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History of Medieval Castles

Medieval life and Times

History Of English Castles

The Normans were responsible for the development of the great stone English castles during the Medieval times but the history of English castles started long before the Medieval times. The castle can be defined as "A safe retreat against intrusion or invasion".

The history of the Castle therefore can date back to the time when people started to live in settled communities in the Stone Age although we generally recognise English castles as being built of stone during the Medieval times and era. The history of English castles can therefore be viewed as starting as follows:

  • Stone Age ( 3000 - 1800 BC ) - Causewayed Camps and Stonehenge
  • Bronze Age ( 1800 - 600 BC ) - Hillforts
  • Iron Age and the Romans ( 600 BC - 400 AD ) - Roman Forts
  • The Saxons and Alfred the Great - fortified towns called 'Burhs' (later changed to Burghs then Boroughs)

History Of Castles - The Normans Castles
The Normans brought castles and feudalism to Medieval England during the Medieval times and era. The architecture in this period in the History of castles was called Romanesque or Norman Architecture.

  • Pre-Built Timber Castles were brought with the Normans on their invasion fleet
  • Timber castles were quickly built on large mounds of earth surrounded by a ditch which added to their fortification - these were called Motte and Bailey Castles
  • The rapid construction of the Motte and Bailey castles enabled the Normans to control and subjugate the conquered English. Norman soldiers manned these castles and were able to take on any attackers. The wooden Norman Castle was also used to safely store supplies and equipment together with their horses
  • The wooden motte and bailey castles were only temporary fortresses, the wood rotted and they were susceptible to fire
  • The history of castles moved on - building with stone was the answer
  • The wooden castles were converted to stone castles! Many of the Motte and Bailey Castles were converted into stone castles
  • A feature of the Norman stone castles was the castle 'keep'
  • The castle keep was the tower which was built on top of the motte - the Dominating Point
  • The history of castles in Medieval Times continued with the development of the shell castle keep. The shell castle keep was developed the motte (mound) on which the castle was to be built could not bear the weight of a solid stone tower, so a light shell tower was constructed
  • The Normans were responsible for building the greatest castle in the history of England - the White Tower in the Tower of London in 1078.

History Of Castles - The Edwardian Concentric Castles
The crusades brought the medieval lords and nobles into contact with the great castles and fortresses in the far east. They also learnt about siege warfare and new siege weapons. These ideas were brought back to England and a new style of architecture was developed called Gothic architecture. The basic design of the Norman castles were replaced with even bigger fortresses designed specifically for siege warfare. These massive castles were called Concentric castles. The history of castles moved on to the reign of the Plantagenet King Edward I (12391307) who built the concentric castles in Medieval England during the Medieval times and era. Concentric Castles can be described as "a Castle within a Castle". Concentric castles were effectively lots of buildings, walls, towers and gatehouses in one massive castle complex built within in successive lines of defence. The architecture in this period in the History of castles was called Gothic or Edwardian.

  • King Edward I employed the services of the best architect and builder of the history of castles in Medieval Times was called Master James of St George
  • A Stronger central Keep or Main Tower was built in a round or polygonal shape
  • Shaped stone was introduced and cut with precision
  • Solid walls and pillars were introduced to hold greater weights. At least one lower, outer wall surrounded the Inner High Wall. Several Outer Walls and Outer Baileys were often added. Walls were built at different heights and levels
  • Several Gatehouses were added to this period of the history of castles in Medieval Times
  • Height, pointed arches and wider window openings were a feature
  • Towers were often surmounted with very slender towers. A High wall, complete with towers surrounded the Keep and the Inner Bailey in concentric castles
  • Moats surrounded the whole Medieval Concentric Castle complex
  • Various forms of defence were introduced and became part of the history of castles in Medieval Times. These castle features included the following:
    • Barbican
    • Portcullis
    • Gatehouse
    • Moat
    • Crenellations
    • Murder Holes
    • Death traps
    • Various styles of Arrow slits to accommodate the different Medieval weapons
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