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Friday, August 7, 2009

Constructing a Medieval Castle

Kent Dover Castle--late 11th Century--England

Building a medieval castle was quite a feat. Requiring literally armies of craftsmen, from stone cutters to woodsmen, the project would take many years.
Materials Used in Medieval Castle Construction

In the beginning, castles were constructed out of wood, stone and mortar. The earlier the castle, the more wood was employed. Early castles were built in the motte-and-bailey style. The builders would mound up dirt to create a flat-topped hill. This was edged on the top by a wooden fence called a bailey, and the castle and other outbuildings were housed inside.

Later castles replaced the wooden bailey with a stone wall, and many of the outer buildings were incorporated into the structure of the castle. Wood was used for framing, scaffolding, ceilings and floors, and stone became the material of choice for everything else. Local stone was used for the most part, with decorative pieces being shipped in for special uses. Metals like lead (used for roofing), tin and iron were needed as well.

The construction process for a castle involved a bevy of workers. Some were paid, and some were conscripted to work on the castle.

A variety of laborers and craftsmen were needed, including woodcutters, quarrymen, master masons, ditch diggers, miners, smiths, carpenters and carters.

Major construction was directly dependent on good weather, and most work was only done during the months between April and November. Castles managed to "grow" only by 8 to 10 feet of height per year.

The outer walls of the castle were first made of large timbers, but they rotted quickly and were susceptible to fire. Stone replaced wood as the material of choice for curtain walls, as they were called.

If possible, workers quarried down to the bedrock, and then leveled it off before setting the base row of stones for the wall. If they could not get to the bedrock, they dug large trenches, placed the stones and filled around them with rubble, which was then compressed.
Walls surrounding medieval castles ranged from 30 to 44 feet high and anywhere from 7 to 20 feet thick.

Windows were not built into the lower floors of medieval castles, as they were difficult to defend. Upper levels had window openings with seats built in. At first, they were open, covered only by heavy curtains. As time passed, they built larger windows that were closed with wooden shutters or heavy oiled parchment.

Glass was not used for a long time, and when it finally came into use in the later years of the medieval period, it was so expensive that the window glass was removed when the lord of the castle was not in residence.

Building a medieval castle was no easy feat. It took money, time and the effort of a very large crew of skilled and unskilled workers. It is amazing that so many castles were built in the medieval period when you take all of this into consideration. Those that remain are testaments to the skill and imagination of those who have gone before, and leave us with bit of romantic nostalgia for a time that has long disappeared. Lawmen and Outlaws Anthology now available a bookstores and


Kaye Manro said...

Hello Hussies! So glad I found you. I love this site-- good info here. Your medieval castle construction is great! I saw you at the Trellis, Jen. Stop by my blog too sometime. Medieval is one of my loves...

Emma Lai said...

I love castles. I badgered my host into taking me to a castle when I was in Austria. We saw the castle in Salzburg and Faulkenstein...which was more ruins than anything because it was quarried for its stones in the 1700s, but it was originally built in the 1100s...or 1300s...not quite sure which...either way it lasted centuries!

Mary Ricksen said...

I could use a curtain wall around my house these days. Probably cost prohibitive though huh? (grin)
Thanks for the information, I enjoyed learning about the castles and how they were built!

Anonymous said...

Hi Loretta,
Great post. I love castles. When I was a kid my family stayed in a medieval castle in France that had been converted into a hotel. Great experience though the smell on the footpath on the walls was something else. It really was really amazign though I was disappointed not to see any ghosts running around.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks to all of you for dropping by and leaving comments. When I was in Germany, on a teacher exchange program, I got to go inside of several old castles. They were dark, dank and probably frigid in the winter. Kim, I didn't get to see any ghost either.

Jon said...

Castles are amazing! Thanks for the info about how they are built. Great stuff for my research.

Jon @