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


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


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


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.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.



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


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.

herstmonceux castle from the air

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


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


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.



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.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 10- Life in Medieval Europe


I couldn’t post anything about medieval France without posting a picture of Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc of 1928 by Danish director Theodore Dreyer. This is a very historically accurate film yet also a very emotionally intense one as well. Definitely one of the last masterpieces in silent film.

Finally, the Middle Ages, I’d like to devote this post to medieval life as well as to history in other medieval countries. Whenever medieval movies, don’t take place in England, they’re usually set in France, since England has history with it. However, unlike medieval Scotland, which is presented fairly inaccurately on the screen, movies on medieval France don’t have as many historical errors on screen. Of course, Joan of Arc is a popular subject who existed in the later Middle Ages (where the medieval outfits and weaponry are depicted more accurately) and that much of the script for Joan’s trial is usually taken from the actual transcripts. Still, there’s also a movie called The Advocate which recalls the story of pig being accused of murder during the 15th century, which actually happened. In Medieval Spain (which you wouldn’t call it yet), you have the subject of El Cid, one of the great Spanish heroes played by Charlton Heston. Also, in this post, I’ll talk about the historical errors in movies on medieval life, which have been shaped by popular perceptions in the media.

Medieval France:

King Philip II Augustus was hot. (Sorry, Lion in Winter fans, but he in no way resembled Timothy Dalton. He was hunchbacked and ugly. However, unlike his handsome but ineffectual dad, he was an admirable warrior and wily politician who annexed to France most of Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine’s lands. In Lion in Winter, it’s correct to assume that Philip II is spending Christmas with the Plantagenet because he knows that once Henry II dies, his sons won’t measure up to him, making it the perfect time to take over their lands, which he did. Also shared a bed with Richard the Lionheart, but this doesn’t prove anything about their sexual orientation since bed sharing was a common historical occurrence.)

Giles de Rais was one of Joan of Arc’s companions, an all-around man’s man, and a successful soldier. (Yes, but he was also known as a serial rapist and killer of children which did him in at the end and was an inspiration for Bluebeard. However, some historians claim he was framed though.)

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a witch. (Officially she was burned at the stake for relapsed heresy like cross-dressing and even though she agreed to wear a dress, her captors stole her skirt and replaced it with pants as part of a set up. In reality, she was burned by the English {the English side, she was actually burned by the Burgundians} because she led the French to victory during the Hundred Years’ War, so the English were just looking for any excuse.)

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the English. (She was burned at the stake by the Burgundians. However, the heresy charges were very much trumped up.)

French King Philip Augustus tried to invade England. (Actually his goal was to retake French soil from the English. Thus, unless you count the French lands England occupied at the time, he didn’t. However, his son did when King John broke the terms of the Magna Carta.)

Notre Dame had a full flight of stairs from the square to the front entrance. (It has always been level with the square.)

Joan of Arc’s gender was her downfall. (Her downfall was political and would’ve happened whether she was male or female. Being a woman just made it easier for her enemies.)

Horseshoes were used in France in the 12th century. (They were first used in France a century later and shoeing horses didn’t become practice until the 17th century.)

Charles VII was a foppish prince who fought at Agincourt. (He actually didn’t fight in Agincourt and wasn’t really a fop or mocked by a constable of France behind his back. Also, he’s the one who enlisted Joan of Arc so he was probably doing something right.)

Joan of Arc actually fought in battle. (Yes, she served on the front lines to rally her troops to victory but she never killed anyone as well as functioned more like a mascot than anything else. Still, she did help reform the army by expelling prostitutes and mandating confession {probably the closest thing her troops will ever have to therapy} and Mass attendance, banning swearing, looting, and harassing. She also played a major role in her army’s tactical decisions as well.)

When Joan of Arc was 8, she saw English soldiers burn her village as well as raped and kill her sister. (This is in The Messenger but this incident has no basis in reality. However, Joan’s village was raided in 1425 and 1428. The raid in 1425 was carried primarily by Burgundian soldiers in which they burned a church and stole some cattle. The 1428 raid forced the d’Arc family to flee to another village. Yet, as far as we know, Joan’s family went unmolested in both incidents.)

Joan of Arc was a borderline psychotic. (Joan may have been a saint but she wasn’t known for being polite since she was known to be rude to clergy, royalty, and military commanders alike. She was a teenage peasant girl after all. Yet, unlike her depiction in The Messenger, Joan was also brave, quick-witted, and charismatic. Milla Jovovich’s portrayal doesn’t show these qualities. Still, no one in the 15th century thought she was nuts.)

Joan of Arc was a true saint. (Well, as lovely as she was Joan wasn’t above threatening her enemies with massacres and actually carried it out on one occasion with hundreds of civilians killed in the process. Also, she told at least one woman to stay in the kitchen. And one of her confidantes would later become a famous medieval serial killer. No Mr. Rogers, but Joan certainly would qualify as a living saint by 15th century standards.)

Joan of Arc was pretty. (I think the Maria Falconetti portrayal is probably the closest to what you’d expect a 15th century teenage peasant girl to look like. However, she certainly looked nothing like Ingrid Bergman for she was said to be quite short with dark hair.)

Medieval Spain:

Alfonso and Urraca were an incestuous couple. (Historians still debate that. However, their father King Ferdinand did manage to have five kids who fought each other, made Muslim allies, shagged Muslim princess, hatched world domination conspiracies, and assassinated each other. So their family life was like Game of Thrones.)

El Cid was selfless and hostile to Muslims. (The historical El Cid was said to be more self-seeking and less hostile to Muslims than his legend. Actually he was willing to work for Muslims if they paid them he enough and actually fought both sides equally. Still, he was a mercenary who was more interested in establishing his own fiefdom in Valencia as well as cared more about being paid than in anything relating to Christendom and war.)

Navarre was a poor kingdom. (It gave Richard the Lionheart an impressive dowry when he married Berengaria, which wouldn’t have happened if it was poor. Also, Richard could always use the money.)

Castile and Leon were a united kingdom in the 1180s. (They were united in the 1230s.)

El Cid called victory for Spain. (Spain didn’t exist until the 1400s, and El Cid lived in the 11th century.)

Emir Yusuf al-Mutamin of Zaragoza wanted to conquer Castile and Leon. (He didn’t attempt to because he was at war with his own half-brother. Also, he didn’t give Rodrigo Diaz the nickname of El Cid and they didn’t become close until Diaz joined Yusuf’s army as a mercenary.)

Dona Jimena hated Rodrigo Diaz for killing her father but she married him anyway. (This may not have happened but it’s in the poem about El Cid, so I’ll forgive the filmmakers for it.)

El Cid took Valencia by giving bread to its people. (Aw, that’s sweet but it’s bullshit. He actually ransacked the surrounding villages, starved the city, took it by assault, and seized all its riches. Still, he didn’t offer the crown to Alfonso but ruled the area himself.)

El Cid died in agony on the battlefield. (He died in 1099 during peacetime of some unknown cause.)

