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did they do?
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of Our Other
|Arrow Loop - A narrow
vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from
a narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk for protection
Drawbridge - A heavy
timber platform built to span a moat between a gatehouse and surrounding
land that could be raised when required to block an entrance.
Gate House - The
complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect each entrance
through a castle or town wall.
Moat - A deep trench
usually filled with water that surrounded a castle.
Portcullis - A heavy
timber or metal grill that protected the castle entrance and could be raised
or lowered from within the castle. It dropped vertically between grooves
to block passage or barbican, or to trap attackers.
Turret - Small tower,
round or polygonal; usually a lookout.
After almost 1000 years
of its presence in England, the traditional medieval castle remains a dramatic
artifact which helps to keep alive a widespread interest in our early history.
There were so many built and so many of their remains may still be seen
that a large proportion of people in Britain will have spent some of their
lives within the shadow of a castle’s walls. The castle thus belongs to
our heritage, not to our politics, yet in the Middle Ages the ownership
of castles could prove to be a contentious issue. Just how important the
castle was, in military terms, has become a point of issue amongst historians.
HISTORY OF CASTLES
From the earliest times,
walls surrounded cities and palaces, often of enormous thickness and of
great height, some were surrounded by a moat, others flanked by towers.
Some ancient fortifications date from periods so remote as the walls of
Babylon and the curtain wall of Ashur from about 1600 B.C.
The main function of all
castles was defense, everything else was secondary. They were always surrounded
by a curtain wall, which was often supplemented by a reinforced shield
wall at strategic points. Crenellated battlements and arrow slits protected
the defenders, and attackers often also had to overcome a series of several
gates. The main entrance was protected by a drawbridge and machicolations
projecting over the gate, from which boiling liquids and missiles could
be dropped on the hapless foes below. The final refuge of the castle residents
was the stronghold, or keep. It was the tallest and strongest building
within the walls, with a high entrance accessible only via a removable
ladder or wooden bridge. In addition to being a watchtower and the centre
point of the entire castle, the keep was also a status symbol. The main
residential building (great hall) was called the Palas. The castle chapel
was often installed in the gatehouse or one of the main towers (nearer
my God to Thee!), and a small garden inside the walls provided herbs, flowers
and vegetables in emergencies. Offices and service rooms were generally
located in the outer ward.
From the 16th Century on,
castle walls had to be made increasingly thicker and stronger in response
to the development of artillery. Only a few castles were made into mighty
fortresses. Instead, the nobility increasingly moved to more comfortable
residential castles, Many, were sumptuously ostentatious and magnificent
During the third century
B.C., the art of war made rapid progress so the defense tactics were improved.
Romans and Greeks already used gateways in the defense of a fortress; curtain
walls and towers were also common. The Romans governed for so long and
occupied a vast empire. They left rectangular buildings measuring about
60ft by 70ft called milecastle.
The medieval castle originated
in the ninth century in France, western Germany and northern Italy because
the nobles began building fortifications in response to increasing insecurity
in the region.
In Europe in the Middles
Ages the castle was a fortified residence of a nobleman, effectively displaying
his authority and feudal lordship over the territory associated with it
as well as serving a military function. The castles were sometimes fortified
towns with a fortified bridge which was very important against the defense
of the Vikings.
OF THE CASTLES
castle was primarily a base from which the lord and his armed horsemen
could control the surroundings countryside. Castles and knights, the unique
products of feudal society, thus went together, the latter forming a heavy
cavalry and a military elite. The range of the castle was the range of
the horse, some ten miles if one returned the same day.
of the crucial importance in controlling the land, ideally a strong castle
had to be as impregnable as possible. The defensive role of the castle
and the degree of defensive capability was determined and controlled by
the design and architectural development.
The castle was a status
symbol, the element of display was never absent so from the beginnings
the trappings of fortification such as ditches, banks and mounds, towers,
gatehouse and crenellations were sometimes more for show than for a serious
Many early castles were
constructed of earthwork and timber, and a conversion from timber to stone
took place around the 12th. Century, but both of them employed the same
principles of fortification. Timber construction survives very late, earthwork
defenses in the form of banks and ditches also survived until very late,
and a combination of earthwork, stone and timber was common in almost any
Not all early castles were
of earthwork and timber only; some belong to the category of “motte-and-bailey”.
The main enclosure was the bailey, defended by a ditch, bank and palisade,
with a timber gate or gate tower; the bailey contained all the residential
buildings, presumably timber-framed, required by a lordly household, at
least in the first generation. To this was added the motte, usually to
one side with direct access to the open country, the whole looking like
a figure of eight, with the area of the bailey larger than that of the
motte. The motte itself was a great mound of earth, usually artificial,
though sometime part-natural, with its own ditch and bank about the base
and thus separated from the bailey, from which it summit was reached usually
by an inclined and stepped timber bridge. In the classic model a timber
palisade with a gateway crowned the flattened summit of the mound and within
this there rose a timber tower.
These are earthen mounds,
which supported a timber superstructure, sometimes combined with a bailey
or outer-banked enclosure. It is the method of fortification applied to
towns and cities and was the earliest type of castle. During the
12th century the great tower of stone succeeded the motte as the most favored
type of donjon, it is sometimes equally notable by its absence. In a feudal
age so dependent upon hierarchy, status and symbolism, it may be difficult
to conceive of a castle with no donjon of any kind. Sometimes these castles
would have an inner bailey containing the private apartments as an inner
sanctum of lordship or regality, originally emphasized and embellished
It is a self-contained strong
house, a defensible seigniorial residence usually with more
than one suite of accommodation, a residence that would also be the whole
castle. It had all the components, halls, chambers, chapels, and sometime
kitchens all together into one compact unit, the result being an impressive
tower. There were rectangular towers divided from top to bottom by a cross
wall that gave structural strength to the whole and facilitated roofing.
The principle suite do the lord himself was marked by extra ornamentation
and sometimes rose through two stories to give extra space and light. The
majority of those built in the 12th. Century were rectangular, but later
the cylindrical donjon became fashionable, especially in France. This change
from rectangular to cylindrical was a symbol of progress, the round tower
being stronger in order to withstand the battering of missiles or the assault
of pick and bore, and avoiding blind angles for the defenders.
The shell keep in its classic
form is a ring, sometimes polygonal,replacing the presumed original timber
palisade at the summit of the motte. This produced an enclosed circular
courtyard, in which stone or wooden buildings were constructed, often butted
up against the curtain wall. Sometimes the circular wall was built not
on top of the motte but around its base.
The mural or flanking tower
which by its projection and superior height made possible the adequate
defense of long lengths of curtain wall from its arrow slits and fighting
top. Early towers are always rectangular, later towers 13th. Century onwards
is cylindrical or D-shaped.
Castle gates also depend
for their defense upon the exploitation of the mural tower as potential
weak points likely to be attacked first. The towers could be sealed
off so that if attackers gained possession of one section, they could not
necessarily continue to the next without capturing the tower. The
gateway into the bailey was generally a substantial building of two or
three stories and was approached from across the moat by means of a causeway
and a drawbridge. In addition to the main gateway there was usually a small
postern, placed in such a position that escape could not be affected or
a sally made unobserved by the enemy.
Is often regarded as the
ultimate in perimeter defense. It consists of one towered curtain within
another, the outer commanded by the loftier and stronger inner curtain
and serving, like the moat, to keep the enemy at bay.
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