Tag Archives: Medieval Castle

Anatomy of a Castle – The Well

Well, Old Sarum

Well, Old Sarum

Despite the importance of its subject, this post is very short.  In my previous post I wrote that most castles were on the tops of hills and didn’t, therefore, have access to running water. They relied on wells. Given that the rivers could be full of sewage or industrial waste, this was probably a good thing. It also meant that they had a source of water that couldn’t be poisoned or cut off during a siege.

Well, Richmond Castle

Well, Richmond Castle

In castles, wells were usually lined to prevent seepage from a wet moat or latrine pits getting into the water used for cooking and making ale. Given than castles were on hills, wells had to be dug deep in order to find water.

This is the well at Sherborne Old Castle. It’s 40 feet deep and was cut through rock to find the water table. These days it’s out in the open, but it was originally in a courtyard near the kitchen. Above the gravelled rectangle that you can see in the background was the great hall where most of the food was eaten. You can see the line across the wall where the joists for the floorboards of the hall were.

Well, Sherborne Old Castle

Well, Sherborne Old Castle

As you would expect, most wells were outside, near the kitchen and the bakehouse. Portchester Castle, however, has one in the keep. I don’t know why.

Well in the keep 2

Well in the Keep, Portchester Castle

 

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.

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Chapel

During my travels earlier in the year, I saw various kinds of chapels in different parts of castles. I knew that many castles had churches in the bailey and that space inside the castle buildings was at a premium, so I hadn’t really thought that there were many chapels in castles. I was wrong.

I saw three different types of chapel. The first type was the private chapel, usually just off the living quarters of the man who held the castle. The second was a more public chapel for the use of soldiers and members of the household. The third was a huge space, due to the castle concerned having previously been a bishop’s palace. I wasn’t sure whether I should include that one, but I have, as you’ll see below.

The original chapel, from which all others took their name, was the one in which the kings of France kept the cloak (chapele) of St Martin of Tours. St Martin was a bishop in the fourth century. His legend says that he cut his cloak in half to share it with a ragged beggar who later turned out to be Christ. The shrine which held the cloak was a place of private worship for the kings.

Having a private chapel in a castle, however small, seems to me to be a huge luxury.  It’s difficult to imagine the lord, his wife and their immediate family and closest members of their household cramming into a tiny space for mass, though. Unless they were built for royalty, they do tend to be very small.

There is a private chapel at Conisbrough Castle, built into one of the buttresses of the Great Tower. It was built at the end of the twelfth century and shows the great wealth of the man who had it built. It’s off the lord’s solar, so you had to have access to that space in order to enter the chapel.

Chapel, the keep, Conisbrough Castle

Chapel, the Great Tower, Conisbrough Castle

Even while the lord was away, the chapel priest at Consibrough Castle prayed for his soul daily, as well as those of his wife, their fathers and Henry II, who was the king at the time.

The chapel tapers to a point, but isn’t very wide anywhere. It must have been crowded if anyone joined the lord and his wife for mass.

This is the vault of the chapel, which I share simply because the stonework here is rather impressive.

Vault of chapel, the keep, Conisbrough Castle

The vault of the chapel in the Great Tower, Conisbrough Castle

This is the lower chapel at Old Sarum. It was dedicated to St. Margaret and was probably used by the soldiers and servants of the castle. Above it was a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas. It was in the upper chapel that the royal family heard mass when they were in residence.

Lower chapel, courtyard house, Old Sarum

Lower Chapel, Old Sarum

The chapel for the soldiers at Richmond Castle was a lot less spacious. Also dedicated to St Nicholas, it was built in the eleventh century into the wall surrounding the bailey. It’s tiny, not much more than 6 feet wide. You can just see the niche to the left of the main window which is thought to have held candles. There’s a similar one on the other side. There are benches around three of the walls and the arches that you can see above the bench were supported by painted pillars. It’s worth bearing in mind that this chapel, like the others pictured here, would have been decorated with brightly coloured paintings on the walls and the ceilings.

