer Ward- large courtyard outside the inner ward but still held within the curtain wall. Was mostly reserved for livestock for grazing.

Stables- part where the horses and other livestock are kept since they’re the main medieval means of transportation, communication, and battle. Included haylofts and spaces for the grooms to live.

Workshops- separate buildings in the bailey for artisans to make objects for maintaining the building the grounds. Consists of carpenters, farriers, and blacksmiths.

The Keep

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Germany’s Burg Eltz was built in the 12th century and has been own by the same family for over 33 generations. It is one of 3 castles in the country that have never been destroyed. Yet, its keep is quite imposing in the Alps.

Forebuilding- a fortified entrance to the keep. Often held a staircase and a small chapel.

Keep, Donjon, or Great Tower-generally the central main tower built in the inner ward which was the tallest and strongest structure in the castle and gave a commanding view of all fighting positions. Usually served as the ruling lord’s residence since it was the safest place. The top most part served as his and his family’s quarters. The bottom was used for storage. While the middle was used for the great hall. In warfare, it was mostly used as the last line of defense during a siege or attack. Can be square or round and comprise of several floors. Can be attached to walls or free standing. Its walls could be over 17 feet thick to prevent undermining and a built-in staircase.

The Dungeons

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Castle dungeons were the stuff of nightmares. If you were thrown in here for a crime, you can be subject to a dark room in the castle basement with all kinds of horrifying conditions. And yes, you may be subject to torture and possibly execution. If you don’t starve to death or succumb to disease first.

Dungeon- a place to confine political prisoners. Mostly consists of a single small room with a single access from outside like a heavy door. Is generally underground and sometimes a secret passageway would lead to it. Though it could also be in the keep or under a gatehouse. Has plenty of unique torture devices for interrogation like branding irons, collar, torture rack, and others. Other enhanced interrogation techniques include whipping, boiling in water, and starvation etc. Also, employed full-time executioner who also administered torture.

Oubliette- a dark, narrow, underground, vertical tunnel-like dungeon with the only opening consisting of an iron-grilled trap door on the ceiling from the guard room floor where prisoners were left in their solitude for psychological torture. Though other torture methods may be used for interrogation or increase a prisoner’s suffering. Once a victim was thrown in the oubliette, they were considered forgotten by the outside world and left to die. Survival was nearly impossible and there was no way to escape.

The Great Hall

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The Great Hall was the main room in the castle where the lord would conduct his business, hold meetings, and throw feasts. In early castles, the lord, his family, and staff would even eat and sleep there.

Gallery- passage built into the thickness of the walls that runs around the upper part of a keep’s hall. Windows allow light into the hall below and the passage allows for movement around the keep’s upper floors. Also provides a position where hall events can be viewed. If the hall’s captured, defenders could’ve used a gallery to shoot arrows from.

Hall or Great Hall- a major room that’s possibly the heart of the castle which served as the castle’s principal living quarters. Usually a castle’s largest room either built in the keep or a separate building. Generally, consists of an elaborate high vaulted roof and/or a gallery running around on top of it. Served as a throne room, conference center, and dining hall.

Minstrels Gallery- a raised gallery overlooking the great hall intended for the lord’s musicians. Consisted of a narrow balcony with a railing or balustrade.

Truss- a timber frame used to support the roof over the great hall.

The Chapel

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Since Christianity was very important to people in the Middle Ages, most castles included a chapel. These can range from a simple room like this to elaborate buildings.

Aumbry- recess to hold sacred objects, typically in a chapel.

Chancel- the space surrounding the altar.

Chapel- a place of worship usually built within the keep, near the gatehouse, or a separate building in the bailey. Can range from a simple room or an elaborate edifice that can be 2 stories high with the family sitting in the balcony and servants in the nave. May have a resident or visiting priest depending on the resident noble’s peerage rank. Great place for the lord to marry off family members to secure alliances, soldier funerals, and display of piety. Also, a great space safe since harming a priest was widely seen as the ultimate act of barbarity. For only the most fearless of castle attackers would do such a thing. Not to mention, killing anyone in a place of worship was often frowned upon in the Middle Ages.