Yusuf ibn Tashufin was defeated at Valencia. (He managed to lead the Almoravids to victory at Valencia in 1102. Not bad for a 96 year old man.)

Medieval Scandinavia:

Flagellantism was prominent in Sweden during the Black Death. (It never made it there.)

Medieval Russia:

Gavrila Alexich participated in the Battle of Ice. (He was killed in 1241 while storming the fortress of Koporye.)

Alexander Nevsky refused to ally himself with Batu Khan of the Golden Horde. (He actually did enter into a controversial alliance with him, but only 10 years after the Battle of Ice. Of course, Sergei Eisenstein knew this and wanted to put it in, but the Soviet government wanted none of that.)

Alexander Nevsky clashed with the boyars over proletarian revolution and redistribution of wealth. (Yes, he did clash with the boyars but not over concepts that would be as authentic to them in the 13th century as electronics. Obviously, Soviet propaganda here.)

Holy Roman Empire:

Alberto da Giussano killed a boar just before it gored Frederick Barbarossa. (Alberto da Giussano was said to have been a great warrior of the Guelph faction leading the Lombard League to victory at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. That is, if he ever existed, which there’s no firm evidence for that.)

Frederick Barbarossa was an old man when he married his 13-year old wife. (Yes, he married a 13 year old girl but he was 34 at the time. However, in his biopic he’s played by a 65 year old man which makes the relationship much creepier than it really was.)

The Battle of Legano was a decisive battle. (It wasn’t. Frederick Barbarossa was considering a truce during it.)

During the siege of Milan Frederick Barbarossa strapped prisoners on the siege towers so the Milanese couldn’t attack him without killing their fellow citizens. (He actually did this but not at Milan. Rather it was at the siege of Crema in 1159. And he only did this because the Cremese were hacking imperial prisoners in front of his army.)

Medieval Life:

Medieval Europeans were dirty, smelly, and rarely bathed. (This is only true in towards the end of the Middle Ages when it was rumored that bathing mad e a person more susceptible to disease. Yet, for most of the Middle Ages, people usually washed their hands before and after dinner and took communal baths so they probably didn’t lead the most sanitary lifestyles but they didn’t smell like shit either.)

Life in the Middle Ages was nasty, brutish, and short and peasants worked nonstop for lords who cared nothing about them. (This only partly true considering the high child mortality, wars, and lack of medicine but if a person managed survive childhood and if other things didn’t kill him or her first, he or she could managed to live to his or her seventies. Also, peasants worked eight hour days and were off the third of the year including Sundays.)

Everyone except nobles and clergy wore rough brown clothing. (Actually, even ordinary people were skilled and knowledgeable in making clothes that some authorities had to ban certain dyes were only reserved for royalty and nobility. They were also well made, had buttons, and pockets.)

In the Middle Ages there were only two classes that consisted of nobles and royals and peasants. (The Middle Ages also saw the formation of a middle class which consisted of traders, skilled tradesmen, performers, artists, and investors.)

Women were treated as second-class citizens whose place was in the home caring for household and children as well as making babies on demand. (Though women weren’t allowed fight in battle, run for office, or become a priest, this didn’t mean that women were just baby making machines since most women did almost the same thing their husbands and fathers did and even ran estates and businesses. There was even a woman who ran England’s entire beer industry. They also became nuns which allowed them access to education that even kings didn’t have. Not to mention, they didn’t wear chastity belts either. Also, read the Wife of Bath’s Tale. Yes, people in the Middle Ages were sexist but not to the degree that is depicted in movies. Still, there was much more discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, and social class than on sex.)

People in the Middle Ages were prudes. (Actually, these were the days when a whole family would sleep naked together in one room and even little children knew where babies came from for there wasn’t much privacy at the time. Not to mention, most people would assume any couple living together was married whether that was true or not. Also, even though priests were expected to be celibate, most people wouldn’t be shocked if their priest fathered an illegitimate child with his housekeeper which was not uncommon either. Then we have Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which isn’t the most family friendly literature out there. Oh, and fart jokes are some of the oldest ones in the book.)

Real Men Don’t Wear Dresses. Costume designers often fear that actual male medieval clothing looks like a dress and will confound the gender expectations of their audience. Medieval tunics and robes can end up morphed into short jackets, smoking jackets (Knight’s Tale) and dusters (Timeline). Hosen tends to turn into pants (Knight’s Tale) and trousers (Branagh Henry V) [From A Common Place Book]

Bad Hair. The modern filmmaker is really reluctant to put their characters, and particularly protagonists, in hairstyles they think their audience will find unflattering. (Thus the unmedieval bangs in Timeline and the ’30s mustaches in the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. Olivier’s Henry V and The Warlord show rare courage in putting their heroes in appropriate haircuts that look unflattering to many modern eyes.) [From A Commonplace Book]

The antagonists are Yucky. Cardboard Villains can be unattractive in other ways, to make them even less sympathetic. The Edward II in Braveheart is a weak and mincing effeminate. (The historical Edward II was physically strong, well-formed and vigorous, whatever his moral faults.)The Commodus in Gladiator was a dark, puffy faced dissolute. (His historical model was an athletic blond.) Alternatively, the Cardboard Villains can have bad teeth or other deformities. (The Messenger) [From A Commonplace Book]

Droit de Seigneur, the legal right to deflower unwilling virgins would have been a great way to be a Cardboard Villain if the institution had actually existed in the Middle Ages.  [From A Commonplace Book] (Well, if it did, it was called feudalism in which nobles and royals could do anything they wanted to the commoners. And no Lords wouldn’t claim any right to “rape” another man’s wife {saying this could mean excommunication and a peasant revolt}, they would just simply pressure the woman to have sex with them or he’d have her loved ones killed {which he could actually do}.)

The king had the right prima nocta which was the right to sleep with any man’s bride on her wedding night. (Actually, this may be true if it referred to his own right but he also had the right to screw any woman he wanted, regardless of the woman’s marital status. And women had no right to say no to him. Also, lords can do the same thing to their subjects.)

If you are a princess, you always have a favorite lady in waiting, and you always send her to warn the hero of the evil king’s intention just in time. [Movie Cliches List]

Corollary: the lady in waiting is never quite as beautiful as the princess; however, she still always catches the eye of the hero’s sidekick. [Movie Cliches List]

Horses never get winded, throw a shoe, etc., until the pursuing sheriff is right behind the hero. [Movie Cliches List]

Corollary: the wagon that breaks an axle or gets stuck in the creek is always the one carrying the king’s entire treasury, which he totes around with him every time he goes gallivanting through bandit-infested countryside. (Kings would never carry their entire treasury with them.) [Movie Cliches List]

Everyone in the Middle Ages lived in a lovely half-timbered house with two bedrooms and a stone fireplace.

Noblewomen were passive and were never taught how to fight. (Just because noblewomen were taught to stay at home didn’t mean that they were passive damsels in distress either. Noblewomen actually did learn the basics of combat and siege defense. You wouldn’t want the lady of the manor be unprepared in case the enemy attacked when the lord wasn’t around. So this means Merida and Fiona were more like real medieval princesses than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Eowyn only deviates from the norm because she wants to fight with the boys in battle.)

