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Castle Terminology

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Below you will find short definitions for many of the terms associated with medieval castles. The list is by no means complete, and certain minor terms have been omitted. Some of the definitions are additionally hyperlinked to pages that show examples of the item being discussed.

Definition of A Castle

    Allure or Wall-walk: passage behind the parapet of a castle wall

    Apse: circular or polygonal end of a tower or chapel

    Arcading: rows of arches supported on columns, free-standing or attached to a wall (blind arcade)

    Arrow Loop: A narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside

    Ashlar: blocks of smooth, squared stone of any kind

    Bailey or Ward: courtyard within the walls of the castle

    Ballista: engine resembling a crossbow, used in hurling missiles or large arrows

    Barbican: an outwork or forward extension of a castle gateway

    Barrel vault: semicircular roof of stone & timber

    Bartizan: overhanging corner turret

    Bastion: a small tower at the end of a curtain wall or in the middle of the outside wall

    Battlement: a narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk to protect soldiers against attack

    Belfry: tall, movable wooden tower on wheels, used in sieges

    Brattice: (see hoarding)

    Buttery: room for the service of beverages

    Concentric: having two sets of walls, one inside the other

    Crenelation: a notched battlement made up of alternate crenels (openings) and merlons (square sawteeth)

    Cross-wall: an internal dividing wall in a great tower

    Curtain wall: a castle wall enclosing a courtyard

    Cut: assault tower

    Corbel: stone bracket projecting from a wall or corner to support a beam

    Donjon: the inner stronghold (keep) of a castle

    Drawbridge: a wooden bridge leading to a gateway, capable of being raised or lowered

    Drum Tower: a round tower built into a wall

    Dungeon: the jail, usually found in one of the towers

    Enceinte: an enclosing wall, usually exterior, of a fortified place

    Embrasure: the low segment of the altering high and low segments of a battlement

    Escalade: scaling of a castle wall

    Finial: a slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of the merlons

    Forebuilding: a projection in front of a keep or donjon, containing the stairs to the main entrance

    Garderobe: latrine

    Gate House: the complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect each entrance through a castle or town wall

    Hall: principal living quarters of a medieval castle or house

    Hoarding: covered wooden gallery affixed to the top of the outside of a tower or curtain to defend the castle

    Inner Ward or Inner Bailey: open area in the center of a castle

    Keep: the inner stronghold of the castle

    Loophole: slit in wall for light, air, or shooting through

    Machicolation: a projection in the battlements of a wall with openings through which missiles could be dropped on besiegers

    Mangonel: stone:throwing machine worked by torsion, used as a siege weapon against castles

    Merlon: part of a battlement, the square "sawtooth" between crenels

    Meurtriere: arrow loop, slit in battlement or wall to permit firing of arrows or for observation

    Moat: a deep trench usually filled with water that surrounded a castle

    Motte: an earthwork mound on which a castle was built

    Murder Holes: a section between the main gate and a inner portcullis where arrows, rocks, and hot oil could be dropped from the roof though holes

    Oilette: a round opening at the base of a loophole

    Oriel or Oriel Window: projecting room on an upper floor, later an upper-floor bay window

    Oubliette: a dungeon reached by a trap door

    Palisade: a sturdy wooden fence built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed

    Parapet: protective wall at the top of a fortification, around the outer side of the wall-walk

    Portcullis: vertical sliding wooden grille shod with iron suspended in front of a gateway designed to protect the gate

    Postern Gate: a secondary gate or door often located at the rear of the castle.

    Putlog Hole: a hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole

    Ram: battering ram

    Revet: face with a layer of stone, stone slabs etc., for more strength. Some earth mottes were revetted with stone.

    Sapping: undermining, as of a castle wall

    Screens: wooden partition at the kitchen end of a hall, protecting a passage leading to the buttery, pantry, and kitchen

    Solar: originally a room above ground level, but commonly applied to the great chamber or a private sitting room off the great hall

    Springald: war engine of the catapult type, employing tension

    Trebuchet: war engine developed in the Middle Ages employing counterpoise

    Turning Bridge: a drawbridge that pivoted in the middle

    Turret: a small tower rising above and resting on one of the main towers, usually used as a look out point

    Wall Walk: the area along the tops of the walls from which soldiers could defend the castle

    Ward: courtyard or bailey


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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas