html> A History Of Castles









History of Castles

The main function of all castles was defense. From the earliest times walls have surrounded castles and cities often with great thickness and height. Some castles were surrounded by moats and had great towers. The wall was often supplemented by a reinforced shield wall at strategic points. Crenellated battlements and arrow slits protected the defenders, and attackers often had to overcome a series of several gates. The main entrance was protected by a drawbridge from above which boiling liquids and missiles could be dropped on the foes below. The final refuge of the castle residents was the stronghold, or keep. It was the tallest and strongest building within the walls, with a high entrance accessible only via a removable ladder or wooden bridge. In addition to being a watchtower and the centre point of the entire castle, the keep was also a status symbol. The main residential building or great hall was called the Palas. The castle chapel was often installed in the gatehouse or one of the main towers (nearer my God to Thee!), and a small garden inside the walls provided herbs, flowers and vegetables in emergencies. Offices and service rooms were generally located in the outer ward.

Early Castles

The word castle has become a term used to describe many types of fortification, and there are many structures that pre-date the Middle Ages that are often referred to as castles. In the 13th century BC, the Hittites built stone walls with square towers around their capital in Turkey. The Egyptians built a fortress out of mud bricks, with massive gatehouses and square towers, to defend their southern borders, 1500 years BC. From the 16th to the 12th centuries BC, small, separate kingdoms dominated much of mainland Greece, each with its own fortified citadel.

The first fortifications began to appear in Britain from the 5th century BC, with the construction of Iron Age hill-forts. Maiden Castle in Dorset is one of the most impressive examples. These great earthworks (a series of ditches and raised earth banks) were topped by a wooden wall (palisade), and usually protected a settlement. However, they proved no match for the Romans when they invaded England in the 1st century AD. They quickly overpowered the hillforts and imposed their own authority by constructing forts, built to a standard rectangular plan, across much of the country. Some were built quickly out of wood while others were more permanent structures built of brick or stone.

Medieval Castles

In medieval Europe the first castles appeared in the 9th century, when the Carolingian empire was collapsing as a result of Viking and Magyar raids. As central authority disintegrated, nobles fought for power and territory. They built castles so that they could control and defend their land. These castles started out as simple, wooden structures, relying on natural defences such as rivers or hills, but soon builders were adding earthworks - mounds, banks and ditches - for extra defence. Earthworks could be mounds, called mottes, or round, raised enclosures, called ringworks. A motte was topped by a wooden tower; while a ringwork contained buildings protected by a wooden palisade. In each case earth was dug from the perimeter area, leaving a protective ditch.

The fragmentation of land into separate estates or domains, and the manner in which they were ruled, led to the development of feudalism. The most powerful men, the counts, dukes and kings, controlled more than one estate. They would keep some of the land for themselves and give control of the rest to other lords. In return these lords promised to provide knights for their overlord's wars and for the garrisoning of their overlord's castles. In theory, a person's allegienace was always to their overlord, however there were constant battles for land and power and some men became almost as powerful as their overlord. One such man was William, Duke of Normandy. After many years of war he had become very powerful and a real threat to his overlord, the king of France. In September 1066, he launched an invasion of England to enforce his claim to the English throne. Castles played an important part in European warfare, and William brought this knowledge with him. He built his first defensive structure within the walls of the old Roman Fort at Pevensey where his invasion force had landed. He then continued to build castles to defend his line of retreat and within two weeks of landing had built castles at Hastings and Dover. After his victory at the battle of Hastings he went to London where he was crowned King of England, on Christmas Day 1066. The period of Norman castle building had begun. As William's forces spread across the county they built castles as a means to subdue and control the populace. William claimed all the land as his own but gave grants of land (fiefs) to the Norman lords that had provided him with military assistance during the invasion. In order to prevent any of them achieving the level of power that he had acquired in France, he gave them many separate estates spread across the country so that it would be difficult for any one lord to join all his froces together in a single power base. In order to protect and control their new lands the lords built castles on each of their estates. By the time of William's death, in 1087, there were 86 Norman castles in England.

The early castles were mainly 'ringworks' or 'motte and baileys' which were quick to construct. A 'motte and bailey' castle consisted of a large mound, or motte, where possible based on solid rock, and made of compacted rubble and earth, topped with a wooden tower. It provided a look-out post, as well as adding tactically important height if the castle was attacked. The 'bailey' was a large, level enclosed area beside the motte, surrounded by an earthwork bank and ditch, topped with a timber palisade. The bailey often contained a hall, buildings for livestock, a forge and armoury, and a chapel. Due to the use of wood in their construction, these castles were particularly vulnerable to fire.

Many of these early wooden castles were later rebuilt in stone making use of the old earthworks. The earliest known stone tower was built at Dou-la-Fontaine, France, in c.950. Stone castles needed more workers, were more expensive, and took much longer to build than wooden ones, but they were fireproof and much more secure.

