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Medieval Castles

Many medieval castles, built as early as 500 remain standing in the twenty-first century. Their historical uniqueness draws the attention of students, tourists and history buffs. As such, learning how and why they were constructed during the Middle Ages can be an interesting way to better understand these beautiful buildings.

Medieval Castles

The medieval era's roots extend back to the fall of the Roman Empire, around 500 and stretch forward to the ascendance of the House of Tudor in the 1500s. During the Middle Ages, the construction and form of medieval castles evolved to include these basic types: motte and bailey, Romanesque, concentric, gothic, and Tudor.

  • Motte and Bailey: These were the earliest castles with timber frames and palisades. They were not very strong and caught fire easily.
  • Romanesque: The Normans made massive castles built almost entirely of stone, including walls, keeps (towers), etc.
  • Concentric: Despite the name, they were not circular, but had at least one wall inside the outer wall. The outer wall was lower than the inner wall(s) and was used for defense. A concentric castle looked as though one castle were nestled inside another. King Edward I of England favored this form in the 1200s.
  • Gothic: This style was favored by the Plantagenet and lasted from 1200 to 1500. The Gothic keep was huge because flying buttresses and the styled Gothic arch supported the enormous structure. This pointed arch supported more weight, which allowed for thinner walls and bigger windows.
  • Tudor: This was the end of the medieval castles as defense took secondary importance to comfort. These castles were luxurious palaces while coastal forts were built for defense.

Castle Life

Castles during medieval times were a residence for noble families and their retinues. They were built for defense from invaders, foreign and domestic. Walls were constructed of wood or stone and roofs were slate or thatch.

Stonewalls made for good defense but the interior remained damp, cold, and dark, at least until Gothic architecture grew in popularity. Some castles had gardens, beehives, fruit trees, fishponds, and poultry sheds. Additional food supplies came from peasant farmers and hunting. Traditionally peasants (link to new article on medieval peasants) were forbidden to hunt the land. Hunting was also a form of recreation for the king or lord and his men.

Most castles had a lavishly decorated Castle Hall or Great Hall, used for entertaining. Many castles also had a chapel and a crypt. Dungeons were part of the castle keep and were used for defense, but they eventually evolved into the modern vision of underground prisons.

Water for drinking and bathing came from a spring or well. Bathrooms were built along an outer wall and waste was dumped into the moat or river. Clothes were stored near the toilet because the smell kept away the moths. The word "wardrobe" comes from the French word "warder" for "guard" and "robe" for "clothes."

Famous Castles

Following is a list of famous castles constructed in medieval times and their locations:

  • Alcazar Castle - Segovia, Spain
  • Bojnice Castle - Slovakia
  • Burg Hohenwerfen - Salzburg, Austria
  • Castle De Haar - Holland
  • Chateau de Blois - Loire Valley in France
  • Diosgyor Castle - Hungary
  • Dracula's Castle, officially Bran Castle - Romania
  • Ekenas Castle - Sweden
  • Fort La Latte - France
  • Gripsholm Castle - Sodermanland, Sweden
  • Hohensalzburg Castle - Salzburg, Austria
  • Hunyad Castle - Romania
  • Karlstejn Castle - Czechoslovakia
  • Kronborg Castle - near Elsinore, Zealand
  • Kyrenia Castle - Northern Cyprus
  • Malbork Castle - Poland
  • Moorish Castle - Gibraltar
  • Muiden Castle - Holland
  • Pernstejn Castle - Moravia
  • Schonbrunn Palace - Vienna, Austria

Just for fun, here is a list of supposedly haunted castles from medieval times:

  • Arundel Castle – England
  • Ballygally Castle – Northern Ireland
  • Berry Pomeroy Castle – England
  • Bruce Castle – England
  • Castle Lodge – England
  • Chillingham Castle – England
  • Dragsholm Castle – Denmark
  • Edinburgh Castle – Scotland
  • Hampton Court Palace – England
  • Leap Castle – Ireland
  • Tutbury Castle – England
  • Windsor Castle – England

Today, if you visit Europe, it is possible to visit many of these castles and see the amazing feat accomplished by builders during the Middle Ages. Edinburgh Castle in Scotland and Windsor Castle in England, in particular, are popular tourist destinations that draw people from around the world.