Hello Variants, and welcome to another entry in the exciting series New World, Who’s This? Last week, we covered where castles come from and some additional fascinating facts and history. Let’s continue our deep dive into these iconic stone structures this week by discussing what makes up a castle.
The heart of any castle is it’s keep. This is typically the largest (and tallest) structure located at the center of a castle. This building is where the ruler of the castle and their immediate entourage would reside. The keep usually housed bedchambers for the castle’s ruler, a feasting hall where they would hold court, a personal armory, and direct access to the castle’s water supply. This is because the keep was the last hold out in the event the castle was sieged. Keeps were built tall for the same reason- so they could provide sight lines of the whole castle and allow archers to fire into the surrounding area if the walls were breached.
Surrounding the keep would be the buildings that are essential to keep the castle running. Smithies, fletchers, bakeris, breweries, leather tanners, and any other priority merchants or craftsmen were housed around the keep. They would all be contained and protected inside the main wall of a castle. This area also contained housing for knights, squires, merchants, and artisans under the employ of the castle’s owner.
Moving away from the keep, this housing enclosure was usually encased in a wall. Depending on the size of the castle there could be several layers of concentric walls, each slightly taller than the last, to allow defenders to fire upon the wall if it was captured. Castle walls usually featured crenellation, those rectangular gaps seen on top of walls to protect occupants from arrow fire. If these crenels were placed on a single side of the wall, it was reasoned the wall could fall to enemy control, and they would be vulnerable to arrow fire from the other side, but if both wall sides were crenellated, the wall was important, and needed to be defended from both sides.
Several other structures of import of a castle include towers, gatehouses, and sally ports. Towers were tall structures built to provide strong points on a wall, and were several stories high. The tops were usually crenellated, and some towers had hoarding, or thatched roofs and extra support to provide cover from arrows. Other towers were built large enough to mount siege engines on them (such as catapults or ballista), which could provide counter fire against attackers. Gatehouses and sally ports contained doors to restrict entrance to the castle. Gatehouses were typically some of the heaviest defended sections of the wall, as they would be prime targets for attackers. Sally ports were hidden gatehouses, with bricked up gates to allow defending forces to escape from a siege, or sally out to attack the besiegers, hence the name.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything in a castle, this should give you a framework around which to build a thriving medieval community.
Keep your eyes peeled for my next posting, where I cover siege warfare, and learn how to break all these fun stone buildings!
Check out Part 3 of this series!
What would you like to learn about Castles? Let us know in the comments below.