A visit to a castle can be a very rewarding day out as it can enable you to get back in touch with the past - possibly even your local history. Yet, over the centuries a large number of words associated with castles have developed - some medieval in origin, others French or Latin, and many of them confusing. It's all very well reading that 'This castle has some of the finest machicolations in the country' in the guidebook, but if you do not know what that means then you are unlikely to be able to fully appreciate them.
Knowing what these words mean helps enlighten the history and craft of castle-building, can encourage a more thorough appreciation of the castle, and when visiting with friends, also means that you can appear to be knowledgeable and informative. For example, should you accidentally fall over whilst climbing the spiral staircase, save face by explaining that it was a trip stair and you were merely demonstrating its effectiveness. So, if you don't know your moat from your motte, your bastion from your bartizan or your machicolation from your crenallation, this is the article for you!
Types Of Castles
|Unlicensed castle built without the Crown's permission - especially during The Chaos.
|A small artillery fort defending a river.
|A small, round dry stone tower found in Scotland.
|A castle with two parallel sets of walls enabling defenders on the taller inner wall to support those on the smaller outer. Especially found in the castles of North Wales.
|A structure built by the attackers near the castle to attack the castle or protect the attackers. Also known as a siege castle.
|A rectangular castle built around a central square courtyard. All the castle's buildings are built into the castle's four walls, known as ranges. Examples of courtyard castles include Bolton Castle and Bodiam Castle.
|A castle defended only by walls and towers without a central keep.
|A castle whose keep also functioned as the castle's gatehouse.
|A tower keep castle. Examples include the Tower of London, Rochester and Scarborough.
|A castle whose keep - unlike the tall, many-storeyed tower keeps - is squat, normally only two-storeyed, long and rectangular. Instead of the keep having its principle rooms above each other, the keep was built with its rooms next to each other. An example of a hall keep castle is Middleham.
|Coastal castles designed as artillery fortifications to protect against the threat of French invasion during the reign of Henry VIII. Many were built around the Isle of Wight and Kent.
|A medieval castle built inside the remains of an earlier castle or fortification - such as Portchester Castle, whose Norman keep was built inside Roman walls.
|An earthwork-defended fortification dating from Britain's pre-Roman Celtic period.
|Motte and Bailey
|A castle consisting of a large earth mound (motte) and a defended ward. Motte and bailey castles were originally built in wood but many were later converted to stone.
|A tower house castle consisting of a large, isolated keep-like tower and often a hall - these are found in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.
|An earthwork castle defended not by a motte, but by one or more ditches that surround the castle. Helmsley Castle is an example.
|A building built to look like a castle, but in which all the military and defensive features are merely decorative.
|A castle with a shell keep - a normally circular, squat stone keep on top of the motte replacing the simple wooden wall originally built there. York Castle and Carisbrooke Castle are good examples of shell keep castles.
|A house built to be hard for raiders and outlaws to break into, but unable to withstand a military attack.
|Otherwise undefended manor houses which have a defensive tower attached to the house or nearby. Also known as peel or pele towers.
|A castle whose main strongpoint is a donjon tower - also known as a great tower castle.
Parts Of The Castle
|A row of arches supported by columns.
|A narrow slit in a castle wall or tower that allowed archers to shoot arrows at attackers.
|A worked stone, normally rectangular, with a flat surface.
|Rounded end of a building, normally a chapel.
|A castle courtyard enclosed by a wall, pallisade or earthworks. Also the defended area below the motte in motte-and-bailey castles. Also known as a ward.
|A row of pillars supporting a parapet.
|A defensive feature outside the castle, normally a small mini-castle defending the passage to the castle's main gate.
|A semi-cylindrical arched vault, often seen in cellars and store rooms.
|The small walled yard attached to peel towers.
|A small tower projecting outside a castle wall or on the corner of towers built above ground level.
|A gun platform, normally at a corner, that exposes attackers approaching the walls to criss-crossing flanking fire between it and other bastions nearby.
|A castle wall reinforced at the bottom. As the wall increases in thickness it slopes outwards.
|A concentrated area of the castle containing a number of artillery guns.
|Parapet and wall-walk around the castle defended by crenallations.
|The flat area of ground outside the castle's walls between the castle moat and wall.
|A timber tower built over the castle wall, used to defend the castle walls below. Also known as a hoarding.
|A defended Saxon town. Normally defended with earthworks, ditches or palisade.
|A stone support for a stone wall, projecting beyond the wall.
|The often-decorated top of a column.
|Officer in charge of a castle in the lord's absence.
|A corner of a wall which, instead of ending in a right angle, has been cut across at a diagonal 45-degree angle.
|A wall-walk that runs uninterrupted around the whole castle.
|Another name for a castellan.
|A stone block projecting from a wall used as a support for other structures.
|A tunnel dug by the defenders during a siege in order to find and attack a mine built by the attackers.
|The space or embrasure between merlons on a battlemented wall.
|The arrangement on a battlemented wall containing crenels and merlons.
|An internal wall dividing a great tower from top to bottom.
|A small dome on castle towers.
|A wall surrounding the castle between the castle's towers.
|A dry moat.
|The keep, especially a great tower.
|Wooden bridge across a moat leading to the castle's gate that can be raised in times of siege.
|Worked stone used for angles, doorways and windows.
|Large, low round tower.
|Castle jail - normally the bottom floor of the castle's donjon - from which the word evolved.
|Defences literally worked from earth, such as ditches, banks. Also, walls reinforced with earth in order to withstand artillery fire.
|A wall or building provided with battlements.
|A crenel. Also a splayed space in a wall or merlon enabling a defender to fire on the enemy - such as an arrow loop.
|A circuit of outer walls.
|Attacking a castle using ladders to mount the walls.
|A free-standing buttress joined to the wall it supports by means of an arch.
