I’ve been thinking about, and visiting, castles recently. There’s nothing like going to a medieval building to give you ideas to put into a novel. When I went to Old Sarum on a very wet day, I almost slipped over in the mud. On the drive home I thought about how dangerous a medieval castle could be in the rain. There are slippery external staircases without handrails; uncovered wells surrounded by mud; and bridges across moats. I could picture one of my characters being held prisoner in a castle, his long-planned escape attempt thwarted by rain and mud.
I thought it would be useful to get to grips with some of the terms used about parts of a castle and the structures that might be found within the walls.
Castles were introduced into England by the Normans. Although some Norman allies of Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon king of England, built three or four castles in England in the middle of the eleventh century, it was William the Conqueror who had castles built all over the country to subdue his new subjects.
Early castles were of the motte and bailey type. The motte was a (usually man-made) mound of earth upon which a wooden tower was built. Typically there was a wooden palisade around the tower and another around the base of the mound. The area encompassed by the palisade was the bailey. A castle provided protection for the people within it, but also gave them a base from which they could go out and subjugate the local population.
It wasn’t long before castles and walls were being built in stone. The exterior walls of most castles were whitewashed. Instead of seeing grey stone looming on the horizon, you should picture something white and impressive. The idea of a castle was to demonstrate to the Saxons that they were a defeated people. Over time, however, castles were used less to oppress the people living around them and more to protect them.
Portchester Castle and Outer Bailey
In my diagram above, I’ve included most of the things that you’d expect to see in a castle. Some buildings are missing, such as kitchens, bakeries and stables, but we’ll come to these later. Not all castles have all the parts, as it were. Some castles don’t have moats and some don’t have keeps. Some have complicated defences, others are more straightforward.
Castles vary greatly in size and some buildings that call themselves castles aren’t, being fortified houses. Stokesay Castle, for example, which I visited last year, is a fortified manor house.
I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but these are the bare bones of a castle:
Early castles were more or less wooden keeps on a hill surrounded by a tall fence. By the fourteenth century they were made of stone and were the last line of defence within a castle.
Moats were deep ditches, some filled with water, some not. They could go round the outer walls, as in the diagram above, or they could be within the outer bailey.
Not all castles had an outer bailey. It was the area outside the inner walls, but within the outer walls.
The open area inside the inner walls.
An external defence.
The largest enclosed space in a castle, where the household ate and, for the most part, slept.
A defensive feature on the outermost walls.
A small side door to the castle.
Outside wall of a castle between two towers.
Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each feature to see how important, or otherwise, they were to a castle.
Castle – Marc Morris
Capture the Castle – Sam Smiles, Tim Craven, Steve Marshall, Anne Anderson, Andy King
April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.