The Middle Ages are known for being a particularly violent period in history, wrought with feuds and battles that sometimes lasted for years. During medieval times it became necessary to develop a kind of defense system and, thus, the castle was created. The elements of a middle ages castle are well known in today’s time and their history is quite interesting.
History of Castles
When one thinks of the Middle Ages, one tends to also think of castles and their important role in medieval life. Perhaps the castle has become one of the most widely-recognized images of the middle ages because these fortresses were introduced and developed during this period of history.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, England was in dire need of a defense system against invading armies, and the Normans provided this defense system by bringing the castle to England. The first castles were wooden structures that were prone to rotting and easily destroyed by fire.
Over time, castles came to be made from stone and they began to make use of the well-known elements of middles ages’ castles such as towers and thick, impenetrable walls.
The castle became a place of residence from which a lord could rule his fief and, over time, the castle came to be used a fortress.
While the first castles were quite simple, often consisting only of a tower or guardhouse surrounded by thick stone walls, later middle ages’ castles were quite innovative in their design and defenses. One of the most basic defense elements of the castle was the moat - a deep ditch, often filled with water that surrounded the castle and made it difficult for attackers to get near the wall.
The only way to enter a castle surrounded by a moat was to pass under the drawbridge. The drawbridge was a great door made of wood to which ropes or chains were attached and which could be raised and lowered from inside the castle walls.
The curtain wall was the next line of defense in the middle ages castle and it was made from heavy stone and measured anywhere from 8 to 20 feet in thickness.
Built into the curtain wall was the gatehouse and, often, numerous towers from which soldiers could keep watch. Within the castle walls lay all of the structures necessary to sustain life within the castle. The great hall provided a place at which to gather for meals and there was often a chapel that was sometimes used privately by the lord and his family.
Some castles held houses and stables in which to keep families and horses who made their living within the castle walls, but the keep was where the lord and his family stayed and it was the most secure, most heavily defended element of the castle.
Types of Castles
Each castle began as a simple wooden structure and, over time, developed into the strong, stone fortress that is most commonly recognized today.
The Motte and Bailey castle was one of the first castles built by the Normans when they came to England and it consisted of two parts: the motte and the bailey. The motte was a large hill or mound of earth on which a wooden structure was built to serve as a keep or lookout tower. The bailey was built on the ground below the motte and was connected by a wooden bridge that could be removed if necessary.
Both the motte and bailey were surrounded by a wooden fence, or palisade, and some of these types of castles were surrounded by a ditch or moat.
The stone keep castle was one of the first types of castle to incorporate stone as the main building material. These castles centered around a tall stone structure called a keep which housed the kitchens where food was made as well as the living quarters. The keep was built in a rectangular shape at first but later developed to hold a more cylindrical shape that eliminated weak corners. Thick outer walls surrounded the keep and the bailiey, the open area between keep and wall, was used to shelter animals and workshops.
The most effective type of castle, in terms of defense, was the concentric castle which was developed during the 12th and 13th centuries. The key element of the concentric castle was its walls. The thick, high walls of the castle itself were reinforced by a border of lower but equally thick walls set at a short distance from the curtain. The varying heights of the walls made it possible for archers to be station on both sets of walls.
The entire structure of the castle was made even more protected by a ditch or moat which could only be crossed using the drawbridge.
The castles of the Middle Ages were both a creative and a necessary innovation. A castle made it possible for a lord to protect his fief and, over time, these structures came to be some of the most essential defense mechanisms of this period in history. Although the elements changed over time, these developed according to necessity, and the castle as a whole became one of the most widely-recognized symbols of the Middle Ages.
Castle Wall photo by Matt Banks/Free Digital Photos.net
Welsh Castle photo by Tom Curtis/Free Digital Photos.net
Stainborough Castle photo by Tom Curtis/Free Digital Photos.net
Clifford’s Tower photo by Tom Curtis/Free Digital Photos.net
Bodiam Castle photo by Susie B/Free Digital Photos.net
“Development of Castles in the Middle Ages,” Middle Ages.co.uk, https://www.middle-ages.org.uk/development-of-castles-in-the-middle-ages.htm
“Parts of a Castle,” Castles.org, https://www.castles.org/Kids_Section/Castle_Story/parts.htm
This post is part of the series: Life During the Middle Ages
The middle ages were a time of castles, jousting, and innovations in tools. Developments in tools and castles were made out of necessity - tools to facilitate new methods of farming and castles to provide defense against invading armies. Jousting tournaments were held for entertainment.