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The Chapel, Richmond Castle

At Prudhoe Castle a space in the gatehouse was converted into a chapel in the thirteenth century. Given its size and functional brickwork, my guess would be that it was for the soldiers and not the nobility.

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The Chapel, Prudhoe Castle

The building below is presumed to be the chapel at Sherborne Old Castle. The upper space was the bishop’s chapel and the lower space that of the lowlier members of the household. Sherborne Old Castle was built by Roger, Bishop of Sarum, who was chancellor to Henry I.  You’ll recognise that the arrangement is the same as that at Old Sarum, where Bishop Roger also had a hand. Although it was fortified, Sherborne Old Castle was more a palace for the bishop than a castle. When it was first built, it was full of clerics and their servants, and might have been run on monastic lines. I’m not sure how much use such a huge chapel would have seen once the castle took on a more secular role.

Chapel, Sherborne Old Castle

The Chapel, Sherborne Old Castle

A lasting feature of medieval chapels and churches is the piscina.

Piscina, chapel in keep, Conisbrough Castle

Piscina, Chapel, Conisbrough Castle

As you can see, a piscina is a stone basin in which the chalice and paten were washed after mass. It was the priest who washed them, because his fingers had been in contact with the host and the wine, which were believed to have become the body and blood of Christ. His fingers and the vessels had to be cleaned and the water in the piscina drained away to the consecrated ground outside. In a church or an abbey this would be all the surrounding ground, but I’m not sure how this was managed in a castle.

In my novels the castles usually have churches in the bailey, but I’m beginning to see the dramatic possibilities of a private chapel.

Sources:

Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei

Sherborne Old Castle by Peter White

Old Sarum by John McNeill

Richmond Castle by John Goodall

Prudhoe Castle by Susie West

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corédon and Ann Williams

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar

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.

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Anatomy of a Castle – Furniture

Table in hall 2

One of the things that has always struck me about castles is how small the rooms are.  There are two main reasons for this. The first, and most obvious, is that building a castle was incredibly expensive. The reasons for the cost were that it took time, sometimes more than a decade, and sometimes imported stone was used. The masons who built castles were very skilled and demanded a higher rate of pay than ordinary labourers, who were also required.

The second reason is that castles didn’t have to be large. Even a small castle put awe and fear into the hearts of the local populace. The largest building many people knew was their parish church. Even a small castle would dwarf a church.

Another reason why they didn’t need to be large was because there wasn’t very much, apart from people and stores of food and fuel, to put into it.

People in the Middle Ages had few possessions, unless they were fabulously rich.  If you could afford to build a castle, you fell into that category. The things that you might have, however, wouldn’t necessarily take up a lot of space. An expensive horse, for instance, wouldn’t need any more space than an ordinary horse. Tapestries were a good way for a man to show his wealth, but they hung from a wall, at least while the lord was in residence.  He might own a few jewels, a few gold or silver chalices and good quality knives, but none of these needed much more space than cheaper versions of the same thing. A wealthy man probably had a few books. They would need to be kept securely in a locked chest to prevent theft.

Apart from tapestries and jewels, the main thing that a wealthy man had that most others in a castle (or anywhere else) didn’t have was a bed and a chair. At the top of the post I’ve put a photograph of the reproduction furniture in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. It’s not a castle by any means, but it will give you an idea about medieval furniture. There’s one chair. At mealtimes everyone sat on benches like the one you can see in front of the table. The table was a trestle table, which could be taken down and stacked against a wall when it wasn’t in use at meal times. The same thing applied to the bench. Unless they were sitting as part of their employment or at meal times, people mostly stood. If they were allowed to sit, they probably sat on a stool like this.

Stool in front bedroom 3

The stools could also be folded and put away when not in use.

Few people in a castle had beds. Most of the household slept in the hall. The lord had a bed in his solar and there might have been another bed for important visitors. When the lord moved on after spending two or three weeks in his castle, the bed would be dismantled, put on a cart and taken to the next place.

