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Medieval Castle Architecture

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Castle Architecture
The Medieval Times encompass one of the most violent periods in the History of England are are epitomised by the massive castles built during the Middle Ages. The development, architecture and building of these great fortresses changed as time progressed, influenced by important historical events such as the Crusades the Battle of Hastings and the technology of siege warfare.

This article provides interesting and important information about Medieval Castle Architecture. The early Medieval Castle Architecture was called Romanesque and the later style of Medieval Castle Architecture was known as Edwardian, Perpendicular or Gothic. The following dates clarify the different styles of Medieval Castle Architecture:

  • Romanesque Medieval Castle Architecture - 1066 to 1200 - Norman or Romanesque architecture
  • Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture - 1200 to 1300 - Early English Gothic Architecture ( also called Lancet )
  • Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture - 1300 to 1400 - Decorated style of Gothic Architecture
  • Perpendicular Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture - 1400 to 1500 - Perpendicular style of Gothic Architecture  

Architecture of Medieval Castles in Medieval Times
The Medieval Castle Architecture therefore ranged from the Romanesque Architecture style of the Normans - the Motte and Bailey design castles to the massive Norman Stone Castles with their towering stone Keeps. The Romanesque style of Medieval Architecture moved on to the Edwardian Concentric castles built by the Plantagenet English King Edward I and then the more slender and pointed style of the Gothic Medieval Architecture which is also referred to as Perpendicular style of architecture.

The Changes in the Architecture of Medieval Castles of the Middle Ages
The Changes in the Medieval Castle Architecture of the Middle Ages were made in response to:

  • Social and cultural changes during the Medieval era
  • The changing needs of the Medieval population
  • Advances in technology, in terms of the building tools
  • New building techniques, construction methods and ideas for new styles of Medieval Castle Architecture
  • Symbolic reasons and designs in the style of architecture - illustrated in the building of Caernarvon Castle
  • Practical reasons for the new locations of Medieval castles - such as the conquest of Wales
  • The desire for more comfort in the castle Interiors

The History of Medieval Castle Architecture
The History of Medieval Castle Architecture starts with the Normans. Many English and European Medieval Knights had travelled to the Holy Land on Crusades during the Medieval times and era. The knights had seen the magnificent fortresses of the Byzantine Empire and these massive castles influenced the Middle Ages castle building ideas, engineering and architecture. The History of Medieval Castle Architecture changed as follows through the time period between 1066 and 1500:

  • Medieval Timber Motte and Bailey castles
  • Stone Motte and Bailey castles
  • Medieval Square Castle Keeps or towers
  • Round Castle Keeps or towers
  • Medieval Shell Castle Keeps or towers
  • Medieval Concentric Castle Architecture
  • The Medieval Gothic or Perpendicular style of architecture - The new Gothic Style of Medieval architecture and decoration emerged in France. It was initially called "The French Style"  of Architecture

The Norman or Romanesque style of Medieval Castle Architecture
The Norman castles styled in Romanesque architecture had design faults which led to many problems in terms of defence. The wooden Motte and Bailey castles were at risk of fire and their towers were quickly replaced by the Stone Keeps, which also had their own problems. The corners of the Square Keeps featured in the Medieval Romanesque architecture were weak and at risk of collapse due to mining techniques employed by the enemy. Romanesque castles had only one defensive wall. Romanesque Castles were extremely uncomfortable - dark, dank and cold.  The weaknesses of the early Romanesque style of Castle Architecture in Medieval Times had to be addressed. The influence of the crusaders led to the construction of the Concentric Castles and a new style of Medieval architecture which focussed on defensive features designed for siege warfare.

Defining Features of Norman style of Medieval Castle Architecture
The defining features of the architecture of Norman castles were:

  • The Motte and Bailey concept of architecture made first of timber and then of stone
  • Square Castle Keeps or towers were later replaced with Round Castle Keeps or towers
  • These keeps were replaced with Shell Castle Keeps or towers
  • Hollow walls

The Edwardian style of Medieval Castle Architecture - Concentric Castles
The deign faults and problems of siege warfare were addressed by King Edward I of England and his master builder and architect who was called Master James of St George. The Norman castles were replaced with concentric castles. A Concentric Castle is "a Castle within a Castle". The Medieval architecture of the concentric castles was effectively lots of buildings, walls, towers and gatehouses in one massive Medieval castle complex built within in successive lines of defence. The objective of concentric castle Medieval architecture was a castle which could withstand a siege and vanquish any attackers. Defensive additions were made to the castles such as the barbican, crenellations, murder holes and arrow loops in various sizes.

The Gothic style of Medieval Castle Architecture
Appalled at the abandonment of classical Romanesque lines and proportions the later Medieval Architecture was derisively called "Gothic". The word Gothic alluded to the Barbaric Goths, or Visigoths, who, led by their leader Alaric sacked Rome in 410AD. The defining features of the Gothic castle architecture was:

  • Stone was cut with greater precision
  • Flying buttresses were introduced. The introduction of flying buttresses in Medieval Castle Architecture distributed the weight of roofs and walls right down to the ground. Gothic Medieval architecture and design allowed architects to spread the weight to different points of the castle
  • Solid walls and pillars - allowing them to hold far greater weights resulting in much bigger castles
  • The use of the Gothic arch in Medieval Castle Architecture led to the construction of light and airy castles
  • Gothic Castles were higher
  • The pointed arch could support greater weight, allowing the walls of the Castle to be thinner with wider window openings
  • Gothic Castles interiors were lighter - Wider window openings and Gothic Rose Windows ( in Medieval Chapels, Churches and Cathedrals)
  • More Towers were featured in Medieval Castle Architecture
  • Decorative designs and sculptures included Gargoyles
  • Fan vaulting
  • Hammerbeam roofs
  • Towers featured in Medieval Castle Architecture in the Gothic style were often surmounted with very slender towers
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