The Medieval Era, also known as the Middle Ages, was a period of human history where the societies of Europe underwent a great deal of change and transformation. One of the most distinctive features of the Medieval Era was the medieval castles. Over time, the architecture and building of the medieval castles evolved based on historical events like the Crusades.
Castles Before the Middle Ages
In England, the Normans were responsible for building castles and fortresses during the Middle Ages. This began following William the Conqueror’s win at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Prior to this, England had no castles or fortresses – at least not in the form we know of today. Prior to the Norman Invasion, England had structures like the Stone Age (3000 BC – 1800 BC) structures like Stonehenge, Bronze Age (1800 BC – 600 BC) buildings like the Hillforts, and Iron Age and Roman (600 BC – 400 AD) structures like Hadrian’s Wall.
Development of Norman Castles
The Normans brought castles to England, quite literally – they transported their pre-built wooden castles to England on their invasion fleet! William the Conqueror had an initial strategy of quickly building networks of wooden Motte and Bailey Castles. This type of castle was not permanent; the timber would rot quickly and could be destroyed by fire easily. Hence, over time, timber was replaced with stone as the primary material used to build the castles. This created more solid, long-lasting structures that enabled the Normans to develop a power base.
Development of Concentric Castles
Initially, stone castles were made of a single tower with thick walls, minimal windows, and usually one room per floor of the castle. As engineering advanced, the castles grew to become a group of fortifications as individual towers became connected by outer and inner walls.
The next major phase in the evolution of castles was during the reign of King Edward I (1239 AD – 1307 AD). During this time, King Edward’s master builder developed a style known as the Concentric Castle, or “castle within a castle.” This involved a lot of buildings, gatehouses, and walls as part of one castle complex comprising successive lines of defense. This enabled the kings and lords of the time to obtain even stronger power bases, while also adding an element of luxury to castles.
Castles as Fortresses
Perhaps the most significant use of castles was their use as military fortresses. Prior to the invention of gunpowder and cannons, invading parties used contraptions as catapults to hurl heavy stones, battering rams, and movable towers to cross over to walls. These devices were most often used on firm, level ground. Hence, castles evolved to be built on top of hills, islands, or in the center of swamps to be impregnable against these devices.
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