Castles

The word castle comes from a Latin word meaning fortress. A castle is a large, fortified residence of nobles in feudal times, sited to dominate the surrounding countryside.(James, Castles and Mansions. p.4) A castle has many distinct characteristics in its shape of building. A castle was the home and fortress of a monarch or noble. Castles became important in Western Europe in the late A.D. 900’s and the 1000’s. They played a central role in the political and military system called feudalism. (Nardo, The Medieval Castle. p.7) In the Middle Ages, Europe was divided into many small states, and local conflicts were common. A castle helped the king or vassal defend the land where the castle stood. It also provided a home for the monarch or noble’s family and servants. In addition, a castle served as a barracks, prison, storehouse, armory, treasure house, and center of local government. Before the 1100’s, most castles were made of timber and earth. A majority of them had a natural or artificially created hill called a motte. A tower called a keep or donjon often stood on the flat top of the motte. The keep, typically made of wood, was the castle’s best-protected building and served as its last defense. In some cases, the castle holder’s family and guards lived in the keep. A palisade (wooden wall) enclosed the top of the motte. (Nardo, The Medieval Castle. p.9)In most cases, one or more baileys lay at the foot of the motte. Deep ditches called moats surrounded the motte and each bailey. Earth dug from a bailey’s moat was piled up to form a barrier just inside the moat. In many cases, a palisade topped each barrier. Enemies attacking a castle had to break through the defenses of one or more baileys before they could reach the motte’s defenses.
In the 1100’s, people began to build more and more castles out of stone. Stone castles provided better protection from enemy attacks, fires, and weather. In the late 1200’s, strong stone walls and…

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