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Towering high above the landscape, European castles still look commanding. Imagine how powerful a castle looked 600 years ago when it was brand new. A castle was built to impress. It was the home of a powerful warlord. From its safety he ruled the surrounding land.

Castles building began in the 10th Century. The first castles that were built replaced wooden forts. Castles evolved and became stronger as methods of warfare changed. In the next few paragraphs I will be talking about how warriors surrounded and attacked a castle, how the people in the castle prepared for war, how they defended themselves, and how they lived in peace.

A castle was usually built on top of a cliff so it would be harder for the opposition to reach it. It was also surrounded by a moat which was a water filled ditch. This ditch surrounded two sides of the castle that were not protected by a cliff. The moat also provided food for the people living inside the castle.

The castle was built out of brick and had a very thick wall. The thick walls were more than 8(ft) thick and the walls of castle towers were even thicker. There were also towers built on top of the castles. The towers enabled the defenders to see anyone approaching the castle, and to fire at them with bows or siege engines.

The first point of attack was usually the main entrance. A gate house protected the way into the castle. Anybody who tried to get into the building was either caught by the guards or was killed by the traps that were set up in the castle.

In the castle there were several walls that enclosed the courtyards. Each courtyard was called a bailey. During the war men women and children sheltered here. When there was no war these court yards were used for work shops.

During the war The water supply was vital, especially when the castle was surrounded. Wells were dug into the rock below the castle, the water was used for bathing and drinking. The Lord lived at the heart of the castle which was called a keep. If the defenders broke into the castle all the remaining soldiers would go into the keep and fight to the death.

Women and children took shelter in the castle while the fighting was going on. If food ran out in the castle, the defenders would throw out anybody who couldn t fight. The attackers would not let them pass, and many of the women and children starved to death. The survivors ate anything they could find, including dogs and rats.

The most important preparation for battle was to build hoardings. These were wooden extensions to the wall walk which protected the defenders. Attacking armies often fired flaming arrows over the walls to set fire to the roofs inside. So the castle roofs were constructed from fireproof material. The best of these materials was fine leather binding. These were animal hides that stretched over wooden roofs.


In wartime the castle became a fortress in control of a wide area. When hostile armies surrounded the castle, soldiers raised the draw bridge and prepared for a furious fight. A siege had begun. The attacking soldiers spent long hours trying to break into the castle. If they were successful the swarmed inside. Often the attackers bribed someone inside the castle to open the main gate. Sometimes the siege ended because both sides agreed to a peace treaty.

A siege began only when the attacking forces fired their siege weapons against the castles walls. The trebuchet was a large siege engine which hurled rocks into the air over the castles walls up to a distance of 300m. It was powered by a counterweight which swung the long end of the arm up and over to release the missile. The trebuchet didn t just fire rocks: soldiers also loaded it with pots of lime, which burned the skin. They also threw dead animals hoping that the castle would be struck with disease. Even the soldiers fired severed human heads.

The mangonel was also a similar siege engine. It through rocks against the walls of the castle. The range of the mangonel was about 400m, which was more the trebuchet. The most powerful of the siege engines was the belfry. This was a huge wooden tower that was tall enough to look over the castle walls. The belfry could holds hundreds of men at one time.

The main weapon of defense during wartime was the crossbow. It was a powerful weapon. The bolt or quarrel of a crossbow could pearce armor. It was also very accurate and it could be fired in tight spaces. A very useful weapon for the attackers was pots filled with flaming liquids such as tar. Tar could set fire to anything below when it smashed. Another useful weapon was the sturdy smasher. This was a huge tree trunk hanging from sturdy framework. Soldiers swung it back and forth to smash the main gate of the castle.


The group of soldiers guarding the castle was called the garrison. The men of the gatehouse spent much of there time in the gate house that controlled the entrance. The gate house was also the castle prison. The towers massive construction meant that they kept prisoners in just as effectively as they kept invaders out. Noblemen captured in battle would have luxury quarters high up in one of the gate house towers. They were held until there families paid a ransom. The ransom prisoners lived almost as well as the lord himself. But most of the prisoners were not that lucky, they shivered and starved in the dungeons- the base meant prisons beneath the gate house floor. Unwanted prisoners were thrown in the dungeon and forgotten.


Castles were very expensive to construct or repair. Only the most rich and powerful lords could afford to build a castle, and they picked locations with great care. They chose positions that they knew would be important to hold in a battle. Castle builders did not just think about warfare. They planned for peace too. The castle was a home, so there had to be supplies of food and fuel within easy reach. It was also a center of administrations for the lord. The site for building the castle was important too. The castle needed solid foundations to take the weight of the massive walls. Within the castle walls there had to be a clean source of drinking water to supply the defenders and their livestock during a siege.

Building a castle needed royal permission . this was called “License to Crenellate”, because it was the crenellations that made a castle different from all other buildings. Illegal houses could be seized by the king. The king made the document official with a seal, which was a wax token with a special symbol on it.

When building a castle there had to be tools. Tradesmen used to make many of their own tools or have them made by a local blacksmith. Some of the tools that were used for building a castle were a glimet, this made holes in the wood for nails to go through. Brushes were used for painting. The brushes were usually made from a horses tail.

The cement that was used to put the bricks together was simply heating limestone in an oven. Not all stone was suitable for castle walls. Very hard stone such as granite was difficult to cut. Suitable stone was freestone. This was a regular flat-surfaced block. To make the walls waterproof the workers plastered them with daub. This was a mixture of clay, animal dung, and horse hair. The hair reinforced the mixture and gave its strength. The glue that held together the castle wall was called mortar: a mixture of lime, sand, and water.