There were cupboards to store the lord’s gold and silver cups, if he had any, and clothes were kept in chests or on rails along walls. There wasn’t much need for interior space in a society that didn’t even know what privacy was and lived, for the most part, communally.

There are many things that still baffle me about castles, though, not least the question about where knights and soldiers kept their armour. They slept in the great hall, or some other communal space. Their armour and their weapons were expensive and couldn’t be folded up out of the way. Nothing that I’ve read or seen gives any indication about where these were stored. If anyone knows, please tell me.

 

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.

Available now:

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Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces

The Church, Ludlow Castle

The Church, Ludlow Castle

We’ve looked at the main spaces within the castle, but there are still a few more, smaller, places worth thinking about.

The buttery and the pantry were located next to the hall. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the buttery didn’t store butter. Instead it was where wine and ale were kept. ‘Buttery’ is derived from ‘bottle’. Water couldn’t be drunk, so people had to make do with wine and ale – at every meal. Ale didn’t travel well and was always drunk close to where it was made. There might even have been a brewster in the castle. Not only did ale not travel, but it also went off quickly. That meant it had to be brewed often.

Unless it was specifically brewed for a celebration of some kind, ale was very weak. Wine, on the other hand, was very potent. Much of it came from Gascony, where the English kings were the dukes from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

The pantry was the room where the bread was stored. The word is derived from the Anglo-Norman ‘paneterie’, which came from the Latin ‘panis’ – bread. It was a large room. Everyone ate bread every day and slices of bread (trenchers) were usually used as plates.

Outside in the bailey there were some other buildings.

Many castles had their own churches or chapels. Old Sarum had a whole cathedral.

That was a bit unusual, though. One of my favourite castle churches is the round church, built in the Templar style, at Ludlow, which you can see at the top of the post.

One of the main purposes of a castle was to house mounted soldiers. When the lord moved to another location, the garrison would stay behind. The number of soldiers remaining there would depend on the escort needed for the lord’s own personal safety whilst travelling and the type of threat, if any, facing the castle he was leaving.

The soldiers weren’t the only ones who used horses. When the lord travelled, his goods would be carried in carts, pulled by horses. The lord and his family would also have their own horses for hunting or for visiting their local estates.

Where there are horses, there are stables. Sadly, medieval stables must have been made from wood, for there doesn’t seem to be any trace of them at the sites I’ve visited. There is a brick stable block at Kenilworth Castle (now a tea room), but it’s Tudor.  The horses who resided there must have thought they were in heaven.

The mews where the hunting birds were kept would also have been wooden. Men with even a modest amount of wealth kept birds for hunting.  Rich men had many birds and a falconer to train and look after them.

In a similar vein, many castles had dovecotes. These were usually circular and housed pigeons. Many were built from brick or stone and some survive. Pigeons were bred to be eaten.

And what of Hollywood’s favourite part of the castle: the dungeon? Well, as you’ve probably come to realise, there wasn’t a lot of space for keeping prisoners. The photograph below is of the prison at Portchester Castle.  There aren’t any schoolchildren inside to give you an idea of the scale, but the plaque and the stones should be enough to tell you that it’s small. It’s just in front of the keep and, as you can see, above ground level.

Prison

The Prison, Portchester Castle

It’s the only prison I’ve come across.

Sources:

Castle by Marc Morris

 

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.

Available now:

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Anatomy of a Castle – the Kitchen

With upwards of fifty people to feed every day, you would expect castles to have large kitchens and you would be correct.  Often they were separate buildings. It wouldn’t do for a fire in the kitchen to spread to the lord’s domestic apartments. Given that cooking was done over an open fire, there was always a risk of a fire escaping the confines of the hearth and burning down the kitchen, as we’ll see below. Where the kitchen was joined to the building housing the hall, there was usually a thick stone wall between them

The kitchen at Kenilworth is essentially that built by John of Gaunt in the second half of the fourteenth century. It’s huge.  The English Heritage guidebook tells me that it’s 66ft by 28ft, significantly larger than most aristocratic kitchens. For once I’m grateful that I couldn’t take a photograph without children on a school visit appearing in it, as they give an idea of the scale.

