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Characteristic Features Of A Castle

( Originally Published 1915 )



There were certain general features that belonged to all castles, often of great extent and solidity and irregular in plan. The castle was usually surrounded by a deep and broad ditch, or moat, which could be filled with water and which adds so much to its picturesqueness. An outwork called a barbicon, which was a strong and lofty wall, with turrets upon it, designed for the defense of the great gates and drawbridge, was placed before it. Within the ditch, towards the main building, was placed the castle wall, about eight or ten feet thick, and from twenty to thirty feet high, with a parapet and embrasures on the top. At proper intervals above the walls square towers were raised two or three stories in height. These were used for the officers, attendants, and servants. On the top of the wall, and on the flat roofs of the towers, the defenders were placed in the event of a siege, and thence discharged their arrows, darts, and stones upon the assailants. The great gate in the wall was flanked with a tower on each side. The gate was closed with massive doors, and also an iron grate, or portcullis, which was lowered from above.

Whatever we may learn about the way the castles were arranged, the walls and towers are the ever-familiar features which we associate with them. Within the exterior wall, there was a large open space wherein a church, or chapel, was usually placed. Within this was another ditch with wall, gate, and towers; inclosing the inner ballium, or court, in which was erected the large tower the keep or stronghold of a French castle. This was a large fabric, with enormously thick walls, pierced by apertures so small as barely to serve as windows to the gloomy apartments within. This great tower was the dwelling of the owner of the castle, and in it was also lodged the governor,or constable. It was provided with underground dungeons for the confinement of prisoners, so that the keep was sometimes called the dungeon. In the keep was also the great hall, in which the friends and retainers of the owner were feasted. At one end of the great hall was a low platform called the dais, on which the table for persons of higher rank was placed.We cannot say that the castle must necessarily be of any one style of architecture. At Windsor many styles exist, including one of the most beautiful of Gothic chapels. But on account of the dominance of the Norman tower we may roughly call Windsor Norman.

The Norman style arose in England after the Norman conquest, and many churches and other buildings were built in it. The chief features were those of the French Romanesque. The Norman architecture, however, soon developed into English Gothic, and is already Gothic,even when we see many Romanesque features. Let us not forget the table on page 11 11. It tells us that strength is one of the principles of Architecture. Certain buildings express their strength. A fortress, or castle, or any building intended for defense, should do this. A stronghold on a mountain-top appears the very embodiment of power.

Mere mass of wall does more perhaps to express this than any one thing. The Greek temple has almost no visible wall, but most of the Romanesque buildings had strong, thick walls. This made it the most natural and suitable style for a fortress or castle.

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