Trial by ordeal was a common judicial practice in the late Middle Ages. (Since Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Council of the Lateran had banned clergy from participating in the practice, it had been in decline since 1215 as well as been used rarer and rare in the official capacity. Compurgation or “wager of law” was more often used in which an accused would swear an oath and get at least 12 people to swear that they believed them was more or less the standard practice in the Late Middle Ages.)

The Black Death first came to Europe in the 1300s. (Actually there were plague was behind many major epidemics in ancient times. So, there probably was a plague around the time of King Arthur.)

Almost every medieval state was a monarchy. (Venice was a republic while a good chunk of Italy was ruled by the Pope.)

Everyone in the Middle Ages was an uneducated moron. (Actually the reason for the lack of education was because most people in that time were peasants and books were expensive for they were copied by hand {making universal education almost impossible}. They didn’t have extensive trade and travel infrastructure either. Also, most people during the Middle Ages were just as smart as anyone else in any other time period of history.)

The Iron Maiden was a medieval torture device. (It was invented after the Middle Ages, and there’s no record on whether it was used even though Uday Hussein had one.)

No one ever had sex outside of marriage or before marriage. Also, that all marriage ceremonies — even of peasants in small outland communities– were performed by priests in a church. (Cohabitation was common in the Middle Ages that some couples got married in a church before middle age. Also, most women didn’t have any right to refuse sex from their resident lord if he wanted it regardless of the moral standards of the time.)

The drapery not only kept the draft out of the castle but was often used for people to hide behind while eavesdropping on a conversation which was usually about them.

Medieval outlaws were generous Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. (They were more or less self-serving rogues who caused a lot of trouble in their local towns and skipped trial. Still, many outlaws in England did manage to become knights. Yet, they usually came from all walks of life.)

Medieval people had no table manners. (From Medievalist: “While food was eaten with hands, spoons, and knives (forks weren’t popular in most of Europe until the seventeenth century – they were considered “too Italian” and effete), then, as now, eating was a communal activity, and (since people most often shared plates and cups) was not enjoyable if your companion had no manners. Entire treatises were written on correct etiquette, and encouraged things such as offering the best of the food on your plate to the lady, wiping your fingers on cloth, and wiping your mouth before taking a sip from your shared cup, so that you did not leave a slick of oil on top of the wine.”)

Men tried to control their women with chastity belts. (There’s no evidence chastity belts were ever made or used in the Middle Ages. Rather there’s no evidence of chastity belts until the 18th century.)

People used spices to cover up the taste of rotten food. (From Medievalist: “I suppose this might have been useful when there was very little food to be had (although, in that case, why would you have expensive spices hanging around?), but it was by no means the norm. Most people at this time were involved in agriculture – they knew when food was good and when it wasn’t. There was little point in eating food that had gone bad, since it was risking making yourself dangerously sick, or worse. It is much more likely that spices, if used for camouflage, were used to make staple foods more interesting (much like ketchup).”)

Druidism still existed in Western Europe during the 11th century. (Paganism had largely been eradicated by the 8th century there while druidism died out in Pre-Christian Imperial Rome.)

Paper was a standard medieval correspondence material in the 12th century. (It was invented in China in the 2nd century and didn’t make it to Europe until the 13th century.)

Syphillis existed during the Middle Ages. (Didn’t make its first appearance in Europe until 1494 and wasn’t coined until 1530.)

People in the Ages could accurately tell time. (Mechanical clocks weren’t around until much later.)

Condemned criminals had tomatoes thrown at them. (They didn’t exist in Europe until after Columbus.)

Some people in the Middle Ages wore glasses. (They were invented in the 16th century.)

Torches were used a lot in the Dark Ages. (From Policy “Torches were certainly used now and then, no doubt about that, but they were not used anywhere near as liberally as Hollywood would have you believe. First of all, most torches would not be able to be lit for more than an hour, ruling out having them lining the walls of castles to provide light. Secondly, having torches inside would be a terrible idea given the small issue of smoke.

“Most importantly, torches do not really provide much light. Movies are full of mobs carrying torches as they run through the darkness looking for someone, or people using torches to light their way. While a torch can certainly help you see the area immediately around you and cast light on large objects, it is not all that great for seeing more than a few feet ahead. If you were looking for someone outside in the dark, you would be better off ditching the torch, using the moonlight, and letting your eyes adjust to the darkness. If trying to get around your castle at night, a simple candle would suffice.”)

Medicine was mostly best on superstition. (Yes and no. Sure it was bunk, dangerous, as well as depended on humoral theory and astrology. But you also had some effective treatments and some of the first medical colleges.)

Executions were used for almost every offense imaginable. (From Policy “In reality, the Middle Ages typically saw the death penalty reserved for only serious offenders who committed the crimes of murder, treason, or arson. Torture was not really widespread. The most common forms of punishment included public humiliation and fines. Repeat offenders were usually exiled. The Middle Ages also maintained trials for those accused of crimes; verdicts were not strictly the decisions of kings and noblemen.”)

The most frequent form of execution was beheading. (From Policy “Beheadings were usually reserved for the noble classes and done in the privacy of courtyards rather than in the town square. Also, it was very rarely one swing and done; the typical beheading took 4 or 5 swings to decapitate the head. If the executioner was unable to kill the convicted by that point, the person usually just ended up bleeding to death.

“The most common form of execution in the Middle Ages was hanging. It was easy, it did not cost much, and you could let the bodies hang out for a bit as a warning to others. If a criminal was particularly hated, he would be hanged, drawn, and quartered, a very unpleasant form of punishment that popped up in 14th-century England as a penalty for high treason.”)

Turkey legs were a favored medieval dish. (People in the Middle Ages would know nothing about turkeys since they lived in North America. Diets usually consisted of eggs, bread, fish, cheese, oats, vegetables like cabbage and turnips, and ale.)

People in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. (No one in Medieval Europe ever believed this.)

People ate off of pewter plates and threw bones to the floor. (Peasants ate from wooden plates while nobles usually ate from silver and locked since it was a good way to carry if one needed to make a hasty departure. Also, no they didn’t throw bones to the floor for the dogs to eat.)

Blacksmiths made horseshoes and swords. (Most of the time, they’d be making farming implements.)

Most people didn’t eat rats in the Middle Ages. (This was a common meat among poor people.)

Noblewomen were sent as diplomats in the 14th century. (Royal women had little privacy even under the best circumstances and would certainly not be left alone with an enemy {unless they were her relatives, but still}. Of course, they were sent as diplomats {well, as marriage partners in political alliances} usually in circumstances where they’d be related to the family. As for noblewomen, they were more or less needed to take care of the home like protecting it from invaders.)

Nobles raised their own children during their school years. (The kids would normally be sent to somewhere else for their education like another noble’s home, convent, or monastery. Fostering was very common back then.)

Courtly love was a popular theme in the Middle Ages. (Yes, but so were stories of war, religious stories, and ones that may not be suitable for children. Also, medieval women also loved their filth, too.)

