Architecture and Medieval Castle Design

Castle Architecture

The simple motte and bailey castles from the 11th century with their timber frames and palisades evolved into substantial concentric castles by the 14th century. Subsequent changes in castle architecture tended to improve existing ideas as opposed to developing completely new castle designs. Books on medieval castles, medieval history

Castle architecture can be grouped into the following areas:

Castle Location
bamburgh castleIn many instances the site itself would determine and even limit the castle plans. For example, Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast was built on a very high ground overlooking dunes and the North Sea, hence its design and fortifications were built around the pros and cons of the location. Another example is Conwy Castle in North Wales where the plans were restricted by the rocky outcrop it was built on and led to a design which has been likened to an hour glass. As a direct comparison to the latter, Beaumaris which was built on marsh land by the sea on Anglesey had no such restrictions. The castle plans for Beaumaris allowed for a beautifully proportioned concentric castle. List of concentric castles in England and Wales

Concentric Castles Abroad
Concentric castles are also found abroad. This type of defence was seen during the Crusades, in Spain and of course there is Carcassonne in France.

Probably the earliest example would be the Land Wall in Constantinople which was built in the 5th century. It had three distinct walls each one becoming progressively larger

The entrances to castles were, from a very early age, recognised as their weakest spot. This, along with the need to encompass surrounding buildings and allow for space to accept refugees from neighbouring towns created the need for concentric castles with walls getting progressively smaller.

gateway of alnwick castleThe attackers would not only have to make more breaches but the design of the walls could force them into areas where they could be massacred. It is here that we come across terms like the barbican which is a walled courtyard in front of the castle gateway.

Defensive Architecture
This covers drawbridges, spiral staircases, killing grounds, machicolations and loopholes or meurtrieres to name but a few. These developments tend to be refinements which continued to develop well into the 15th century and were largely common where ever the castle was built.

Other fascinating areas of medieval castle design and architecture include: Castle Plans, Castle Keeps


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