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The Kitchen, Kenilworth Castle, with obligatory schoolchildren

There were three fireplaces along the wall to the left of the photograph. The brickwork down the middle of the room was a drain for kitchen waste. John of Gaunt had a very large household, hence the need for a large kitchen.

It also had a bread oven.

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Bread oven, Kenilworth Castle

I’m not sure they could have baked many loaves in an oven that size. There must have been more ovens somewhere else.

Within the large kitchen at Kenilworth Castle there was a smaller kitchen: the privy kitchen. That was where the food for John of Gaunt, his family and his important guests was prepared.

The kitchen at Old Sarum was much smaller. It was divided into three and the largest part contained three bread ovens. It was probably built around 1307, when the previous kitchen burned down. That might explain why it’s in the middle of the inner bailey, far from the castle’s main buildings.

The inner bailey and bakery, Old Sarum

The inner bailey and bakery, Old Sarum

The kitchen in the palace of John of Gaunt’s nephew, Richard II, at Portchester Castle is tiny and cooking was probably done over a central, open fire, which was quite old-fashioned for the 1390s, especially in the palace of a king. This was, however, one of Richard’s many palaces and it wasn’t his main one.

As you can see from the photograph below, the food was taken up the steps and through the doorway into the Great Hall.

Entrance to the Great Hall from the kitchen

Entrance to the Great Hall from the Kitchen, Portchester Castle

The kitchen is on the left of the palace and its entrance is just to the left of the unavoidable visitor. You can see how compact the palace is. The great hall takes up the rest of the building, and the king’s sleeping quarters are in the building that sticks out at right-angles.

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

Kitchen staff, like most of the household, were men (or boys) and they were mostly unseen. In aristocratic households where boys and young men were sent to learn how to be knights, one of their first lessons was waiting on the lord’s table. They learned the ritual of a meal, so they would be able to perform it correctly in their own households.  It was considered an honour to wait on the lord.

A large household meant storing vast quantities of food, drink and fuel. This is one of the vaulted cellars at Kenilworth Castle.

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Vaulted cellar, Kenilworth Castle

 

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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Anatomy of a Castle – Gates and Gatehouses

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Drum Towers, Gate of Southampton Castle

Gates are important places in castles and serve two functions. They keep out people you don’t want inside the castle while simultaneously impressing the people you do want inside the castle.

The picture at the top of the post shows what remains of the drum towers by the gate to Southampton Castle. Drum towers are round towers connected to the walls of a castle. Unsurprisingly, they’re so-named because they look like drums. I hope you’ll forgive a diversion, but the pub you can see at the bottom of the alley is supposed to stand on the location of the house in which Jane Austen stayed during the three years she lived in Southampton.

Old Sarum’s gate was approached over a bridge. You can just see the gatehouse at the top of the bridge. There would be gatekeepers in the gatehouse, waiting to open gates and raise portcullises for residents and welcome visitors.

Gatehouse, Old Sarum (2)

Gatehouse, Old Sarum

The medieval bridge would have been hinged, allowing it to be ‘broken’ by swinging it up or down when unwelcome visitors arrived. It could not, however, be raised in the way that you might be thinking.

Gatehouse, Portchester Castle

The Gatehouse, Portchester Castle

The gatehouse to Portchester Castel is rather impressive. You can see in the foreground of the photograph to the left and the right the grooves for the portcullis. Through the gate you can see the outer bailey and one of the outer walls. This gate gave access to the castle itself.

Portchester Castle has four gates in the outer walls. They’re all on the sites of the original Roman gates. This is the landgate, dating from the fourteenth century. It connects the outer bailey to the land side of the outside world.

Landgate from keep 2

Landgate, Portchester Castle

There’s water on two and a half sides of the castle, so there’s a watergate at the opposite end of the outer bailey, which you can just about see on the right of this photograph. It would allow access by sea.