Choir- part of a cruciform church east of the crossing where you’ll find the singers.

Narthex- a chapel’s principal hall between the nave and the main entrance.

Nave- the principal chapel hall, extending from the narthex to the chancel.

Living Quarters

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In most medieval castles, high ranking nobles rarely slept alone since many had servants there with them. Yet, they can nonetheless be colorful tableaus as you see in this one.

Apartment- a room belonging to a castle household resident like a lord’s widowed mother.

Bottlery or Buttery- a room for storing and serving beverages like wine land other expensive provisions like a castle wine cellar. Located between the great hall and the kitchen. The person who presided over this room was called the butler.

Bower- attractive private apartment intended for the Lady. Usually in a room behind the dais of the great hall but later a higher level in the keep.

Camera- a private room used for both living and sleeping that’s set apart from the more public areas of a house.

Cistern- a castle’s water source, which collected rainwater from roofs. Can be located within the keep or bailey. Some castles had rudimentary plumbing that channeled water from cisterns to sinks.

Great Chamber- the bedroom for the lord and lady located on the keep’s upper floor.

Kitchens- where food is made. In early castles, they were separate from the keep in kitchen towers due to fire risk. But moved to the keep when brick construction became more common. A castle kitchen’s size was often proportionate to castle’s intended grandeur and importance. The most elaborate kitchens were all set to cook and prepare game and fish when hunting on the grounds.

Larder- a cool area where perishable food is stored prior to use. Was usually close to the kitchen. Staffed by a larderer who was responsible for meat and fish. Often had ice to keep the food chilled along with meat hooks.

Latrine or Privy- rooms with holes in the seats used as toilets. Wastes dropped below into the bailey, the outer wall’s base, the moat, or cesspools within the tower. Usually far away from the chambers and often had double doors to reduce the smell. But as time went on, a private privy was built for people occupying important rooms. To keep out a noxious stink, privy windows had no glass, which made it freezing in the winter months. Can be fitted with a wooden or stone bench with as many as 4-6 holes in it. Hat a chute which led to a cesspit or moat. Supplemented by chamber pots.

Oratory- a private chapel with an altar used by the lord’s family for private prayer. Can also be a small cell attached to a larger chapel.

Pantry- a storage area for food, beverages, gold, and other items. Usually located in the keep’s lower levels.

Screens- wooden partitions at the kitchen end of a hall, protecting passage leading to the buttery, pantry, and kitchen.

Solar- originally a room above ground level, but commonly applied to the great chamber or a private room off the great hall. Was traditionally seen as the sleeping and private quarters of the Lord’s family. But later became their private living room. Usually above the great hall.

Wardrobe- a room used to store the lord and his family’s clothes and personal articles.

Well- a castle’s primary water source that proved important during a siege even if they had little food. Can be situated in the courtyard or keep. Or at least located near the kitchen either within the bailey or keep. Outside wells were usually protected from the elements by a wooden covering or iron grating. Yet, it was possibly the castle’s weakest point. Since invaders could poison the water supply if left unattended, which virtually guaranteed defeat.

Specialty Areas

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No castle could ever be without its own armory. But where it was could depend on the castle. On some it can be in the keep. In others, in the gatehouse or bailey.

Arcade or Cloister- a covered passageway with arches along one or both sides. Can also be a row of arches supported on columns, which could be free standing or attached to a wall (like a blind arcade).

Armory- a room which stored weapons, armor, and other defenses to use in war or attacks. Typically located in the keep’s upper levels.

Barracks- a building or group of buildings used to accommodate soldiers.

Blockhouse- a small square fortification, usually of timber bond overlapping arrangement of bricks in courses.

Dovecote- a building used to house pigeons and doves. Generally contained pigeon holes for birds to nest.

Guardroom- room used by on-duty guards. Can also store weapons. However, the guards wouldn’t sleep there since they’d be barracked in the gatehouse, a tower, or under the keep.

Ice House- building to store ice. Was usually built underground with a conical or rounded bottom to hold melted ice and a drain for water.

Kennel- place to keep animals, particularly hunting dogs.

Knight’s Hall- a large room or chamber within a castle where knights gathered for meetings, meals, and planning their next activities.

Knights’ Quarters- living area for resident castle knights.

Mess Hall- dining area for soldiers and servants. May include its own kitchen.

Secret Passage- secret routes in the castle that served a variety of purposes. Some were designed to pen up a distance from the castle so inhabitants could escape during an attack or get supplies in and out during a siege. Secret passages also led to secret chambers where people can hide, supplies could be kept, or a water well was dug.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 2 – Towers and Gates

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England’s Windsor Castle was built after William the Conqueror’s invasion in the 11th century. Since then, it’s been a residence for the royal family to this day. Even if modern British monarchs just use this place for a weekend getaway. And yes, you’d almost mistake this gatehouse as the castle itself.

So we’re off to a great start. Some of the other distinguishing castle features are towers and the gates. When you look at any castle picture, you might come across an imposing entrance with the impressive gatehouse containing a drawbridge and that sliding iron wrought door of spikes. Yet, since an unsecure entrance made a castle uniquely vulnerable, the gateway was usually the first structure built in stone. A gatehouse contained a series of defenses to make a direct assault more difficult than battering down a simple gate. Yet, you’d probably wouldn’t know this in movies where vast armies storm the castle with no problem. In reality, trying to storm a castle head was a stupid way to lose an army. Another prominent castle feature are the towers, which were used for look outs and shooting arrows along with storage and imprisonment. They could be built in various locations like the walls and the gatehouse as well as come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Though early towers were mostly square shape which were said to be quite easy to topple through burrowing at the foundations. While round towers were not.

The Main Entrance

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The Welsh Harlech Castle was built by English King Edward I Longshanks in the 1280s. It was involved in several wars and was used as a residence and military headquarters by Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr in the early 1400s. Later, it was held by the Lancastrians during the 1460s until the Yorkist forces took it during the Wars of the Roses. And served as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.” Nonetheless, seeing this imposing gatehouse, you wouldn’t want to storm this castle.

Barbican- a stone outpost protecting the castle’s gate usually built in front of the main entrance. Construed in the form of a tower or gateway where guards could stand watch. Some may include a narrow passage allowing for a limited number of attackers forced into a confined area for defenders to shoot at them like fish in a barrel through murder holes from the ceiling. Early barbicans were built from earthworks and wooden palisades designed to add complexity to the entrance’s layout and confuse attackers. Usually acted as the outermost defense of a castle. Due to limited space, was only defended by a small number of men.

Breastwork- a heavy parapet slung between 2 gate towers. A defensive work usually situated over the portcullis.

Drawbridge- wooden bridge in front of the main gate to span the moat or ditch. In early castles, it was moved horizontally to the ground by hand or destroyed and replaced. In later castles, it was built so it can raise up in a hinged fashion thanks to pulleys, ropes, chains, and winches. Can be raised or withdrawn making crossing impossible and prevent siege weaponry being pushed toward the castle’s walls and gates.

Gatehouse- a complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect the castle’s main entrance. Often had a guard house and living quarters. Usually consisted of 2 very large stone towers joined above the main gate guarded by a bridge, gates, portcullis, or a combination. But can range from a simple structure to a 2-3 story building with an impressive façade to impress royal visitors. Above the entrance were rooms to house the constable and some men to defend the building who were stationed on the first floor. While the top floor contained murder holes and storage space for weapons. Traditionally the most vulnerable part of the castle, it became one of the most secure and with an excellent defensive position. Contains a passage with all kinds of obstacles, traps, and murder holes in the vaulted ceilings. So perhaps you want to think twice before storming a castle. Usually the first part of the castle to be completed. Though a larger and circular wall castle could have more than one.

Murder Holes- holes left in the floor on a gatehouse’s upper level, used to thrust pole weapons down, or shoot down flaming arrows at attackers trapped between the inner and outer gates. Also used for dropping heavy rocks, hot tar, boiling water, and other nasty things.

Neck or Death Trap- a narrow walled passage between a barbican and the castle walls which trapped invading enemies.

Portcullis- a heavy, sliding metal or wood grate with sharp spikes that was vertically dropped just inside the castle’s main gate through ropes and pulleys. Designed to block passage and make using rams against the main gate less effective. Think about that before trying to break down a door with a battering ram. Can also be dropped on an enemy and injure multiple people. Was always in a state of readiness and the guards can drop it from its suspended position at any time. Some gatehouses could had more than one, depending on the castle’s size and number of entrances.

Turning Bridge- drawbridge pivoted in the middle and worked like a see-saw. Had a counterweight attached to the end near the gateway.

Wicket- a person-sized door set into the main gate door.

Wing-Wall- a motte’s wall downslope to protect stairway.

Yett- a portcullis of lattice wrought iron bars used for defensive purposes.

The Towers

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Originally built in the early 1100s, the Alcazar of Segovia started out as a fortress, but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery college, and a military academy. Today it’s a military archives building, museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, you have to admit how its towers give the place a unique look.

Bastion Tower- tower projecting from a wall face that functions as a bastion.

Bastle House- a small tower house with a living room over a cowshed.

Corner or Archer Tower- tower located on curtain wall corners used for firing arrows from slits.

Drum Tower- a large, round, low, squat tower built into a wall, usually connecting stretches of curtain wall.

Flanking or Mural Tower- tower located on the castle walls that provided effective flanking fire.

Gate Tower- tower constructed at the main entrance. May be part of the gate house.

Tower- fortification used to provide stability and additional defensive capabilities to the curtain wall. Used for firing upon enemies, lookout, storage, and keeping prisoners. Provided access to lookout points, wall walks, and sleeping points. Can be constructed in various shapes, sizes, and at various locations.

Sanitary Towers- a tower in the inner or outer walls used as a toilet. The wastes would drop into a cesspool in a pit.

Wall Tower- tower on wall that archers used for showering arrows on invading armies.

Watchtower or Look Out- a freestanding structure used to alert the castle in an enemy attack, spot returning soldiers and visitors in the distance, check whether the coast was clear before anyone left the castle, and send messages to distant people using recognized symbols. Had to be so high that areas around the castle could be watched for an impending attack or siege. Usually had a 360-degree view as well as employed a guard or watchman to see for many miles around.

Turrets

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Belgium’s 14th century Cleydael Castle seems straight out of a fairy tale on the water. However, the turrets on that one tower are quite unique.

Bartizan or Crow’s Nest- a small turret at the corner of a tower or wall. Usually at the top but not always. Usually located at one of the highest points of the castle and used as a lookout.

Belvedere- a raised turret or pavilion.

Squinch Arch- arched support for an angle turret that doesn’t reach the ground.

Turret- a small tower rising above and resting on the walls or the edge of the castle’s main towers, usually used as a lookout point. Allowed defenders to provide sheltering fire to the adjacent wall in attacks. Can contain a staircase if higher than the main tower or an extension of a tower room.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 1 – Around the Walls

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This is Bodiam Castle in Sussex, England. Built in 1385 to defend against French invasion during the Hundred Years War, it doesn’t have a keep. But its walls and moat are impressive.

Whether you’re into Disney movies, Middle Earth, or Game of Thrones, we all seem enchanted with medieval castles. However, while we imagine them as a fairy tale palace, they were medieval house fortresses for European nobility. Though you’ll also find castles in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Castles originated in the 9th and 10th centuries as the fall of the Carolingian Empire resulted in individual lords and nobles dividing the territory. To control the area surrounding them, these guys built castles as both offensive and defensive structures. Castles provided a base to launch raids and protect from enemies. Though castle studies often emphasize their military origins and see castles as “a fortified private residence,” they also served as centers of administration and power. Urban castles were used to control the local populace and important travel routes. Rural features were often near features integral to life and community like mills, fertile land, or a water source. Though most medieval castles in Europe today are made from stone, many were made from wood, especially in the early Middle Ages. Due to lacking arrow slits and towers, early castles often exploited natural defenses and relied on a central keep. But as a scientific approach to castle defense emerged, leading to tower proliferation and emphasizing flanking fire. Taking inspiration from Roman forts and technology from the Crusades, you’ll find some concentric castles. Nevertheless, since all things much come to an end, castles began to decline began to decline with the introduction of gunpowder which made them uncomfortable and undesirable places to live. Though these structures still captured the imagination enough to make aristocrats want to build castle like houses, but without the key defenses.

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This is Herstmonceux Catstle in England’s East Sussex. Built in the 15th century, it’s one of the most significant brick buildings in England. Though more like a palace than a fortress, its walls and moat are nonetheless impressive. By the way, from 1957-1988, it was home to the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Today it’s used by the Bader International Center of Queen’s University in Canada.

The first part of this series will focus on the outermost components like the walls and what’s outside them. As the first line of defense, such structures would have to make invasions and sieges incredibly difficult for the enemy. Before a castle was built, you’d often construct an artificial hill called a motte and a ditch filled with water called a moat. A castle’s walls had to be high enough to make scaling with ladders impossible. And they had to be thick enough to withstand bombardment from siege engines. Though sizes vary, a typical castle wall could be 10 feet thick and 39 feet tall. They’d also have stone skirts around their bases to prevent infiltration as well. Walkways on top of curtain walls allowed defenders to rain arrows on the enemies below with battlements giving them further protection.

Outside the Walls

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The Chateau de Gisors in France whish was a key fortress for the Dukes of Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was built to defend the Anglo-Norman Vexin territory from the King of France. However, when Richard the Lionheart got imprisoned in Germany, the castle went into Philip Augustus’s hands. Was also known for its links to the Templars, serving as a final prison for its last Grand Master in 1314. Still, its motte is particularly notable.

Berm- a flat piece of land between the curtain wall and the moat protecting it. Intended to reduce soil erosion to keep the wall from collapsing. Also kept debris from the wall from falling into and filling the moat.

Bivalate- a pair of defensive ditches or earth embankments surrounding a mound or medieval castle.

Caponier- a covered passage within a ditch.

Caponiere- a covered passage across a ditch to an outer fortification structure like a ravelin.

Counterscarp- outer slope of a ditch.

Couvre Face- a low rampart in a ditch protecting the ravelin’s face.

Covered Way- a protected communication wall all around the ditch’s outer edge, covered by earthworks from enemy fire.

Crownwork- a freestanding fortification built in front of the main defenses.

Cunette- a trench at a ditch’s bottom.

Ditch or Fosse- a common defense dug around the castle’s outside walls and the resulting earth to create banks. Most were dry but some were filled with water to create moats. The steeper the ditch sides, the better since it made it more difficult for attackers to climb. Though ditches weren’t filled with water, rainfall would’ve created a muddy obstacle to cross. The castle’s toilets also emptied into it, giving attackers another disgusting problem.

Earthwork- fortification made of earth mounds, banks, and ditches.

Glacis- a bank sloping down from a castle which acts as a defense against invaders. Consists of broad, sloping, naked rock or earth on which the attackers are completely exposed.

Hornwork- an independent earthwork located in front but not connected to the curtain wall within its bastions’ range (so it can be defended by them). Had long parallel sides with a back shaped like a crescent moon facing the castle’s curtain wall. But was built so low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if overrun. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle and gave defenders a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the structure.

Moat- a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle’s outer walls. Often filled with water from diverted rivers, lakes, or springs with a special dam. Mostly had an inlet and outlet of water rather than being a self-contained donut (unless the castle was built on an island in the middle of a lake). It was often around 3-30 feet deep and at least 12 feet wide. It was sometimes within the outer wall or between the outer wall and the inner wall. Its primary purpose wasn’t to stop attackers but siege weapons, siege towers, battering rams, and most importantly, tunnelers. Since tunneling a castle was an effective means of collapsing the walls or infiltrating it. A moat would cause any tunnel to collapse through flooding. Also, gave valuable time for castle defenders to form strategies for subsequent defense. Sewage was often tipped into the moat so it would smell pretty unpleasant.

Motte- a natural or artificial hill with a flat top upon which a castle was built. Was constructed from dirt and rocks to a height between 10 and 100 feet.
Neck Ditch- a ditch cutting across a neck of land to hinder an enemy’s advance.
Place of Arms- an enlarged area in a covered way where troops could assemble.
Ravelin or Demilune- a triangular earthwork located in front (but not connected to) the curtain wall, within range of the curtain wall’s bastions. The back was shaped like a crescent moon and faced the curtain wall. But built low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if the ravelin was overrun. The front sides also had a defensive wall of their own. Allowed defenders to fire upon attacking troops before they could reach the curtain and a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the castle. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle.

Revetment- a retaining wall to prevent erosion.

Scarp- a slope on a ditch’s inner side.

Tilting Yard- yard or field where jousting tournaments and combats took place. Usually situated just outside the castle’s confines.

Watergate- a gate allowing a coastal castle to be resupplied by sea, especially during a siege.

The Walls

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Scotland’s Craigmillar Castle is a ruined castle in Edingburgh built in the 14th century. Mary, Queen of Scots once stopped here to convalesce after her son James’s birth. It was here some of her supporters decided to kill her godawful husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Still, the walls are amazing to look at.

Allure or Wall Walk- walkway at the top inside of the curtain wall, which allowed guards to look for enemies. Reached either from a set of stairs running up from the wall’s inside or from a built-in tower. Can also be the fighting area on a tower as well.
Bastion or Bulwark- a structure projecting at the end of the curtain wall or at the junction of 2 walls. Usually situated at each corner of a curtain wall. Though could be placed in the middle if the walls were long. Allowed the defenders to cover dead ground (blind spots where attackers can’t be seen or fired upon) and provide crossfire for the curtain wall and adjacent bastions. Can consist of a tower or turret.

Batters- a section at a castle wall’s base that’s angled in such a way to make dropped stones bounce away from the curtain wall and into the enemy. Also add strength to the wall walk’s base.

Buttresses- a rectangular masonry projections used as additional outside strength and support for walls. Become thinner towards the top. Prominently featured in Gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame.

Chemin-de-Ronde- a walk-walk extending all the way around a castle.

Chemise Wall- wall formed by a series of interlinked or overlapping semicircular bastions.

Citadel- the innermost curtain wall of a concentric castle. Had walls higher than the rest and was the last line of defense before the keep itself.

Corbel- a stone bracket projecting from a wall or corner that supports a main floor or other structure’s weight. Often used for turrets.

Cornice- a decorative projection along the top of a wall.

Counterguard- a long near-triangular free-standing fortification within the moat.
Crenels, Embrasures, or Wheelers- small openings in crenellation that’s splayed on the inside, allowing the archer to move into the arrow slit space and get a better view.

Cross-Wall- an internal dividing stone wall in the keep providing extra strength and a platform for wooden floors. Also served as a barrier at times when the keep had been invaded.

Curtain Wall or Enceinte- a surrounding outer stone wall around the castle connecting the towers and other fortifications. Was designed to protect the castle. Can be 8-20 feet wide, up to 45 feet high and 1,500 feet long.

Flying Buttresses- masonry projections used to spread and support the weight of tall walls by transferring force directly to the ground. Were often elaborately designed, appearing to dart and sweep around each building, giving a sense of movement and flight. Usually decorated with intricate carvings giving a sense of grandeur and importance.

Garderobe- a room projecting from a wall that served as a toilet the family’s clothes. A hole in the floor allow wastes to drop below. Had chutes for discharge which often led to the castle moats and had iron bars to prevent entry from attackers.

Glacis- an angling of the curtain wall along the vertical plane that allows the wall to deflect some or all the force of rocks or other missiles thrown from a siege engine or cannon balls fired from siege cannons.

Hoardings or Brattices- wooden fortifications added to the crenellations and towers to provide additional protection to the castle’s defenders. They were removable and provided overhead cover. Also provided a walkway outside the crenellations facilitating the dropping of stones and hot liquids on attackers.

Hoarding Holes- holes in the castle walls to support the hoarding.

Inner Curtain Wall- defensive wall within a castle dividing the inner area into 2 or more defensive areas.

Lunette- a fortification shaped like a half-moon or arrowhead which was similar to a bastion except that it didn’t have wings connecting to a castle’s wall and the back was generally open. Can be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.
Machicolations- permanent stone additions to a castle’s battlement which provided better cover for defenders inside the castle, allowing them to drop items like boiling oil, hot lead, dead animals, human excrement, and rocks on attackers. Most often located in places that would be commonly attacked like near the main entrance.

Oriel Window- a window or set of windows sticking out from a building like bay windows. Made of stone or wood. Often had corbels underneath to support them.

Orillion- an arrowhead bastion.

Palisade- a sturdy wooden fence built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed. Can be as high as 10 feet tall.

Pitatta Forma- a fortification structure protecting the curtain wall between 2 bastions. It’s square or rectangular in plan but takes the form of a small tetrahedral bastion.

Plinth- a wall’s projecting base.

Postern or Sally Port- a small secondary gate located in the curtain wall’s back, which mostly functioned as a backdoor entrance or exit. Was connected to a small guard room near the bailey. Was often in a concealed location which allowed occupants to come and go inconspicuously. If possible, it could be built on a cliff, only accessible by footpath. During a siege a postern could act as a secret exit for troops to pass through besiegers or send out a messenger. Was firmly barricaded during conflict and people sometimes used a password to enter. Used by tradesmen and servants during peacetime. Designed for only one unmounted person could go through at a time.

Putlog Holes- castle wall holes to support scaffolding.

Rampart- a defensive wall of stone and mounds of earth that can be built quickly for early medieval castles. Later replaced by battlements.

Rear Arch- arch on an inner wall’s side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Respond- a half-pier bonded into a wall to carry an arch.

Redan- a small ravelin, derived from the lunette but had shorter sides. Was often made of earthwork but could comprise of stone and other materials. Could be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.

Rubble Core- a filling between the outer and inner wall parts.

Shield Wall- an exceptionally thick wall protecting the castle on its most vulnerable side.
Talus- a slope on the curtain wall that inhibited an attacker’s ability to reach the wall with a siege tower. Since a tower’s ramp wasn’t enough. Also provided a strong foundation to help support a wall against undermining.

Battlements

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England’s Warwick Castle was developed from an original built by William the Conqueror during the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, it was refortified which resulted in one of the most recognizable examples of 14th century military architecture. After its stronghold days were over in the 17th century, it was converted in a country house. And yes, you’ll find a lot of cool battlements here.

Arrow Loops, Arrow Slits, or Loopholes- thin slots in the walls and structures used to shoot arrows through. Came in a variety of shapes and sizes, usually depending on the weapons fired from it. Low and narrow arrow slits were suited for crossbows. High and wide arrow slits were built for longbows, which can be as high as 9 feet. But common designs are key holes, vertical slits, or crosses which allow the archer to fire his weapon with a great amount of protection.

Battlement, Rampart, or Crenellation- a defensive, outside top wall that has a broad top with a walkway and a typically stone parapet. Notched wall consists of alternate crenels (openings) and merlons (square sawteeth) to give castle defenders a position to fight or fire through as well enough protection to reload.

Fausse Braie- an exterior battlement, outside and parallel to the main battlement and considerably below its level.

Finial- a slender piece of stone used to decorate the merlon tops.

Merlons- upward square sawteeth of a battlement. Often pierced with arrow slits for observation and fire. Are usually rectangular in medieval Europe but can also appear in a swallow-tail form along with other shapes. Also have a secondary decorative purpose by giving the castle a distinct castle like appearance you find in storybooks.

Oilette- a round opening at a loophole’s base to help archers to easily aim a shot.

Parados- a low wall on a main wall’s inner side.

Parapet- a barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, walkway, or other structure. Often used to defend a castle from military attack as a low defensive wall at shoulder or head height.