Castle Building

Throughout the past few weeks of the course, I have learned quite about what qualified as a castle as well as the architecture, functionality, and design on a castle. In the Medieval Castles by Oliver Creighton and Robert Higham, it was revealed the word “castle” was generally applied to any structure on the building continuum from an actual defense building to a manor house where gentry-level people lived. When it comes to the functionality of a castle, I have always known they often housed families and their servants in addition to being a place of defense in times of war. However, in terms of their structure, design, and architecture, I never knew exactly what kind of defenses castles had that made them useful in combat other than providing the defenders and those who lived in the building a few places to hide. For instance, I never knew there were typically defenses between the gates and/or portcullises such as murder holes to annihilate any enemies who managed to get stuck in that area. I also did not know there were specially-designed narrow windows (arrow-slits) where archers could stand while firing arrows at the oncoming party while being optimally protected. I also did not know there would be a stability difference in the way towers were built. I remember very distinctly sitting in class hearing Dr. L describe the circular structure being more stable as there would not be the corners a square tower has for the energy of oncoming artillery to run thru and destroy. Walls of a circular tower would not come down and expose the rest of the castle to the invading party.

It was also really interesting to me how the castle builders would use the landscape to their advantage (to an extent, at least) when designing a structure. Sometimes, they would build the keep (main tower of the castle) on top of a hill (often called a motte). This would work to the family’s advantage by helping them keep safe in their day-t0-day lives as well as probably keep important documents, weapons, oubliette (dungeon) and its prisoners, and whatever else they would store in the main tower safe from oncoming enemies. This would be especially beneficial if there was a fosse (ditch) around the keep or the outer walls of the castle so the enemies had a harder time getting up, close, and personal to their target(s). Sometimes they would put a bailey, also known as a ward or an outter wall, around the motte, keep, guard’s quarters, and other such buildings as another defense mechanism. However, if there were no fosses, baileys, or other defense mechanisms, it is possible the castle architects decided to work with nature or start from scratch with implementing a moat (ditch). Typically, moats are displayed in recent common culture as having water flowing through them; however, this was often not the case as, if I remember right from what Dr. L said one night during class, many of the moats were either man-made or just not filled with liquid.


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