Ashton's Tower from keep, Portchester Castle

Ashton’s Tower from the Keep, Portchester Castle

Like the landgate, the watergate is a fourteenth-century replacement of a Roman gate. It also had a portcullis.

Below is the medieval entrance to Kenilworth Castle. It’s less than impressive now, but the towers were once two (or more) storeys high. This allowed the portcullis to be raised and lowered by means of a winch on the first floor.

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The Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle

As well as the main gates, most castles also had postern gates. If, like me, you’ve always thought of postern gates as small and unobtrusive, the one at Old Sarum will surprise you. It was almost as large as a main gate and had a recess by it for a guard. It’s also right next to the keep.

What really bothered me when I was there was that the only place you could go once you were through the gate was into the ditch. That’s a problem when you think that the postern is supposed to be a secret, but there would have been a bridge over the moat and a path leading down to another gate in the outer defences.

Postern gate, Old Sarum

Postern Gate, Old Sarum

The postern gate at Portchester Castle is so small that I missed it. In the photograph below it’s the black shadow in the Roman wall on the right of the castle. The Roman fort was laid out in a square and there was another postern gate in the opposite wall.

Castle and outer bailey from watergate 3

Portchester Castle and Outer Bailey

Postern gates were most useful during a siege, when soldiers could leave the castle in relative secrecy and attack the besiegers. True to my romantic hopes, they could also be left open to allow the enemy (or the hero, in my case) entrance into the castle.

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Hall

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In many ways, a castle is just like any other medieval house with more than a couple of rooms. Houses and castles usually have a hall: a large room for meals and receiving visitors. As a result, they were the largest enclosed space in the building. They were also where the servants slept.

In a castle, a hall is obviously much larger than it would be in a house and more grandly decorated. There are some other differences. John of Gaunt’s Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle, pictured above, is very large. It also has huge and intricate windows. The hall was so impressive that it’s the only part of the castle left untouched by the Earl of Leicester when he took over Kenilworth two hundred years later.

Somewhat unusually, the hall had six fireplaces. You can see one of them in the photograph below, which also shows the vaulting of the cellars below the hall.  The wall above the fireplace was probably covered by a tapestry. These were very expensive and displaying them was a way of showing how wealthy someone was.

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Fireplace in the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

The walls would also have been painted and would have been colourful even when the tapestries were taken down.

Halls were usually on the first floors of castles, unlike in houses, where they were at ground level.

Richard II's Hall diagram

King Richard’s Great Hall, Portchester Castle

As you can see from the photograph of Richard II’s Great Hall at Portchester Castle above, the hall is close to the kitchen, allowing food to be served easily. This hall also had large windows in the wall facing the inner bailey. The wall facing the outer bailey has no windows at all for reasons of security. Halls in houses rarely had large windows. When your only source of heat was a fire in the middle of the floor and windows were usually unglazed, your windows would be quite small in order to retain as much heat as possible during the long, dark winter nights.

Richard II’s windows at Portchester were glazed. It’s recorded that the glass was decorated with coats of arms and heraldic devices. Richard also had a large collection of tapestries, some of which would have been hung on the walls when he visited the palace.

When a visitor to either of these halls entered the door at the top of the steps, they were still not in the hall. They would find themselves in a screened area, mainly used by the servants. An invitation to enter the hall itself was a great honour.

This is a photograph of one of the two halls at Wolvesey Castle, one of the palaces of the medieval bishops of Winchester.

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East Hall, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

The palace had a private hall and a larger, more public hall. The latter (the one in the photograph) was used for ceremonial occasions or when more space was needed. Originally the hall was on ground level, but it was remodelled and raised to the first floor about twenty years later.

Like the rest of the castle, the hall was used to impress upon the visitor the importance, wealth and power of the man who owned it.

Sources:

Kenilworth Castle –  Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle –  John Goodall

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Anatomy of a Castle – The Tower

Ashton's Tower from keep, Portchester Castle

Ashton’s Tower from the keep, Portchester Castle

A tower was a tall structure on the outer wall of a castle and most castles had more than one. None of them was as tall as the keep. Despite that, they were very much a sign of dominion in the early, Norman, castles. They were called donjons, from the Latin ‘dominor’ – to master, to rule over.