German Castles

The Roman Empire's western collapse was triggered by a change in direction of expansion of the various Germanic tribes. For hundreds of years The Romans had successfully prevented the westward and southward migration of the Germans at the Limes and the Danube and Rhine rivers. This caused the Germans to expand eastward. But in the 5th century the Huns roared out the area of the Don and pushed the Germans back west. This forced turn-around brought the various factions into contact again with the Romans. This time the Germans were better armed, experienced from battles with mounted Huns and the Roman troops were disorganized and poorly armed. The empire was in trouble on their eastern front, an area that always demanded a higher priority. In a period of just a few decades the empire's defenses were penetrated at several points across their entire western European line. Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals and Franks were making permanent inroads into the empire, setbacks the Romans were to never fully recover from. By 410 Goths were sacking the city of Rome.

While The Huns were still on their rampage westward, it wasn't until 451 that they were turned around after threatening Gaul which, for the most part, is present day France. Shortly after Clovis, King of the Franks, the tribe that had breached the Roman lines at the Rhine, succeeded in capturing the northwestern area of Gaul. From this point on the Franks suffered few setbacks in their push to conquer all of Europe. Clovis and, after his death, his son Chlotar, who inherited the Merovingian dynasty of Clovis began the work of unifying the Germans under one rule. They were followed by a succession of remarkable leaders that continued the expansion and solidifying of the German nation. During this explosive expansion of the Germans there was another, similar succession of advances by the Arab nations. They had succeeded in conquering much of the lands of the former Roman Empire and had expanded across northern Africa, crossed over into Spain and had penetrated Gaul (France). It seemed an advance of Arabs was driving hard into the heart of Europe until the then leader of the Franks, Charles Martel defeated them at Poitiers.

The election of his successor Pepin the Short as King of the Franks marked the beginning of the dynasty known as the Carolingian dynasty. His son Charlemagne in turn succeeded to the throne and, after adding the lands of the Saxons, Lombards and Bavarians and destroying the Avar kingdom, was crowned Emperor of the West. In the 9th century Charlemagne's Frankish Empire included much of the former Western Roman Empire and the majority of Europe. On his death the empire was distributed, as was custom, amongst his surviving male heirs. Germany, France and Italy, after much jockeying back and forth were, eventually, the resulting major political divisions. But it wasn't quite so simple. Within the next two centuries the kingdom of Germany expanded geographically and politically to double its size and became the newest Empire on the block. In 962 Otto was crowned emperor, and the Holy Roman Empire was born. After it swallowed the kingdom of Burgandy in the 11the century the empire's borders remained essentially stable through the remainder of the Middle Ages until the eastern powers of Poland and Hungary suddenly made significant advances at Germany's expense.

It is estimated that in the lands once under the rule of the German Empire there are over 20,000 historic buildings that date from the Middle Ages. Today few stone structures dating to before the 11th century are to be found. Most stone castles and fortifications date from the 12th century and later. Some, whose names predate the stone structures, can claim origination in their particular locations from, or even prior to, the 10th century. There are thousands of examples of community defenses built of stone that predate most castles. Where a noble would have had to think hard about assuming the high cost of materials and manpower involved in the construction of his personal castle, towns could more quickly and easily afford and construct walls around their core area.

Most of the fortifications that we consider as 'proper' castles were built during the Middle Ages (c.1000-1500). Unlike most other buildings, such as a church, a house or an inn, they served more than one purpose. A castle was a home for its owner and family, a place where guests could be entertained and often the local centre for administration and justice, but it was also built strong enough to defend its occupants while acting as a base from which attacks on neighbours or more distant enemies could be launched. Later buildings, which are often still referred to as a castle or have the word castle in their name, served only a single purpose, as forts built purely for defense or stately homes built solely as a residence.

The Decline of Castles

Changes in society gradually led to the decline of the castle. With the end of the feudal system, professional soldiers based in forts increasingly fought warfare. Castles became less important and nobles looked for more comfortable homes. Some castles were turned into luxurious palaces, but this was expensive, and it was often cheaper to build a new home. Others fell into disrepair, and their stones were used to construct new buildings.

