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Medieval Castles

Part 2
You will design your own castle. You must include all of the major features of a castle. Read the information describing
the main features of a castle and what they are used for. Then design your own castle floor plan on a new sheet of white
(computer) paper (1) labeling each part of your castle with its correct name and (2) giving that part of your castle a
number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.).
On the back of this sheet of paper, Setup a chart that will contain the following information about your castle.
Reference
No.

Name

Description

Write the reference number for each part and then next to that number, describe what that part is and AND describe why
you put it where you did.

Parts of a Castle
1

The Moat

The first thing that distinguished a castle was the moat or ditch. Most were filled with deep water to prevent enemies
from coming in, but even those without water stopped intruders because the deep, steep walls prevented the enemy
from entering.

For most of the Middle Ages, the moat was an important part of a castles defenses. However, towards the end of the
period, when castles were becoming more of a home and less of a fortification, a moat became more of a decorative
and symbolic feature.
What Was the Purpose of a Moat in a Medieval Castle?
A moat was a ditch, usually filled with water, which surrounded a castle or other fortified building. It was intended to
make attacking the castle much more difficult, because it was hard for attackers to climb the castle walls having waded
or swum across the water and it also meant that access to the building could be restricted to just one entrance, which
could be heavily guarded. Anyone who attempted to swim across the water was highly vulnerable to attackers from
above, on the battlements, or at the windows of the castle.
When building a castle, the planners would ensure that the building would be near to supplies of fresh water, which
were needed by all households and some of this supply would be dammed to provide water to fill the moat. The moat
could be made even more perilous with the addition of wooden stakes, to further hamper any would-be attackers.
Some moats did not go right round the castle, but used other natural resources, such as a steep bank, river or forest as
part of the defense.
The Origins of the Castle Moat
The word moat is believed to derive from motte, a French word for hill. Norman castles were originally built on hills,
for the purposes of defense and a ditch was dug at the base of the hill, to aid with defense. This ditch was later filled
with water, creating the moat which came to be so popular in castle building.
2

Drawbridge

The only way to cross a moat was on the drawbridge. These wooden structures could be raised or lowered depending
on whether or not the people in the castles wanted you to come in. Ropes or chains were attached to the end of the
bridge and then rigged to a pulley so that guards were able to quickly raise it.
The Castle Drawbridge was a moveable, heavy, wooden bridge which spanned the width of a castle moat or ditch. The
drawbridge consisted of a wooden platform with one hinged side fixed to the castle wall and the other side raised by
rope or chains. It would be raised vertically and dropped down again when danger had passed. The drawbridge would
connect a road to the entrance of a castle, the Barbican and the Gatehouse. The Barbican was an exterior walled
defensive passage with a portcullis and multiple gates leading to the Gatehouse. The purpose of a drawbridge was to
allow, hinder or prevent easy entry into a Medieval castle.
3

Barbican

The barbican was an exterior defense protecting the entrance of the castle. It confined an approaching
enemy to a narrow front, often leaving the attackers in the open, and offered an easy target for the castle
defenders. Barbicans also confused the attackers, as they oftentimes found themselves in a hopeless
maze of twists and turns. The most common type is a walled passage projecting from the front of the
gatehouse.

The Curtain Wall

Upon crossing the drawbridge, you would reach the curtain, or wall. This wall surrounding the castle was strong enough
to survive a battering ram, a common weapon, and could be anywhere between 8 and 20 feet thick. (That's as wide as
the height of a 2-story building!)

The Curtain was an outer wall which surrounded the bailey or Medieval castle buildings. The purpose of the curtain wall
was to protect the interior of the castle. The wall was often connected by flanking towers which could house castle
defenders. Sometimes arrow slits were a feature of the curtain wall enabling castle defenders to safely shoot at any
attackers. Built for defense the curtain wall varied in size from 6 - 20 feet thick, up to 45 feet high and up to 1,500 feet
long!
Battlements:

These are the structures at the tops of the walls surrounding a castle. Picture what you have seen in the movies where
archers are at the top of the wall and firing arrows between open slots down on the attackers. These shapes at the top
(Where the archers position themselves for battle) are called battlements. They are also referred to as crenellations.
Gatehouse

A gatehouse was built into the curtain. At first it was just a simple door by which to go in and out of the castle, but over
time that changed. Because enemy armies often came to this area, an iron grate was added that could be put down to
block entrance, in addition to heavy wooden doors. Small holes, called murder holes, were added to the ceiling above
the main entrance to pour boiling liquid down on entering enemies. The Chapel was occasionally built in this vicinity behind the Gatehouse. The enemy would then be seen to fire on the Chapel as they were attacking the main entrance to
the castle - God was seen as being on the side of the Defenders of the castle!
The Castle Gatehouse was a fortified structure built over the gateway to a castle.

The Castle Gatehouse was built up to three three storeys high


Ground floor contained the guard rooms
First floor contained guard quarters and the machinery to operate the portcullis
Top floor stored weapons and murder holes
Portcullis

This is a metal or wood grate that was dropped vertically just inside the main gate to the castle.
8