Feudalism was a hierarchical and harmonious way of living. (It was anything but because royal power was rather decentralized and the nobles usually fought amongst themselves. Also, it’s not unusual to put feudalism as another reason for the Crusades.)

Skilled craftsmen can end up impoverished if unemployed. (Skilled craftsmen had guilds to help them out and usually didn’t face much poverty. And if a master craftsman died, his wife may run his business for him or one of his journeymen might marry her.)

Primogeniture was the rule in medieval society. (Only in the later Middle Ages.)

Kidnapped women were often damsels in distress. (Sometimes women would arrange their own kidnappings to get out of an arranged marriage. Sometimes they may even do the kidnapping, which is how Robert Bruce’s parents ended up together.)

All servants were peasants. (High ranking nobles had high ranking servants, especially when primogeniture was the main inheritance rule. Many of these were younger sons of nobles. Also, they were overwhelmingly male.)

People ate with forks since the 12th century. (Only for a few Italy and in the Byzantine Empire, they were teased mercilessly for it. They didn’t become more in style until the 16th century.)

Medieval men wore practical and functional clothing. (Aristocratic men’s fashion of the era could get pretty ridiculous in the later years).

Cremation was a common practice in medieval Europe. (It wasn’t and in some place it wasn’t even legal.)

Inns were public houses with big common rooms below and rooms above. (It’s more complicated than that. Some inns had bars. Some didn’t. Some had only a single room with several beds that could fit 3 people each. Only upscale places had rooms with one or two beds. You also had alehouses where you can have some drink as well but no rooms. Yet, they can function less like the fantasy inns you see and more like the Mos Eisley Cantina. But a tavern can also be someone else’s home. People can even stay at other people’s houses or at a hospital.)

Medieval castles had bare stone walls inside. (A lot of castles had murals inside since nobles wanted to impress visitors with their wealth.)

Most people stayed home during the Middle Ages. (This is true for a lot of Medieval people. However, some did go on pilgrimages and participated in war. So that counts.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 9- Medieval England


Of course, no post about medieval England is complete without a picture of Laurence Olivier who’s very much identified with such films of this time and place. This is him playing Richard III in his adaptation of the eponymous and highly historically inaccurate play by William Shakespeare. Sure he may look evil but he doesn’t seem to a good job being grotesque since he still looks pretty hot. Nevertheless, he may actually look closer to the real Richard III than in other portrayals though he was much older than the late king could’ve been.

If you ever see a movie set in the Middle Ages, chances are it will take place in England mostly because it will focus on Robin Hood, King Arthur, or something by William Shakespeare. Then sometimes there are movies based in the Middle Ages produced in Great Britain and most of the time, they’d like to do their own history. Yet, since Hollywood is situated in a place where there was no medieval history, then England usually has to do. Of course, there’s a lot history covered in medieval England, especially when it pertains to the royal family. There’s Henry II with his mom Empress Matilda who tried to take the throne from her cousin. Then he has a wife named Eleanor of Acquitaine who’s very much a formidable woman like himself who incited a rebellion among her sons and ended up in prison (only to be released when she outlived him but she also outlived most of her kids, too). Then you have Henry II’s sons Richard and John who were as different as night and day as well as at each other’s throats. Oh, what great family soap opera that would be. Then you got Henry II’s relationship with Thomas Becket which would later lead to his murder in Canterbury Cathedral and Philip Augustus who’s bitter about Henry stealing lands under his dad (and Eleanor’s ex-husband). After that is the post-Magna Carta era usually consisting of kings Henry III, Richard II, and the first three Edwards (many movies errors from this category will also be from Braveheart). After that, is the Wars of the Roses when England becomes engaged in civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York after Richard II is deposed. You get kings like Henry IV, Henry V (“We happy few, we band of brothers.”), Henry VI, and Richard III (who wasn’t as evil as Shakespeare depicted him, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”). Nevertheless, historical errors will still abound in these movies, which I shall list here.

English was spoken in the same way as it is today despite the fact that you had to get version of Canterbury Tales with a translation for you didn’t understand what the hell Chaucer was saying in its original form.

English commoners were still resisting their Norman overlords at least a century or two after the Norman Conquest. (This was started by Henry V during the Hundred Years’ War as Anti-French propaganda and it was also picked up during the Reformation. Also, William the Conqueror and his fellow Normans didn’t really invade England since he had been promised the throne by the previous King Edward the Confessor who was his cousin but was passed on in favor of the late king’s brother-in-law.)

English nobles and royalty spoke English. (Between 1066 to 1453, English was considered a language for peasants. Most English nobles during that time spoke French.)

Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry in order to get her husband Leofric to lower taxes. (Godiva was a real noblewoman but she never did this.)

Sons and daughters could inherit at the same time. (Daughters were forbidden to inherit anything unless they didn’t have legitimate brothers living.)

English marriage ceremonies were set to the Book of Common Prayer. (It would’ve been conducted in Latin.)

English kings were addressed as “Your Majesty.” (That title wouldn’t be used until the 1390s. So this is part right.)

There was an actual King Arthur of England. (Well, if you count Geoffrey of Brittany’s son Arthur as Richard’s successor maybe {who King John later had killed}, but that’s as close to an actual English King Arthur as you’re going to get. As for the Arthur of Camelot, very much a mythological figure.)

The English had no reason to start the Hundred Years’ War. (Read your history books. Many of the early English kings since 1066 were French of some sort of another. Also, The Lion in Winter would’ve been more historically accurate if you have the English royal family speaking in French. Heck, you could’ve easily called Henry II as the real king of France during his kingship because he ruled almost all of it. Not to mention, it even takes place in France.)

English civilians could freely hunt in the forests. (Hunting game in the English forests later in the Middle Ages might carry a harsh punishment.)

Henry II and Co:

Richard the Lionheart was a good king and John was a bad king. (Actually Richard was anything but a good king at least in peacetime, hated England, and saw it was only good for financing his coffers so he can go on Crusade and fight the French. John, by contrast, probably wasn’t the best king England ever had and wasn’t a nice guy but at least his interests were in running England even though he managed to piss off everyone that he ended up putting his seal on the Magna Carta. He also did good things as write many books on law and was considered a legal expert before his kingship. Oh, and he treated the Jews better than his brother. But since Richard the Lionheart was often away, the nobles had free rein, which put up resistance when King John tried to take control. Not to mention, Richard the Lionheart had a better personality and he wasn’t stupid either. Nevertheless, their dad Henry II was a far better king than either of them put together who’s remembered as England’s greatest Medieval King {as well as his portrayal by Peter O’Toole.})

Thomas Becket and Henry II had a platonic homosexual relationship prior to Becket’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. (There’s no historical data that they were more than just friends. Besides, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine out of love {and her lands that consisted of half of France} as well as had a succession of mistresses {though Eleanor was probably the love of his life}. Also, Becket was said to be celibate.)