The earliest castles of the Medieval Era look nothing like the classic image of a stone, turreted castle we usually picture. Built of rough hewn timbers, with thatch for a roof, castles were first instigated in the 9th century to help protect Europe from Viking invaders, and looked more like a fortified house than a castle. The defining feature of the castle was the strong wooden fence surrounding it. Later on, the castle developed into a "motte-and-bailey" style. Usually two stories, and made of wood, the castle itself was perched at the top of a huge mound of earth (motte) and surrounded by a wooden palisade. The motte was piled as steep as possible to prevent assailants from reaching the top, and would sometimes be flanked with smooth wooden boards to make it even more difficult to climb. At the foot of the motte was a courtyard (bailey), also protected by a palisade, and connected to the castle by a walled passageway. A moat surrounded the whole ensemble and the only entrance to the castle/castle-grounds was over the retractable drawbridge. Stone castles were first introduced in the 10th century, and slowly but surely replaced their wooden predecessors. Builders still used the motte-and-bailey style, simply replacing the wooden structures with stone, and adding large hollow towers for defense. This improvement on the motte-and-bailey style came to be known as the " shell castle" .

In the early 12th century, a new way of building castles was developed. The castle consisted of a massive, box-shaped building with a large defense tower at each corner. Surrounding the castle was a huge enclosed courtyard with stables, a blacksmith, garden, fish pond and virtually anything else the castle would need to support itself in the event of an attack. At the top of the square keep castle were battlements, cut-out portions in the wall, through which soldiers could fire. The walls of the keep often sloped outward and were supported with butresses. This sloping design not only re- inforced the walls, but were a defense tactic as well. A stone dropped from the top of the wall would hit the angled side and shoot out toward the invaders. Arrow loops, and a single, highly fortified entrance on the second floor completed the castle' s defense system. With the beginning of the crusades in the 13th century, and the development of the powerful crossbow, castles needed to be even stronger than before, so another style was created. This form, known as the concentric castle, consisted of two layers of walls surrounding a large castle keep. The keep and curtain walls were both fortified with great circular towers, and the inner wall was built twice as high as the first to allow two legions of men to fire upon the enemy. Sloping walls called angled taluses were built against the towering inner walls to help support them. The concentric castle was built for defense. All essentials (well, garden, storerooms, barracks, living quarters, great hall, treasury, kitchen, stables, blacksmithy, cellar, etc.) were located safely within the innermost castle curtain wall in a large courtyard known as the "inner ward" or within the castle itself. The " outer ward" (located between the inner and outer curtain walls), housed any lesser structures, such as dog kennels, mews for hawks, a dove cote, fish pond, orchard, or extra servant's quarters. Each wall was topped with crenellations, which was the name given to the regular interspersing of stone squares jutting up several feet with smaller dips between them. The high portions (or merlons) each had an arrow loop cut through the middle of them so that a man could shoot at the enemy while remaining safely behind the protective stone wall. The low spots were called embrasures, and were places from which rocks, mud, wood, hot oil, flaming torches, and other " bombs" could be dropped upon the enemy. The curtain walls themselves were built to withstand a massive attack. Stretching approximately 300 x 300 feet, the outer curtain was usually 6-10 feet thick and 20 feet high, with higher defense towers at each corner and interspersed along each edge. The inner curtain was even stronger, 200 by 200 feet, it stood 30 to 40 feet high and was 10-14 feet thick. Windows in the curtain walls were extremely narrow in the lower area to reduce enemy fire from entering the ward or castle, and only got wider at the uppermost portions of the castle. There were three gatehouses, two smaller ones in the outer curtain and one large one located in the inner curtain. The gatehouses were equipped with two sets of heavy double doors and two wooden portcullises. Directly above them was a sort of room with open areas of flooring called murder holes. These were used to drop stones or fire arrows down on any enemies that might make their way into the gatehouse passage. Each gatehouse was flanked by two large towers for added strength. Sometimes the outer gatehouses had the added benefit of a moat-and-drawbridge system to make things extremely hard for the attackers. Contrary to popular belief, not all moats were water-filled, most were simply large ditches that surrounded the castle. The retractable drawbridge was the only way to reach the gatehouse, which was usually located on the second floor, far above the ditch-bottom.

The 15th and 16th centuries were the era of the faerie-tale castles. Lords began to display their artistic tastes in the palaces they constructed. Walls were slimmed down, and often whitewashed. The roofs began to acheive a elegant, peaked look, and the whole castle was covered with spiring towers, giving it a grand, aerial feel.