|A building attached to the keep guarding the keep's entrance. It normally houses the staircase to the first floor and often a small chapel. The keep equivalent of a barbican.
|A passage running through the thickness of the keep's outer wall, opening onto the Great Hall. This was normally a storey above the hall's floor and often used by the minstrels who provided entertainment, but were not worthy to enter the great hall itself.
|A latrine. Also used as a storeroom, especially for clothes, as it was believed the toilet smell kept moths away. The word 'wardrobe' originated from garderobe.
|Tower or towers defending the castle's main entrance.
|A grotesque figure carved on castle walls, often used as a water-spout.
|The main room in early medieval castles, used for feasting, holding court, and so on.
|An opening in a wall or tower designed to enable guns to be fired through it.
|A wooden wall of stakes - name comes from the French word for 'hedgehog.' Also known as a palisade.
|A wooden shed-like building projecting outside the castle walls enabling a defender to better protect the walls. Also known as a brattice.
|A castle's honour was the area of land belonging to the lord of the castle.
|Outer earthwork defences helping to protect the castle's vulnerable parts.
|The main building in a castle, and its strongest point. A keep was designed to be able to hold out in a siege even if the rest of the castle had been captured.
|The central stone in an arch.
|A tall, narrow pointed window.
|A slit in a wall through which a defender could fire arrow-loops.
|A stone equivalent of a hoarding. A parapet or gallery projecting over the castle walls or towers from which a defender could drop missiles on approaching attackers.
|The upper parts of wall defending defenders on a crenellated battlement.
|A tunnel dug by attackers under the castle wall specifically to weaken the castle wall and cause it to collapse.
|A defensive castle ditch - often one containing water.
|A large earth mound on which the wooden towers of early motte-and-bailey castles stood, later used by shell-keep castles, such as Carisbrooke.
|The vertical dividing-bar between two halves of a window.
|Openings in the ceiling, normally in gatehouse passageways, enabling defenders above to drop missiles on attackers below.
|The central pillar in a spiral staircase.
|A window projecting from the wall.
|A below-ground dungeon reached only by a trapdoor, often in the bottom of donjon towers.
|A wooden wall made of interconnecting stakes.
|A battlemented rampart.
|A non-round column.
|A shallow flattened pier used to buttress a wall. Often used to form strip-like decorations.
|A shallow basin carved into a chapel wall used to contain holy water.
|The projecting base of wall, often battered or stepped.
|A wooden or metal gate that can be dropped down or raised from above along vertical grooves to bar or allow entry.
|A small, normally secret, exit from the castle used as an emergency back-door.
|A small hidden room in the castle where priests (for example) could hide from searchers. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was illegal to be, or to harbour, a Catholic priest in England.
|Dressed stone used on the corners of a wall.
|The earth defences or often battlemented stone wall that surrounds the castle.
|The wing of domestic buildings built against, or as part of, the castle's walls, especially in courtyard castles.
|A retaining wall. Normally one holding other defences, such as an earth bank, in place.
|A postern gate from which defenders can sally forth to attack those besieging the castle.
|The attempt to capture a castle.
|Demolishing a castle in order to prevent its further defensive use. Parliament slighted several castles in England during the Civil War.
|The private inner rooms of a castle reserved for the lord of the castle. Normally on an upper floor of the castle and positioned to fully enjoy the sun.
|An observation hole in a wall or room.
|An uneven staircase consisting of trip stairs had irregularly-sized stairs designed to trip up anyone who was unfamiliar with the staircase. Attackers would fall over on the staircase, giving defenders the advantage.
|A small tower, often on top of towers or built on a castle wall.
|Man who owes his lord homage in exchange for land, protection etc.
|An arched stone roof or ceiling,
|A spiral staircase.
|A walkway on top of a wall, normally protected by a parapet.
|A castle courtyard enclosed by the castle's wall. Also known as bailey.
|A deep hole in the ground with water at the bottom. Normally the castle's only water supply.
|A hinged iron grille used to strengthen gates in tower-houses and peel towers.
|A large crossbow used as a siege weapon.
|A wooden, often metal-tipped, log used to pound at castle's gates and walls in an attempt to break in.
|A large, wooden siege tower used by besiegers. It could be wheeled to the castle walls and it contained a drawbridge at the top which the attackers could use to gain access to the castle wall.
|A mobile shed used by besiegers to approach the castle wall or gate, defending them from arrows above. The cat often contained a battering ram. Also known as a penthouse.
|A torsion-powered catapult.
|Another name for a cat.
|An often large, counterpoise-powered catapult developed during the middle ages. Its counterweight system was more effective than the smaller, more primitive mangonel.
The invasion of England by the Normans under William The Bastard, including the Battle of Hastings in 1066. England's Saxon rulers were defeated and castles were built in order for the new Norman conquerors to establish control.
Harrying Of The North
After a rebellion in the North of England in 1069, William The Bastard ordered the land in Yorkshire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Durham to be destroyed, all buildings pulled down and all animals slaughtered. This led to over 100,000 deaths across the North of England.
Book written in 1086 on the instruction of William The Bastard. It catalogued the entire population of England.
The period of Civil War when King Stephen and Empress Matilda fought for the throne from 1135 - 1154, following the death of Henry I. It was eventually agreed that Stephen would remain king for life, but on his death Matilda's son, Henry II, would inherit.
Wars Of The Roses
The Wars Of The Roses was a period of Civil War in England from 1455 - 1485 between two branches of the royal family descended from Edward III - the House of York, descended from Edward III's third and fifth sons, and the House of Lancaster, descended by Edward III's fourth son.
The Civil War
War fought in Britain between Royalists and Parliament from 1642 - 1648. The guns used during the Civil War demonstrated that many castles in England were obsolete.