I am fairly certain that most everyone will, when hearing the word ‘castle’, recall a mental picture of something from a Disney movie. People imagine large stone structure with tall tower and high walls, maybe a mote and a drawbridge that sits on a hill overlooking a pretty little town and farms. When the sun shines the castle sparkles and gleams in the light. The floors are made of marble which reflects the beautiful painted ceilings and the windows are filled with stained glass.

Well, considering that Mr. Disney used Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria as his model (shown above), a castle designed by The “fairytale king” King Ludwig II it is little wonder such glamour is what people first think of when they think of living in a castle. But this was a castle built late in castle building history and was not a castle like what would be found in the early renaissance period in Great Britain.

Castle building began, in England, around 1060. When William of Normandy aka William the Conqueror aka William the Bastard Came to England with the intent of taking over, and he did. He did mostly due to his military tactics one of which was building fortified structures in strategic places.

castle2The first castle were little more than earthen mounds strengthen with timbers. Everyone and thing lived inside. The floors where mud and straw the openings had either no coverings or animal skins were used. If you can imagine, the tradition of carrying a “bride” over the threshold, came about because as more and more straw, or thresh, was placed on the floor to soak up both human and animal waste the entrance way became blocked with a high mound which was hard to climb in skirts. Yeah I know gross.

Thankfully, as time passed these structures became more and more developed. Stone was used to fortify outer walls then inner walls. castle3Single towers or buildings were expanded and then connected with “allures” the walkway between “battlements” which were the walls around the buildings. Arches and Arcades or columns were added both as structure enforcements and design enhancers. Bow windows and finial added grace and beauty as well as finished looks. Baileys and courtyards were gardened for the purpose of providing food but also as a way to make the living comfortable. castle4The common central fire pits were changed into the fireplaces we recognize now. Tapestries and furnishings became more elaborate and useful stone and wood were used more effectively and the import of materials gave builders more flexibility in design and appeal.

The castles of 1490 were well on the way to being some of the more elaborate. Castle Rising (below left) built in the 12 century being an perfect example of what a “keep” could look like and Bamburgh Castle (right) built in the 13th century is a fine statement for the security potential with its twin-tower gatehouse.castle8


I must confess that when thinking over what type of home to make for our brooding hero in “The Debt” I focused on Warkworth Castle (below) for inspiration. I simply liked the “look” and the size was ideal. castle9

castle7But castles still were not the best places to live. They were, due to the structural faults of building with stone in a very wet environment, damp and drafty. These problems were dealt with through the use of fur rugs and wall hangings as well as tapestries which hung and even a type of “paper” window shade which would be tacked into place to shut off the opening during the coldest parts of the year. Passages could be very narrow and steep which while good for defense, it hard to swing a sword in such confines, could be deadly if one tripped and fell. Lighting was a moot point as people were more “sun centric”, as in they woke and moved and worked while the sun was up and slept when it was dark. Torches and candles as well as fires in a hearth required the use of resources which might not have been available for practical nighttime lights. Such things as bathrooms do not exist in castles for many, many more centuries, although the builders of some added small chambers which sat partially open over a water flow and over the opening a wood box would be placed for those moments.


Castles were not just one building and walls. Most were complexes with stables, barracks, food storages, and even private churches. Other areas could include a designated place to relieve ones’ self sometimes referred to as “the jakes”. The baileys, which were the practical yards, were used for training and storage as well as a buffer between the walls and the main or great hall. The kitchens, cleverly enough, were very rarely attached to the house or any other building seeing as how they were the most likely to burn and why take down the entire castle if only the kitchen could be sacrificed. There were laundry areas and even “medical” areas. Sometimes a small graveyard for people existed and always an area for the disposal of rubbish and animal remains such as bones.


Castles are now the very romantic and beautiful structures we dream about. But in 1490 they were a practical home for many people responsible for the protection and defense of both people and property. I hope you take the time to view, if only virtually, a castle or two and marvel and the great architectural feats they were and still are today.

As always READ ON !