German Castles


Castles, A-L State Castles, L-Z State
Abenberg Bavaria (Bayern) Leuchtenburg Thuringia
Achberg Bavaria (Bayern) Lichtenberg (O) Baden-Wurttemberg
Altenburg Bavaria (Bayern) Lichtenberg (T) Rhineland-Palatinate
Are Rhineland-Palatinate Lichtenstein Baden-Wurttemberg
Arras Rhineland-Palatinate Lichtenstein (2) Bavaria (Bayern)
Auerbacher Hesse - -
Battenburg Rhineland-Palatinate - -
Bederkesa Lower Saxony Liebenstein Rhineland-Palatinate
Beilstein Rhineland-Palatinate Lisberg Bavaria (Bayern)
Bentheim Lower Saxony Lutetsburg Lower Saxony
Berum Lower Saxony Marienberg Bavaria (Bayern)
Beverungen N.Rhine-Westphalia Marksburg Rhineland-Palatinate
Breitenlohe Bavaria (Bayern) Maus Rhineland-Palatinate
Bruch Rhineland-Palatinate Metternich Rhineland-Palatinate
Budingen Hesse Meyenburg Mecklinburg
Burghausen Bavaria (Bayern) Minniburg Baden-Wurttemberg
Burgk Thuringia    
Burgthann Bavaria (Bayern) Muhlburg Thuringia
Coburg Bavaria (Bayern) Nassau Rhineland-Palatinate
Cochem Rhineland-Palatinate Neideck Bavaria (Bayern)
Colmberg Bavaria (Bayern) Neuenburg Saxony-Anhalt
Desenberg N.Rhine-Westphalia Neuleiningen Rhineland-Palatinate
Dhaun Rhineland-Palatinate Neuravensburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Donaustauf Bavaria (Bayern) Oberhaus Bavaria (Bayern)
Eckartsberga Thuringia Osterburg Thuringia
Eglofstein Bavaria (Bayern) Pappenheim Bavaria (Bayern)
Ehrenburg Thuringia Parsberg Bavaria (Bayern)
Ehrenburg Rhineland-Palatinate Pfalz Rhineland-Palatinate
Eisenhardt Brandenburg Plassenburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Elmstein Rhineland-Palatinate Prunn Bavaria (Bayern)
Eltz Rhineland-Palatinate Pyrmont Rhineland-Palatinate
Falkenberg Bavaria (Bayern) Rabenstein Bavaria (Bayern)
Falkenfels Bavaria (Bayern) Rabenstein (R) Brandenburg (?)
Felsburg Bavaria (Bayern) Randeck Bavaria (Bayern)
Feuerstein Bavaria (Bayern) Ranis Thuringia
Frankenstein Hesse Rheinfels Rhineland-Palatinate
Freienfels Bavaria (Bayern) Rochsburg Thuringia
Freyenstein Mecklinburg Rosenburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Furstenstein Hesse Rudelsburg Thuringia
    Rothenburg Bavaria
Giechburg Bavaria (Bayern) Runkel Hesse
Gleichen Thuringia Saaleck Thuringia
Gossweinstein Bavaria (Bayern) Sababurg Hesse
Grunsberg Bavaria (Bayern) Saulburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Gutenfels Rhineland-Palatinate Schlitz Mecklinburg
Haag Bavaria (Bayern) Schonburg (O) Rhineland-Palatinate
Hardenburg Rhineland-Palatinate Schonburg (S) Thuringia
Heinrichsturm Bavaria (Bayern) Sooneck Rhineland-Palatinate
Heldburg Thuringia Starkenburg Hesse
Henneburg Bavaria (Bayern) Sterrenburg Rhineland-Palatinate
Hilpolstein Bavaria (Bayern) Stollburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Hinte Lower Saxony Stolzenfels Rhineland-Palatinate
Hohen Neuffen Baden-Wurttemberg Stuer Mecklinburg
Hohen Rechberg Baden-Wurttemberg Thurant Rhineland-Palatinate
Hohen Staufen Baden-Wurttemberg Trausnitz Bavaria (Bayern)
Hohen Zollern Baden-Wurttemberg Trendelburg Hesse
Hoheneck Bavaria (Bayern) Trimburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Hohenfels Bavaria (Bayern) Tuchersfeld Bavaria (Bayern)
Hohenstein Bavaria (Bayern) Velburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Hornberg Baden-Wurttemberg Veldenstein Bavaria (Bayern)
Idstein Hesse Vishering N.Rhine-Westphalia
Kaiserburg Bavaria (Bayern) Wachsenburg Thuringia
Kaiserburg (Lauf) Bavaria (Bayern) Waischenfeld Bavaria (Bayern)
Karlstein Bavaria (Bayern) Wartburg Thuringia
Katz Rhineland-Palatinate Weibertreu Baden-Wurttemberg
Kemnitz Brandenburg Weissenburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Kipfenberg Bavaria (Bayern) Wertheim Baden-Wurttemberg
Kriebstein Thuringia Wildenburg Rhineland-Palatinate
Kronburg Bavaria (Bayern) Willibaldburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Kups Bavaria (Bayern) Wolfstein Bavaria (Bayern)
Kussaburg Baden-Wurttemberg Wulzburg Bavaria (Bayern)
Kyrnburg Rhineland-Palatinate Zwernitz Bavaria (Bayern)
Landsberg Thuringia - -
Lauenstein Bavaria (Bayern) - -
Leienfels Bavaria (Bayern) - -
Lengenfeld Bavaria (Bayern) - -
Leonrod Bavaria (Bayern) - -