Henry II slept with Richard the Lionheart’s fiancee. (There’s no definitive evidence of this though Richard later resisted marrying his fiancee on the basis of the claim.)

Thomas Becket was a Saxon and Henry II was Norman. (Becket was a Norman and Henry II was Angevin on his father’s side. However, his mother was Norman.)

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket didn’t desire special legal privileges for the clergy. (Many people said he did, especially if clergy members committed secular crimes, which was one of the things he and Henry II disagreed on. And Henry II was quite justified and has been known for replacing trials by combat with jury trials.)

Empress Matilda was an annoyance to Henry II. (Actually she was instrumental for shaping her son, Henry II into the fierce warrior and skilled administrator he was and was the sole parent for much of his childhood. Also, Henry II adored his mother and relied heavily on her guidance and advice until her death in 1167. Not to mention, she was the reason why Henry II was able to get the throne and is best known for her war against King Stephen after she was passed over when her father Henry I died.)

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father was alive when she was married to Henry II. (Her dad died when she was 15 years old, which made her Duchess of Aquitaine as well as the most eligible bride of the 12th century.)

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine had four children all boys. (They had eight children that included five sons and three daughters. Also, Eleanor had two daughters while married to King Louis VII and Henry II had at least eight illegitimate children to several long term mistresses.)

Richard the Lionheart died immediately from a crossbow wound from a cook. (He lived for more than a week and died from gangrene. Also, the guy responsible for shooting him was a boy with a crossbow and a frying pan whom he ordered to be set free, forgiven, and rewarded 100 shillings for a lucky shot. However, the pardon was retracted when he died by a mercenary captain and the boy was flayed alive. Jesus Christ!)

Richard the Lionheart was very fond of England. (He had no attachment to the place and only spent six months of his reign there. Most of his ten year reign was spent in either on Crusade or in France fighting Philip Augustus. Also, he forgave John for running England for him.)

Richard the Lionheart was a wise old king. (He was only 41 when he died.)

King John signed the Magna Carta early in his reign. (It was actually near the end.)

Isabella of Angoulmene was a young woman when she married King John. (She was twelve. Don’t worry; it’s very likely that he waited until she was sixteen to have sex with her which was normal in such marriages.)

King John had a title called Defender of the Holy Sepulcher.  (He was offered the title but his dad turned it down for him and sent the boy to Ireland.Also, it was the title of Godfrey de Boullion, a Christian ruler of Jerusalem who had nothing to do with England at all.)

Henry II referred to himself as Plantagenet. (The name didn’t come to use until close to the end of the dynasty and was first used by the father of Edward IV and Richard III.)

King John had brown hair. (He was a flaming redhead like his dad and brothers.)

King Henry was ten years older than the pope in 1183. (The actual pope at the time was 36 years older than him.)

Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre for love. (He more likely married her for money and lands. It was more of a political marriage. Though they went on Crusade together and she tried to raise money for his ransom, we’re not sure whether the marriage was ever consummated. Also, Richard spent so much time away from her that the Pope had to tell him spend time with her, which he did by taking her to church. Not to mention, she was very much overlooked as Queen of England and Cyprus during Richard’s reign.)

Richard the Lionheart had an affair with Philip Augustus. (There’s little evidence supporting this though Richard might’ve went both ways. Also, he had at least one illegitimate son as well as had a reputation as a womanizer while Philip had two. Either way, he was certainly not faithful to his wife. Historians are divided over his sexuality and the gay allegations began in the 1960s. As for Philip Augustus, well, he was much closer to Geoffrey than Richard {he was bawling in Geoffrey’s funeral after he got trampled by a horse}. Not to mention, he was absolutely furious with Richard when he broke his engagement with his sister.)

King John was middle aged during Richard the Lionheart’s reign. (These two kings have been played by middle aged men in the Robin Hood films but both died in their forties {Richard died at 41 while John died at 49} and John ascended the throne at 33. At least The Lion in Winter gets their ages mostly right.)

King John and the Knights Templar were bitter rivals. (They were buddies. He exempted the Templars from all taxation and gave them extraordinary protection of property. In return, the Templars let John use their New Temple in London headquarters as a treasury.)

King Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was young. (She was 30 at the time.)

Post-Magna Carta:

King Edward I was a brutal conquer who oppressed his subjects and was a pagan. (King Edward I was a Christian {who had been on a Crusade} and didn’t oppress his English subjects nor did he kill his son’s lover by throwing him out the window {he was said to be a great husband and father as well as a charitable man}. Edward I also set up Parliament as a permanent institution, set up a working tax system, and ushered in a more progressive system seemed radical in most European circles. Even today he’s seen as one of England’s best kings and even well thought of by Dante. Still, he was a brutal conqueror {which is why the Scots and Welsh don’t like him}, ruthless with his enemies{killed his noble prisoners at the Battle of Evesham which was taboo at the time}, and hated the Jews.)

Edward II was sickly looking and gay. (He probably went both ways {had at least one illegitimate child as well as four kids with Isabella} but he was said to be rather athletic and handsome {not a walking stereotype}. Also, during the time of William Wallace {at least at his death}, he was most likely a teenager.)

Edward I planned to cause the racial death of Scotland. (He didn’t. He just wanted to control Scotland. Also, his getting control of Scotland was partly the Scottish people’s fault since they agreed to relinquish their independence until a new king could be appointed after their designated child queen died on the way there from Norway. Yet, the divisive Scottish noble families made it difficult to select a satisfactory candidate as every option seemed to lead to civil war. And when an appropriate candidate was selected by the name of John Balliol who proved to be a weak king {as well as wouldn’t cooperate with Edward I}. He was later captured during a war with the English in 1296 as well as forced to abdicate. The Scots just didn’t bet on Edward Longshanks backstabbing them since he probably felt sick over the business end and thought the only competent candidate Scotland had available was himself though he never claimed the crown.)

Edward I was the first king to name his son Prince of Wales. (First record of this comes from the 16th century.)

Isabella of France was the first Princess of Wales. (She married Edward II when he was already king and she never met her father-in-law.)

Edward I treacherously hanged Scottish noblemen. (Never happened.)

Edward I wanted to sleep with Princess Isabella. (This would never have happened. Also, he opposed the marriage between her and the future Edward II, explaining why they tied the knot after he was dead {granted the marriage was a disaster}. Still, her conspiring to kill her husband did help bring Scottish independence.)

Edward II was unable to impregnate his wife. (Apparently he was at least able to impregnate somebody and she was able to have kids so you may figure it out {though she had a lover named John Mortimer}.)

Queen Isabella of England was ashamed of the English cruelty toward the Scots. (She had her husband King Edward II imprisoned and murdered for refusing to advocate in favor of their son and launched her own invasion of Scotland.)

Queen Isabella of England was a sweet and kindly princess. (She was called the She Wolf of France and plotted to kill her husband as well as considered invading Scotland as a nice mother and son activity.)

Edward I reinstated prima noctis in Scotland. (He never did this.)

Edmund Mortimer was Richard II’s true heir. (It’s very likely Henry IV was but he and and Richard had a massive falling out resulting in Richard being deposed and imprisoned.)

