CASTLE


CASTLE
   Because of the increasingly complex political environment of Romanesque Europe in the 1000s and 1100s, fortified castles, which still dot the countryside across Europe, came to share political authority with the powerful monasteries of the Middle Ages. Similar to the urban development around a monastery, a town often grew around the castle; thus castles were found not only in the countryside, but in either the downtown or periphery of a late medieval or Renaissance urban community. While some castles are small, abandoned, crumbling structures, others have either been rebuilt or remain well preserved. The origin of the term "castle" is unknown, but it refers to many types of fortified structures, and therefore castles are not unique to Europe, although the European castle-type became the best-known example.
   The earliest stone fortifications were constructed by Germanic tribes soon after the fall of Rome, and these tribes oversaw castle construction through the Carolingian era of the ninth century. The end of the Carolingian Empire and the subsequent Viking expansion across Europe resulted in a castle-building boom through the next several centuries. This period coincided with the emerging feudal society, in which the landed gentry increasingly used the castle as a potent symbol of its authority. By the time William the Conqueror from Normandy invaded England in 1066, the Norman-style castle was the most popular among the landed gentry. Unlike Ancient Roman forts, medieval castles never followed a standardized plan but rather were built on hilltops, near rivers, or even in marshland, and their structure adapted to this varied geography. In general, however, they followed the fortified residential tower plan or the moat-and-bailey defensive garrison design. Castles continued to be constructed through the Mid-dle Ages, becoming obsolete only in the early 1600s when more effective gunpowder and artillery could easily breach the thick stone walls.
   While earlier castles were not often built for the comfort of the ruling family, who might not even live there year-round, the Romanesque castle came to be seen as the seat of aristocratic life as well as the site of great battles. Castles grew out of Frankish military structures adapted for use by the Normans, who first built castles from wood, and only later began to construct larger compounds from ashlar, or cut stone. Initially, castles were of the quickly built mound-and-bailey type, which featured a round ditch dug out to create a moat. The loose earth was piled into the center and used to create a wall, which was in turn surrounded by a wooden wall called a palisade, adjacent to the outer courtyard, called the bailey, where the garrison and livestock were located. Stone castles became popular during the Crusades, when Christian soldiers were able to see first-hand some of the massive stone Byzantine castles of Eastern Europe.
   Later, stone castles were constructed as permanent homes for feudal lords. These castles were constructed around a central hall with a hearth. The hall served as the main gathering room for the landlord, his family, and his staff. The earliest hall plan was modeled on the church interior, with a broad center separating the side aisles by a row of stone or wooden pillars that helped to support the timber roof. The hall was often on the ground floor, but in larger castles the hall was built on an upper floor with an external entry stairway. Windows were initially small, shuttered, and secured with iron bars, and only later in the 14th century was glass used in them. The earliest castles had bedrooms for the landlord's family at the upper end of the hall, while the simplest castles did not have room divisions but curtains to separate the sleeping areas. During the Saxon era, the guards might sleep next to the great hall hearth during the winter and in the towers or basements in the summer, but with the invention of the fireplace, heating was decentralized so that the landlord's bedrooms were located in separate wings and full garrisons were built for the guards. The larger castles maintained separate kitchens and mess halls for the military. They also had a small chapel for the family and an interior courtyard. The inner stronghold, or keep, of the castle was also often called the donjon. The entire complex was surrounded by a stone curtain wall that was punctuated by bastions, or smaller towers that were located either in the side walls or at the corners of the complex, and might also have turrets protruding outward for additional lookout windows. The outer wall might feature an elaborately gated entrance set forward from the external wall, called a barbican, and also a drawbridge over a moat. The only windows on these fortified walls would be arrow loop windows — that is, thin slits cut into the stone walls to allow arrows to be shot out from the castle. In addition, the outer wall was often topped by crenellations, square stone sections of the roofline that projected upward in a dentile pattern. A wall walk, also called an allure, provided an upperlevel passage between the parapet, which is the inner part of the outer wall, and the battlement, which is the external-facing outer wall. Over the years, all types of castles have stirred the imagination of many people, who romanticize this era for its chivalric codes and ideas on courtly love. Examples of castles can still be found across most of Europe today.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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  • Castle — Cas tle, n. [AS. castel, fr. L. castellum, dim. of castrum a fortified place, castle.] 1. A fortified residence, especially that of a prince or nobleman; a fortress. [1913 Webster] The house of every one is to him castle and fortress, as well for …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • castle — [kas′əl, käs′əl] n. [ME < OE & Anglo Fr castel < L castellum, dim. of castrum, fort] 1. a large building or group of buildings fortified with thick walls, battlements, and often a moat; castles were the strongholds of noblemen in the Middle …   English World dictionary

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  • castle — (n.) late O.E. castel, from O.N.Fr. castel (O.Fr. chastel, 12c.; Mod.Fr. cháteau), from L. castellum fortified village, dim. of castrum fort; cognate with O.Ir. cather, Welsh caer town (and perhaps related to castrare cut off ). This word had… …   Etymology dictionary

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  • Castle [2] — Castle, Edmund, s. Castell …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon