Castles at War

Dover Castle Keep

     A castle was built with a series of defenses that as one falls the castle’s defenders could retreat to another defensive line.  The keep was the last line of defense. The castle was stocked with supplies and usually had a water source that would allow them to hold out against a siege.  The lines of defense include”

     Moats which was a deep and wide water-filled trench that circled around a castle. The moat prevented the approach of various siege engines, like battering rams, ladders, or catapults that could scale or destroy the walls.  The attacking force could, however, undermine a wall by digging a hole beneath the wall and allowing it to fall by itself or by using explosives.

     Drawbridges were large wooden bridges that crossed over the moat of a castle. During peaceful times, the drawbridge could serve as a road into the castle. During attacks or sieges they could be raised prevent the enemy from entering the castle.  They could also be used for sallies in which the bridge would be lowered, those inside would sneak out and attack, then rush back in and raise the drawbridge.

Seige Weapons

     Portcullises were heavily fortified iron gates that could  be raised up or down to limit access to the castle .  Sometimes two were used at the entrance to the castle (the barbican)  with a tunnel connecting the two.  If the attackers managed to make it through the first portcullis, the second one in the barbican would trap them and arrow or boiling water or oil could be thrown on them through the “murder holes” placed at the top of the barbican.

      Battlements were protected areas along the top of a castle that allowed the defenders to shoot arrows or other weapons at the enemy or repel invaders trying to climb the wall.   If the enemy was to break through the castle wall they would still have to attack the keep, the sturdiest part of a castle.  Defenders could shoot arrows through slits in the wall in relative safety.  Each floor could be defended individually.  If all was lost, some castles contained escape tunnels that would allow some to escape, others had bolt holds where a few could hide.   

     With the advent of cannon, the defense of castles became more difficult.  Eventually, it became too expensive to build and maintain castles that could withstand sieges with cannon.

Tomorrow, Abbeys & Still Rooms  Rita Bay

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