Edward the Black Prince was married to Lady Joan Holland who was kidnapped by the French. (Actually his wife’s name was Lady Joan Holland but she was also the Countess of Kent and a widow. However, she was never kidnapped by the French, and no, Edward never had to rescue her. Interestingly, he was known as Edward of Woodstock. However, he and Lady Joan did love each other for his parents opposed the match since she was once their ward.)

William Wallace killed the Duke of York. (It wasn’t a title for a younger son at the time of King Edward I.)

Edward II abdicated the throne. (He was more likely imprisoned and killed.)

Edward II was disemboweled with a red hot poker. (He more likely died from being smothered in his bed.)

The Wars of the Roses:

King Richard III was a terrible king who imprisoned and killed his nephews in the Tower of London, had his brother drowned in a vat of wine, poisoned his wife and bumped off her father and first husband, bumped off two cousins and planned to marry a third, had a crippled arm and a hunchback. And his last words were, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (He actually wasn’t grotesque looking and didn’t do anything that I just mentioned {with the possible exception of imprisoning his nephews in the tower}, which was cooked up by the Tudors. The only physical deformity he had was real bad scoliosis which isn’t as recognizable. Though Prince George did drown in a vat of wine {allegedly, but it’s more likely he starved}, it was on King Edward IV’s insistence not Richard’s. And as how Richard III became king, he simply said that his nephews were illegitimate because Edward IV married his wife while engaged to another woman which was very much like being married {and since King Edward IV was such a horndog and everybody hated the Woodvilles, he could get away with it easily and Parliament would just give the crown to him}. The English were also no fans of child kings at this point as well and the prospect of having another one terrified the country. And he was already running the country anyway so he might as well take the throne while at it. Any king would’ve done the same thing. He also had George’s kids declared illegitimate as well. Also, he was said to be a rather reasonable and competent king with a reputation of bravery justified by his death in battle in which he went down fighting at thirty-two. He was probably not much cruel or ruthless than most kings of his day and was well thought of by his contemporaries. Rather, he was said to be loved by the lower orders and improved conditions in Northern England {especially York} though he didn’t make many friends among the nobility. Oh, and he liked to use an ax. Shakespeare may be one of the best writers who ever lived but he’s about as good of a historian as Mel Gibson.)

King Richard III was an unpopular king. (Not only did he have one of the best attended coronations in years, he had quite a following in York where the people mourned his death. Still, what did him in is that he was king during a civil war, reigned 2 years, and died with no surviving legitimate children).

King Henry V was a wild vagabond when he was heir to the English throne. (He was always the same, duty bound, serious man his whole life. Also, had a nasty scar on his face which explains why his portrait is usually in profile.)

King Henry V was a badass warrior king and a great hero. (He also captured enemy knights {but had some good excuse since it was Agincourt, he was heavily outnumbered, and could’ve opened the battle on two fronts resulting in a massacre of his own men}, burned proto-Protestant heretics alive {including the inspiration for Falstaff but this was done to unite Catholicism under one pope after a series of antipopes as was the case in Europe}, doomed both sides into fighting a pointless war {which was an age old war he could’ve won if he hadn’t died so early}, and had a nasty scar across his face. Still, like any medieval king, he was ruthless when he needed to be and didn’t tax his subjects to the highest bitter to pay for his conflicts. Actually he doesn’t come worse off than most kings of the time.)

Henry VII effectively ended the Wars of the Roses. (Yes, but there were still major revolts against him which he tyrannically suppressed. This made him very unpopular and many nobles were glad to see him go. Yet, he did marry Elizabeth of York which helped secure his throne as was a rather intelligent woman in her own right. Perhaps this is why Shakespeare didn’t write a play about Henry VII. Then again, any king would do the same and Henry VII was a rather competent king that England needed at the time and did whatever needed to be done. Still, despite the fact he has a small role in Richard III doesn’t mean that he was a boring guy.)

Richard III killed the Duke of Somerset. (The guy died when Richard was three.)

Hotspur was a childhood friend of King Henry V. (Actually he was three years older than his dad.)

Henry V was the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. (It’s said he had little charm, no sense of humor, and was truly terrifyingly convinced he was an instrument of God. Still, he really did care about his soldiers yet Shakespeare’s portrayal of him is a reasonable break from reality. It’s unlikely Princess Catherine of Valois would’ve found him entertaining. Interestingly her second husband was Owen Tudor, the keeper of the Queen’s wardrobe from Wales. Of course, we know what that family amounted to.)

The Duke of Buckingham rebelled to have Edward V on the throne. (He wanted to put himself on the throne but ultimately decided to join Henry Tudor instead. Besides, he’s suspected of having the Princes in the Tower killed to begin with and probably knew the kids were dead).

Duke George of Clarence was a doddering fool. (He was an opportunistic bastard who switched sides. There’s a reason why Edward IV had him killed).

Richard III tried to marry himself to Elizabeth of York after Lady Anne Neville died. (While marrying your niece wasn’t unusual in some royal families at the time {as in the Hapsburgs}, Richard was actually trying to arrange marriages for both himself and his niece with the Portuguese royal family. Also, he was suffering a succession crisis since Lady Anne and his son had both died during his reign).

Richard III had Lady Anne Neville’s first husband and father killed. (Her father died in battle. As for the first husband, he was either slaughtered with his army or executed on Edward IV’s orders. They were Lanscastrians and Richard marrying Lady Anne wasn’t an advantageous match since she was known as a daughter and widow of traitors. Still, he wouldn’t be trying to woo her over her dad’s corpse.)

Duke George of Clarence was drowned in a vat of wine on Richard’s orders. (He was more likely smothered on Edward IV’s orders because of his backstabbing behavior, armed rebellion, lunacy, and murdering a servant girl. In fact, despite previous feuds, Richard argued against George’s execution and left court during the verdict but Edward was simply sick of him that he wanted him dead. So you can probably say that George was the bad brother from the trio, not Richard).

Edward IV was a frail old man when he died. (He was in his early 40s and his death was unexpected).

Richard III’s wife Anne Neville reviled him. (Contrary to Shakespeare, it’s said that their marriage was a love match and they were childhood sweethearts {and he obviously didn’t kill her her dad or first husband who were most likely not executed at all}. Besides, though he had 2 illegitimate kids, he waited to marry her. Not only that, but he was said to be a man of unimpeachable moral character who shared none of Edward IV’s vices. They also had a 10 year old son by the time he was crowned. However, Richard’s sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville despised him. Oh, and contrary to Olivier’s portrayal, he was only 5’8.”)

Richard III drove his oldest brother Edward IV to an early grave. (He was out of town when Edward IV died).

Richard III died on the field. (He had his head sliced off from the back while surrounded by soldiers in a swamp. Still, he killed a lot of Henry Tudor’s best men and almost killed the guy himself.)

Henry V spent a lot of his early life in a tavern with his drinking buddies. (It’s not very likely.)