The Lord of the castle and his family lived in grand style. Their status in society depended on them spending money and appearing to enjoy life. They would have rich food, impressive clothes. Their greatest luxury was privacy. They had suites of rooms such as a solar, which was a kind of bed-sitting room attached to the great hall where they could withdraw from the servants and guests and do as they pleased.

Possessions were very limited even to the richest people. In a duke s 14th century household, the most expensive items were the robes and hangings for the chapel. Together with household tapestries, these made up half the value of the dukes goods. Beds, clothes, gold, and silver made up the rest. One of the lords most precious personal possessions was his sword, which was specially made for him.

Every castle of any size had a strong room for storing money. The lord collected taxes for the king, and he had to store the money as well as his own. The lord had his own personal servant that guarded him at night, and often slept in the same room as the lord in a small bed. The lords bed was his most valuable possession. It was the most valuable piece of furniture in the hole castle.

During the time nobody married for love, all the marriages were arranged by the sons parents. The priest blessed the arrangement in a betrothal ceremony when the children were as young as four. In the castle there was also a chapel. It was mostly used for praying. The chapel was traditionally the highest room in the castle so there was nothing between the chapel and heaven.


At festivals, or when the lord had noble guests, it was a time for feasting in the castle. The kitchens worked day and night, and walls echoed with crackling fires and the songs of minstrels. Wealthy people enjoyed spicy food, but the cook did not use spices to hide the taste of rotting ingredients. Food was very fresh. Meals were spicy because it was the fashionable way to cook. Spices were very costly, and spiced food was a sign of wealth and luxury.

Food was not served on plates. Instead, everyone had a trencher, which was a thick slice of stale bread. Servants placed food on a trencher. After the meal a servant brought water for the lord to wash his hands.

Wealthy people in the castle ate almost anything that moved. They ate fish, pork, beef, lamp, and birds of all sizes. Poor people had a very simple diet. They ate mostly bread and pottage( thick vegetable soup) with a little bacon , milk, and cheese.

The fool or jester was the entertainer. His colorful outfit made fun of fashionable clothes. Wealthy and powerful people allowed the jester to tell funny stories or sing rude songs about them. The Jokers also had a sinister side to them. Nobody took the jester seriously because often he was mentally ill.


Castle life was sometimes cold, and often uncomfortable, but it was never boring. There was always some task to attend, and when the days work was done , the lord and his family amused themselves with sports. Two favorite sports were jousting and hunting. Hunting took many forms. The most noble was hawking. The hunter sent tamed birds of prey, such as kestrels, to swoop down and capture smaller birds. Hunting with dogs was popular too. The hawks and dogs were highly prized. And they lived a better life than many poor people. A jousting tournament was the most exciting sport. It was an event in which knights charged at each other on horses. Lowering long lances as they drew closer, each aimed to knock the other off.

Royal and wealthy castle dwellers considered hunting with a bird of prey the finest of sports. The trained birds themselves lived like kings. The hawks traveled everywhere with their master even to church and to a meal. Also hunting dogs was an important part of castle life. The dogs lived in heated kennels, and they had a special breed baked for their feed.

Knights were all supposed to obey a code of good. The code was called chivalry. The code demanded that the knights should be brave, truthless, godly, gentle, faithful, and fearless. Chivalry also meant behaving honorably towards women. This did not apply to non Christians or peasants.


Supplying the castle with food was a major task. When the lord was at home there were more than two hundred people to feed. Much of the food came from the manor. The manor was the land under the control of the castle and its lord. The lord of the manor owned most of the land , but he allowed the local people to farm some of it. In exchange they had to cultivate the lords fields. The changing seasons controlled everyone s diet. In the summer and autumn there was plenty of fresh food. In the winter food for animals was scarce, so the villagers slaughtered many of their pigs, sheep, poultry, and cattle at the end of the autumn. To stop the meat rotting, they persevered it in salt or by smoking. Other foods, such as beans they preserved by drying. A few food stuffs grew or lasted right through the spring.


Castles which protected towns often had a second entrance, rather like a back door to a house. This town gate was a convenient way in and out of the castle. Grisly sights greeted the traders and troops who passed through the town gate . Staring down from pikes high above the walls were rotting heads of executed traitors. Below in the ditch stood the gallows and the pillory. Like the heads above they reminded town folk of the severe punishments for breaking the law. In the shadow of the town gates were the butts. These were targets were ever man had to practice his archery skills each week. There were preparations for warfare inside the castle walls.

One of the severe punishments in medieval times was branding. Branding was burning marks on a criminals body. If the crime was harsh than the man would be branded on his face so he could not hide his guilt. Another cruel punishment was pressing. This was carried out for prisoners who refused to admit or deny their guilt. The prisoner was to be crushed or pressed to death. It was a slow and painful death and many begged visitors to jump on the boards so they would die more quickly.

A common way of execution is the gallows. The gallows was where people were handed for committing crimes. This was a slow death and many victims begged for the people to hold on to their feet so they would die quicker.

The most severe means of punishment was drawing. This was done when a person committed treason. The penalty for treason was to be hung, drawn, and quartered. When the victim was half dead, the hang man took him down, and cut out his insides. The hang man then held up the person s heart, and shouted “Behold the heart of a traitor.”

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