Originally towers were square. This made them fairly easy to build. Square towers were, however, vulnerable to mining. If the besieging army could send miners underground, they could cause a tower to collapse by setting fire to the wood that had been supporting the tunnel under a corner of the tower. The corners were weak spots.

Round towers were less vulnerable to undermining. In addition, it was more difficult to rest a ladder against a round tower, which meant that castles with round towers were less easy to storm.

When Edward I built his showpiece castle at Caernarfon, he built polygonal towers inspired by the towers of Constantinople.

Towers had arrow loops built into them allowing the defenders to shoot arrows or crossbow bolts at attackers whilst having some form of protection. The shape of the arrow loop allows the archer, or crossbowman, to cover quite a lot of the ground below the tower. There is room for them to move from side to side and up and down, but the part of the arrow loop presented on the outside is so narrow that opposing archers or crossbowmen would need a lot of skill to get an arrow through it.

arrow-slit-arundel-tower-southampton

Arrow Loop, Arundel Tower, Southampton

This is the same tower from the outside. You can see how narrow the arrow loops are. Any soldiers attacking this tower would have to shoot upwards as well.  In this particular instance, they’d probably have to do it from a ship, as the water used to come up to the walls.

Arundel Tower, Southampton

Arundel Tower, Southampton

Ideally a castle would have enough towers around its curtain wall to allow archers and crossbowmen to cover all of the ground outside and inside.

Archers and crossbowmen were not the towers only means of defence. Mangonels and other forms of catapult could be used from the tops of towers. This would give them a greater throwing distance than similarly sized catapults used by the besiegers.

This last tower is from a bishop’s palace. Despite its name, Wolvesey Castle isn’t a castle, although it was fortified. It was built by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, in the mid-twelfth century. He was the brother of King Stephen, whose reign was mostly taken up with the civil war known as the Anarchy.  Somewhat surprisingly, given that he was the king’s brother, Henry changed sides more than once, necessitating the fortification of his palace in Winchester.

Wymond's Tower, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

Wymond’s Tower, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Moat

Moat from the gatehous

Moat from the gatehouse, Portchester Castle

There is, in my opinion, little to beat a moat for dramatic interest in a castle. The hero of one of my early novels swam a moat to get to his lady, an act which I now think would more likely lead to pneumonia than a happy ever after ending.

Failing pneumonia, he might have caught something else, since any latrines in the castle emptied into the moat. Castle wells had to be lined with lead to stop the contents of a moat seeping into them. In retrospect, having him come into contact with the moat at all seems like a bad idea.

Moats came in all shapes, sizes and locations: some are round; some are square; some are filled with water; some are empty; some are within the outer walls and some are outside the walls.

This is probably the most famous moat in England. It’s Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. On a still day the castle is reflected in the moat, reminding the visitor that Bodiam wasn’t built for defensive purposes, but simply to be beautiful.

Bodiam_Castle_through_the_trees

By Pilgrimsoldier – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35164296

Most moats added to the castle’s defences. It was almost impossible to storm a castle with a moat. They made it difficult to get siege engines close. Although few moats were as wide as Bodiam’s, you could see that there would be no chance of soldiers getting close to the walls in any kind of siege tower. There’s nowhere to rest a ladder for soldiers to climb to the top of the walls. Even more important, the towers couldn’t be mined.

Mining was the process by which the besieging army dug underground until they were beneath a corner of a tower. Once there they would set a fire which caused part of the wall to collapse. The army would then enter the castle through the damaged wall.

The moat at Old Sarum is empty, but the sides of the hill on which the castle was built are very steep. Although the moat encircles the walls, the castle’s outer bailey is on the other side of the moat. In the photograph below the outer bailey is where there are people walking.