Hotspur was killed by a single combat with Henry V at the Battle of Shrewsbury. (He was killed by a single arrow. Still, Hotspur was a traitor since he was on the side of Owen Glydwr of Wales.)

Henry IV killed Richard II. (Richard II died in prison and more likely starved, yet he may have been murdered by his cousin.)

The Earl of Richmond was the battlefield commander at Bosworth Field. (He confined himself to politicking and left the fighting to the Earl of Oxford.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 8- Medieval Scotland


Braveheart: How Mel Gibson killed history for the sake of entertainment. Sure it has inspirational tidbits like “You can take our lands but you’ll never take our FREEEEEDDDDDOOOOMMMMMM!” Yet, it’s notoriously one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made, which is sad considering that there aren’t a lot of movies about medieval Scotland. Yet, use any image of Mel Gibson in a kilt and blue paint, and medieval historians will scream in absolute horror. A historic travesty of 1995.

While most medieval movies usually take place in either England or France, movies on medieval Scotland deserve special mention since the most historically accurate movie on anything related to Scotland in the Middle Ages is a Disney Pixar film. Yes, you hear me. Scotland during the Middle Ages may not get much attention in movies, but when it does, they usually tend to be very historically inaccurate. Of course, most historians don’t mind when it comes to filming Macbeth because it’s a notable Shakespearean play with great literary value (though it makes Richard III look historically accurate in comparison). Besides, most people don’t know that Macbeth was a real guy. However, Macbeth was a real Scottish king who did come to power through killing his predecessor Duncan as well as ended up dead when Duncan’s son Malcolm challenged his rule. However, the historical Macbeth was never the guy depicted by Shakespeare nor were some of the characters either. Also, who knows what Lady Macbeth was like for there’s little information about her. Still, though a more historically accurate Macbeth would merit a very different story, most people don’t watch the play on its lack of historic merits anyway. Besides, Shakespeare probably had some excuse to depict such events as inaccurately as he did like James I, for instance. And then you got Braveheart which managed to win Oscars despite being one of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time that most of the errors I will list come from this very movie. And no other movie has ever made medieval historians cry in sheer anger and disgust over what Hollywood would ever consider such historical disasterpiece as something worthy of critical acclaim, let alone film awards. Many historians would think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail has more historical merits than this. And when you’re historical epic has more inaccuracies than a movie with killer rabbits, you have a problem. Sure, Gibson probably wasn’t aiming for historical accuracy and used the screenplay from a guy who claimed descent from William Wallace. However, now that this historical piece of shit may now be on its way on becoming a classic, most people unfamiliar with William Wallace and the Scottish Wars of Independence may now actually take Gibson’s vision of Scottish history seriously. Yes, unfortunately, people tend to believe things presented in historical movies regardless of the weight of inaccuracy. At least the guys making Spartacus had some concern for accuracy which is why the 1960 film is actually more historically reliable than the Howard Fast novel it’s based on. But you don’t see the concern for authenticity in Braveheart. And this it will be forever by trashed by medieval and Scottish historians as well as anyone who actually cares about history in general. I mean, I don’t expect historical movies to be 100% accurate, but not with an inaccuracy level like Braveheart. Nevertheless, here’s what Hollywood gets wrong about Scottish history.

Scottish men like William Wallace wore kilts during the Middle Ages. They also painted their faces and all armies wore uniforms in battle. (William Wallace’s men actually wore saffron shirts, not kilts for they didn’t come around until much later and so did army uniforms. Not to mention, they haven’t painted their faces since the Dark Ages.)

Prior to the 13th century, Scotland had always been subject to English rule. (Actually it had enjoyed a century of peace before Edward I tried to take it for himself when Scotland was in a messy political crisis regarding succession. The English were backstabbing encroachers, not overlords.)

Banquo and Fleance are the ancestors of the Stuart monarchs. (Shakespeare made up these guys to satisfy James I who was descended from Duncan.)

Bagpipes were outlawed in 13th century Scotland. (They weren’t and were very popular in England.)

There was no Stirling Bridge in the Battle that bears its name. (There too was a bridge, but Gibson wanted to save money. Also, Andrew Moray, the man instrumental in that battle is absent from the film.)

There were Irish conscripts at the Battle of Falkirk. (There’s no record of this.)

Most noblemen in Scotland were Gaels. (They were culturally similar to English nobles and would’ve dressed more like their English counterparts. Also, many of them were related to English royalty, spoke a Scottish dialect of English and/or Anglo-Norman French.)

The sons of Scottish knights dressed in rags. (Even poor Scots would know how to sew or at least was related to someone who did. Even poor people couldn’t afford to have their clothes disintegrate for being unhemmed.)

13th Century Scottish men had long hair they braided as well as tied bits of fur and feathers even though it was messy most of the time. (There’s no reason to think this.)

Pikes were used against the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. (They were at Falkirk though.)


Macbeth was only King of Scotland for two years after he killed Duncan in his bed just to get his throne. (For one, Macbeth ruled Scotland for 17 years {which proves he wasn’t a weak ruler} and even spent a several month trip to receive a blessing from the Pope. He was also known as a good king known for his charity, not a bad king who slaughtered his friends {he was actually good to his friends}. As to Duncan’s death, Macbeth killed Duncan in battle because Duncan was encroaching on his territory so the motive was self-defense after a failed invasion in England. And it was Duncan who was the young, violent tyrant but Shakespeare couldn’t say that because King James I was descended by him. As for Lady Macbeth, she is almost a complete fabrication in which nothing is known about her than her name {Gruoch}, the fact she was married before, and that she had at least a son from that marriage. And that son would later succeed Macbeth before Duncan’s son Malcolm gained power and killed him mostly because he didn’t think the guy was a legitimate king.)

King Duncan was a wise old king. (Duncan was younger than Macbeth and was a worthless wastrel who the latter killed in a fair fight in battle on his land. So in reality, Duncan got what he deserved.)

King Malcolm III:

Everyone in Scotland seemed to accept Malcolm’s kingship. (He was able to seize the throne of Scotland because England was able to support him. Scotland actually resisted his rule because their standards differed considerably from England on what consists of royal legitimacy. Also, Macbeth’s stepson and friends also campaigned against Malcolm.)

King Alexander III:

King Alexander III died in 1280 without a son. (He died without a son in 1286 after falling off his horse {since the Scottish throne went to his young granddaughter Margaret of Norway [so the country was ruled by regents] until she died in 1290 on the way there} but he and his two sons were still alive by 1280. It was only after Margaret’s death in 1290 when his brother-in-law King Edward I got involved because the Scottish noblemen couldn’t trust each other and Scotland was in a political crisis as well as headed for civil war.)

William Wallace:

Scottish men like William Wallace wore kilts during the Middle Ages. They also painted their faces and all armies wore uniforms in battle. (William Wallace’s men actually wore saffron shirts, not kilts for they didn’t come around until much later and so did army uniforms. Not to mention, they haven’t painted their faces since the Dark Ages.)