Towers

Towers were also a part of the curtain. They allowed people to look about and keep watch outside the castles walls. In
addition, at times they kept prisoners. For example, the Tower of London in England was well known for the important
political prisoner kept within its walls.
Over time, the shape of the towers changed as castle- builders experimented with designs that were less likely to fall
down in battle or from the instability of the structure itself. Originally, towers were simple square-shapes, easy to build
but also easy to topple down.
One of the most ingenious ways that a tower was pulled down was a method known as undermining. An enemy's
soldiers would dig a tunnel under one corner of a tower, prop it up with wood, and then set the wood on fire. When the
wood burned to ashes, the tower would be so unstable (no longer having a good foundation) that it would tumble to the
ground. However, sometimes undermining did not accomplish what the enemy soldiers wanted - sometimes the wood
fell down before the enemy had left the tunnel, and they died! One of the towers at Rochester Castle near London still
shows an unsuccessful attempt by an invader to pull down a corner tower.
The round tower was determined to be a more effective shape for withstanding the impact of a battle. However, it was
more difficult to build because the design was more complex. Yet, many castles made use of round towers. Their shape
caused cannon balls and other types of missiles to bounce off the walls without doing damage. They also were not

vulnerable to undermining. And they also gave an added bonus of providing more space on the interiors. The greatest of
Norman knights, William Marshall, introduced the use of round towers to Britain, and they were especially used in
Wales.
9

Arrow Loops - These were slots in the walls and structures that were used to shoot arrows through. They came
in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
10

The Keep

The Keep is the inner stronghold of a castle which was also the home of lord and lady. This definition changed slightly
over the centuries of castle building. In the early years of stone castle building the Keep was a standalone structure that
could be defended and often square in shape. Over the centuries these structures were improved upon and built
around. Thus a castle was made that was a larger and more complex structure. The main tower that this was built
around was still called the Keep and it was usually the tallest and strongest structure in the castle. It was also used as the
last line of defense during siege or attack.
11 Bailey: This is a courtyard or open space surrounded by walls. The walls that make up the Bailey are also
considered to be part of the Bailey. A castle could have several. Sometimes they were called the upper bailey and lower
bailey or the west bailey and east bailey.

12

Inner bailey: open courtyard outside of the keep, but inside the inner curtain wall. This area was for the lord, his
family, servants, and men-at-arms.
Outer bailey: a public open courtyard within the outer curtain walls of the castle where activity such as buying
and selling would occur.
Dungeon:

The castles jail, usually in one of the towers.


13

Chapels

Each castle had a chapel that could be located in a tower or gatehouse. The chapel sometimes served as a private
church for the lord and his family even when there was another church in a nearby town.
Chapels were an important part of life in a castle and the central place for
community gatherings. Castle keeps had chapels, but sometimes they were
located in the bailey, or outer ward. Other places chapels were in the castle
towers and gate houses.
Many castles had more than one chapel, and some were very large cathedraltype structures. Sometimes, the chapels were private and only used by the lord
and his family, even when churches were located nearby.
Decoration and furniture in castle chapels were just as ornate as any other chapel that was built separate
from the castle. Most had stained glass windows and wall paintings. Often, the castle chapel was the only
room in the castle that had carved and vaulted decoration. Altars, piscinas, and aumbries were built-in.
Some had crypts and barrel-vaulted naves.
Chaplains were an important appointment to the castle staff. They acted as a local parish priest, or as a
chantry chaplain. They provided for confession, absolution, and communion. Chaplains sometimes took on

other occupations within the castle, such as overseeing the building of structures, being a clerk,
accountant, or a medical officer.

14 Houses
4
Castles also had one or more houses built in for people to stay. Often there was a lord's house and then one or two
others, depending on how many people were living at that particular castle.
15
4

Kitchen

The cook and the other kitchen staff work in the kitchens. As there could be over three hundred people
living in the castle there's a lot of work to do feeding so many mouths! Most of the cooking is done over
large open fires - it's hot work.
Next to main kitchen are the dairy where the butter is churned and cheese made and the bakery where
the bread is baked in the bread ovens. The bread baking is very important because not only does
everybody eat a lot of it but special slices of stale bread called 'trenchers' are used to eat off instead of
plates. The trenchers soak up the gravy and if not eaten with the meal are given to the poor or thrown to
the dogs.

16
4

The Great Hall

The great hall was the most important part of any castle or manor during the Middle Ages. It was in the
great hall that the lord ate with his family and servants on special occasions. It was used as a court for
solving disputes and judging criminals as well as a place for any other gatherings where a large space was
needed. And it was also the room where just about everyone, except the most important people, slept. It
was one big dormitory, but without any beds. They all slept on the floor.

Example Castle Floor Plan- things to think about.


There are several important points to note about the design and building of a castle and although every castle is
different there are some common attributes that were used. We already talked about the concentric defense system
and this floor plan shows that system. First there is an outer wall, then an inner wall and then finally the keep.
About the Walls and towers - Notice how the walls have towers at certain points and in particular the corners of the
walls have towers. The towers were positioned for maximum visibility around the castle. Also notice that there is a
walkway connecting the outer towers with the inner towers.
The most important aspect of the castle was defense. And you can see how this is achieved. But another important
aspect of a castle was its ability to close itself up and sustain the people inside for long periods of time. An opposing
force would sometimes siege the castle by surrounding it and allowing no person or thing to get in or out. This siege
could last potentially for weeks, months or even years and the goal was to starve the people out and cause them to
surrender.
Another important aspect of a castle was sustainability over time Because of this risk of a siege a castle also had to be
as self sufficient as possible and you can see many aspects of this in the floor plan. There were gardens, stables, a well
and plenty of storage for food and supplies. The castle was built and supplied as a small city that could sustain itself
without any help from the outside world.
About the Keep - This was the absolute last line of defense for the inhabitants of the castle. And it was often built higher
with the highest tower in the castle. This plan shows only one floor of the keep and in actuality the keep could be

composed of several levels with lots more rooms and storage. There could also be underground sections of the keep or
the castle.
The Castle - Had to sustain many people in many different occupations from Royalty to Knights, servants, blacksmiths,
carpenters, masons and farmers. It also had to support livestock and farming. And although castles could be built quite
large (depending on the wealth and resources of the people who built them) they still were very crowded places especially if the occupants had to spend long periods of time under siege.