Castles, Part 2

Life Inside in a Stone Castle

Life inside a castle was dark and cold. The stone walls usually had little coverings or windows, and the windows that were there were small. Most castle residents, except the lord and his family, had little furniture. Most of the light was provided by oil lamps.

However, life was not all gloomy in the castle. Sometimes there were feasts, or shows sometimes came to the castle.

Castle residents all ate in a large room called the hall. The lord and his family ate on a raised platform at one end of the hall, while the rest of the people ate at long tables. While the lord ate with silver utensils, the serfs ate on trenchers (slices of stale bread) and their hands. Seasoning was used to disguise the flavor of old food. The main meal was held in the evening.

Animals were very important in a castle. They provided a source of food, and horses were used as transportation for nobles and knights.

Castle Defenses

For courtyard or concentric castles, the main point of the defense was the gatehouse. The gatehouse controlled the main entrance to the castle. The entrance was usually defended by a portcullis, a grated iron gate, and a drawbridge, which was a large wooden door which could span a ditch or moat. Both could be lowered or raised.

Hoardings could also be constructed on a castle. Hoardings were extensions at the top of the wall, giving the archers on the wall more protection. If the hoardings had murder holes, which were holes at the bottom of the hoardings, archers could shoot down on enemy troops standing against the castle wall. Early castles had wooden, temporary hoardings, while later castles had stone hoardings built into the walls.

Sometimes defenders used hot oil or hot sand to pour down on invaders. Some castles also had catapults on top of them to fire down on attackers.

Attacking a Castle

There were usually three options available to armies attacking a castle. If it was a weak castle, they would probably try an assault. They would use ladders to get up on the walls while archers stood behind shields and fired at the walls to provide covering fire.

If the castle was stronger, or an assault failed, the attackers would besiege the castle. They would surround the castle with earthworks, and build a fortified camp. They would either try to starve the defenders out, or build siege weapons such as catapults, battering rams, and trebuchets to attack the castle later. The problems with this strategy were that it took a long time to complete even if it was successful, giving the defenders time to receive outside help, and starvation and disease also killed many troops in the attackers’ own camp.

The last option was to bribe someone to unlock the castle gate. It was difficult to find someone to do that, but it cost less time and casualties if they did.

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