William Wallace grew up as a poor man who became a great liberator and had an affair with English  Queen Isabella, which resulted in Edward III. He ended up captured by the English because of Robert Bruce’s betrayal and was hanged drawn and quartered. (Actually, William Wallace was a well-educated minor aristocrat whose dad actually fought for the English and owned land {though we don’t know who he was} and might have been a scholar or been on his way for a career in the Church. He may have used a longbow as a weapon of choice {unlike the sword he’s usually depicted with in Braveheart}. He briefly served as a Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland {it’s kind of like being a Steward of Gondor except that they didn’t rule by themselves} until his military reputation tanked at the Battle of Falkirk. He engaged in diplomatic correspondence with Lubeck and Hamburg as well as went on a diplomatic mission to France and Rome before returning to his home after the Scottish surrender in 1302. Not to mention, he was said to be Welsh since his name either means “Welsh” or “foreigner” so the notion of growing up a Scottish highlander is out of the question. Also, he certainly didn’t have an affair with Queen Isabella of England for she was ten and wasn’t even living in England yet {and younger than that during the Battle of Falkirk}, didn’t father Edward III who was born seven years after he died, Edward II was only thirteen, and he wasn’t directly betrayed by Robert Bruce either. And as for his method of execution, Wallace was hanged, cut open, castrated, chopped to pieces, and finally beheaded. And before that, he was stripped naked and dragged by a horse carriage by a rope around his ankles and afterwards dipped in tar and put on public display.)

William Wallace had easy access to large quantities of gasoline. At the battle of Falkirk, he apparently has a tanker truck parked behind the lines, so that he can wet down a broad stretch of the front-line as a death trap for the enemy. It was then set alight by flaming arrows, to set the enemy stuntmen on fire so that they can run around screaming while the flammable stunt clothing blazes merrily over their Nomex jumpsuits. William Wallace can also generally get his hands on fire starter whenever he wants to burn English soldiers to death in a cottage. [From A Common Place Book](You should know this isn’t true at all.)

William Wallace was called Braveheart. (Actually that was a nickname of his contemporary, Robert Bruce who would become Scotland’s eventual king and he only acquired the nickname after his death when his heart was carried by a general around his neck into battle. It was Robert Bruce’s heart that led the Scots into battle not Wallace’s.)

William Wallace was the architect of Scottish independence and was an all-around nice guy. Robert Bruce is overrated. (Wallace also raped women and burnt down schools with kids and monks still inside. Not only that, but he used conscription and was willing to hang those refusing to serve. As with Robert Bruce, he’s still one of Scotland’s national heroes and was far more successful than Wallace ever could be {though he still could be brutal to his enemies and manipulative if need be as well as got excommunicated for murdering his rival in a church}. Not to mention, Bruce never personally betrayed Wallace, ever because they never met in the first place. Also, Wallace didn’t initially support Bruce’s claim to the throne and backed the exiled Scottish King John Balliol who was held prisoner in the Tower of London {and later sent to France} who Bruce and his family considered an usurper. Not to mention, Bruce was originally playing on both sides for a while {for personal reasons} until the Battle of Stirling Bridge and didn’t establish full claim to the Scottish throne until after his Carlisle governor father died in 1304.)

Malcolm Wallace had two sons named John and William in 1280 in a town of Paisley. (He had three including his eldest also named Malcolm and he wasn’t a commoner either, assuming that Sir Malcolm of Elderslie was William’s father. Then again William Wallace’s dad could be named Alan of Ayershire {yet no contemporary evidence links him to either location}. Still, William Wallace only appears on the historic record from 1297 when he killed an English sheriff in Lanark {said in order to avenge his wife’s murder} to his death in 1305. So how many kids William’s father had was anyone’s guess.)

William Wallace’s father and brother John were executed by the English when William was a boy. (William lost his father as an adult while his brother John was executed a year after him.)

William Wallace returned to Scotland in 1296 after spending his adolescence abroad. (He never stepped foot out of Scotland until his 1297 invasion of Northern England.)

William Wallace carried out large-scale raids in the north of England and killed Edward I’s nephew in York. (While he did stage long scale raids in Northern England, he didn’t make it as south as York.)

William Wallace’s wife Murron died shortly after their wedding. After this, he killed the English Sheriff by slitting his throat. (It’s said they had two sons, if he had a wife which is very likely. Yet, legend says her name was Marion Braidfrute, though there is no solid evidence if he was married. As for the Sheriff, Wallace cut him to pieces with a sword while his men proceeded to burn two houses with English guards inside of them.)

William Wallace’s best friends were Hamish and his dad Campbell as well as Stephen of Ireland. (The first two are fictional characters while the latter’s existence is questioned. Also, Andrew Moray may be a better candidate though he’s absent in Braveheart though they did join forces before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.)

William Wallace was executed around the same time Edward I died. (Edward I would live for a couple more years and would die on campaign {not in bed as depicted in Braveheart}.)

The Irish fought with William Wallace. (Most Irish fought against him and certainly didn’t switch sides at Falkirk {though the Welsh archers threatened to but only out of fear}.)

Scottish nobles deserted William Wallace. (There’s no report of this happening, well, maybe with John Comyn and his supporters who did abandon him there but there’s no solid evidence. Oh, and he was opposed to fighting at Falkirk because it didn’t offer the advantages at Stirling Bridge.)

William Wallace was captured by the English at Edinburgh after being betrayed by Noble Craig and Robert Bruce’s old man. (The old man Robert Bruce was dead by Wallace’s capture while Craig never existed. Also, he was captured near Glasgow after being betrayed by Scotsman John Menteith.)

William Wallace had no intention to fight the English to free his country until his wife was killed by them. (He was already an outlaw against the English since he refused to sign the Ragman Roll from the very beginning. The English killing his wife would’ve angered him even more. Oh, and William Wallace would’ve never whipped out a concealed nunchaku, which is from China for God’s sake!)

William Wallace was clean shaven. (He had a beard and was at least 6 feet tall. But he’s played by Mel Gibson so I’ll let this slide.)

William Wallace was knighted after Stirling Bridge. (He was knighted a few years later.)

Robert Bruce:

Robert Bruce disowned his leprosy afflicted but dominating father. (There is no evidence Bruce’s old man had ever contracted it though it’s thought that Bruce himself might’ve suffered from it. Also, there’s no evidence whether Bruce disowned his father or whether he was dominated by his dad. Still, he was quite capable of making his own decisions and choices.)

The Scots won their independence when Robert Bruce changed his mind about a peace parley. (It was at the battle of Bannockburn after an English army arrived to lift the siege at Stirling Castle, nine years after Wallace’s death while engaging in guerrilla warfare for years, though Bruce would be crowned king a year after Wallace’s execution {though he was dead by the time actual independence would be won}. Also, Scottish independence didn’t last and Edward III managed to conquer more of Scotland than his grandfather ever had.)

Robert Bruce was the 17th person with the name in his family. (He was the 7th with the name and the 7th Lord of Annandale.)

Robert Bruce was present with King Edward I at Falkirk. (It’s likely he wasn’t there or at least did nothing significant. He was more likely at home in Carrick.)