Moat, Old Sarum (2)

Moat, Old Sarum

Attacking from below was never a great option for a medieval soldier and attacking up a steep hill was even worse. It was easy for people above to throw things down on them and there was little they could do to protect themselves.

Here’s another photograph from Old Sarum down into the valley. You can see how high and steep the hill is.

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Portchester Castle is one that has a water moat. It’s not terribly impressive these days. As you can see in the picture below, part of it is within the outer walls and there are people having their lunch in the outer bailey.  That part of the outer bailey alone is large enough to host a cricket match. What you can’t see from the photograph is that the moat goes outside the outer walls as well.

Moat and outer bailey

Moat and outer bailey, Portchester Castle

You’ll remember from last week’s post that Portchester Castle is on the edge of a harbour, so there’s plenty of water about for the moat. In the Middle Ages the moat would have been deeper and wider and much more of an obstacle to anyone who wanted to storm the castle.

Bodiam had a fairly large moat, but Kenilworth Castle’s moat was huge. It was created by damming two rivers, and the castle was effectively surrounded by a lake. These water defences were partly responsible for the longest siege in England in the Middle Ages.  For six months in 1266 the castle held out against Henry III and his army. Attempts to storm the castle by water failed. His stone-throwing weapons did not have the range of those within the castle walls. In the end, the inhabitants of the castle surrendered because they were running out of food.

 

Sources:

Castle – Marc Morris

Portchester Castle –  John Goodall

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

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The Anatomy of a Castle – The Keep

Keeps are tall towers. They’re typically located on the opposite side of the bailey to the gatehouse, or in the centre of the castle.  Early keeps, like the castles they stood in, were designed to intimidate the locals. They were also called donjons, from the Latin dominus – lord, or master.  They were designed to be strong. It should be noted that not all towers are keeps. Towers on outer walls are just towers.

The best-known keep in England is the White Tower in the Tower of London. It was built in the 1080s by William the Conqueror and was whitewashed on the orders of Henry III in 1240.

When I visited Portchester Castle earlier in the year, I couldn’t get all of the keep into the frame to take a photograph, so I made a short video.

The keep at Portchester is not opposite the gatehouse. They are on diagonally opposite corners of the castle walls, which more or less form a square. In the 1130s the keep was built to a height just above the walls. Two more stories were added by the 1150s and a final floor in the 1320s. In the opening seconds of the video you can see the holes in a wall where the fourteenth-century staircase to the first-floor entrance used to be. They’re on the bottom right of the picture.

There are latrines and fireplaces in the keep, which show that it was intended for domestic use, rather than storage or primarily for defence.

Keeps were the last line of defence of a castle. They were made to be difficult to get into and once in it wasn’t easy for the enemy to get much further.

Stairs in keep

The stairs in the keep, Portchester Castle

The stairs are narrowest on the right-hand side by design. The attackers would not have been able to use weapons in their right hands effectively, whilst the defenders would. The defenders would also have the advantage of being above their attackers.

Fortunately for me, and most visitors, there are modern, wooden stairs within the keep.  You only need to use the spiral stairs if you want to get to the very top of the keep. I was happy enough to enjoy the view from the highest point I could reach without using them.

Landgate from keep 2

Landgate and Portsmouth from the keep, Portchester Castle

This is what remains of the keep at Old Sarum. It’s directly opposite the main gate. The gap you can see to the right is the postern gate and we’ll get on to that in a later post.

Tower and courtyard house, Old Sarum

Tower and courtyard house, Old Sarum

Old Sarum is on top of a hill. One of the reasons for putting a tall tower on top of a hill was obviously to make an impression on those who saw it. The rooms at the bottom of the keep were probably used for storage. They’re at ground level and the main entrance to the keep was above them, reached by steps. This was a feature of most keeps.

Steps to tower, Old Sarum 2

Steps to tower, Old Sarum

The room on the first floor of a keep was probably used by the lord of the castle to receive visitors and would have been decorated to impress.

 

Sources:

Castle – Marc Morris

Portchester Castle –  John Goodall

Old Sarum –  John McNeill

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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