A History of Castles
Historically, castles served multiple purposes. They were home to the families who lived in them, places to entertain guests, and centers of justice as well as fortresses. These structures were built in different political, social and economic eras. The Kremlin is a form of castle that is used as a government structure in Russia.
William the Conqueror brought the legacy of castles to England when he invaded and conquered that country from France. His conquest covered England, Scotland and Wales, where he established his kingdom. As King William I, he built castles throughout his territory as he established his rule in theland.
The first castles were built in earthen mounds topped by a wooden tower. They were called motte and bailey castles. Later castle versions were built using stone and mortar which made them strong enough to last for centuries. A variety of sandstones were used to build castles, giving them an array of color from purple to light red to yellow. Limestone created the gray colored castles, while trassic sandstone resulted in the brown colored castles.
Castles were built as a defensive structure in the Middle Ages. The outside walls of castles had to withstand battle from without so stones were used. The walls were built to a thickness of eight to twenty feet. The layout also helped to fortify the castle, which also served as an estate complete with grounds, stable, lord’s dwelling, servants, and lookout tower. Underground passages made great escape routes when under attack by enemies.
The first towers were square, but found to be vulnerable to toppling during attack. Later towers were built round. The curtain wall was initially built as just an outer wall to the castle. Later, this section was made thicker and fortified to include a chapel, towers, storehouses, and dungeons.
The gatehouse became very important in the castle architecture. At first, it was a simple doorway, but it evolved into an elaborate entrance with thick walls, an iron gate, ammunition holes, and other defenses to protect the castle from intruders.
Moats surrounded the entire outside of some castles. They were built to prevent access by unwanted visitors to the inside of the castle. Moats commonly were built by digging very deep holes down to the bedrock and filled with water. Usually, the walls at the motes edge were very steep. To access the castle, drawbridges were used, which could be raised and lowered from inside.
Stairways in castles were often built as removable wooden ladders except for the tower stairs, which were built in stone. Later, stairs were constructed in spirals with the wider end being wedged into the wall. Stairs were built around a central pole for strength.
Castle furnishings varied as much as the actual structure. Elaborate tapestries covered the halls with carvings and paintings throughout. The lord of the castle probably slept on elaborate large carved beds. The bedroom had a private oratory, a private bath with either a portable tub or a bath built of stone that held four feet of water that was heated on a fire.
The castle building age has left our modern world with a legacy that will not be soon forgotten.