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Some Castle Terminology Explained

Motte and Bailey

An early form of castle, created usually by piling up earth to form a mound, on which a wooden or stone structure was built, and around it a stockade or fences were constructed. The hill is the Motte and the bailey the fence or outer wall, but also often used to refer to the courtyard that is contained within it. So you might have a mound with a fortification on it, and a compound that is fenced, the first line of defence is the outer fence and the more secure place the structure on top of the mound. From a higher position you could fire arrows further and see more.  These were mostly built in the 11th and 12th century, and most often found in Britain, Ireland and France. Moote is the French word for raised mound. The bailey was often directly connected to the ditch surrounding the motte. The bailey was often enclosed inside another wooden palisade and surrounding ditch, so as to add an extra layer of protection. It was connected to the motte by a timber drawbridge, which could be separated from the bailey as a last defence mechanism. There was in many cases another drawbridge at the entrance into the bailey that could similarly be raised for protection. The bailey would typically contain a hall, stables for the horses and cattle, a chapel, and huts for the nobleman's people. There were often shops inside the bailey for local merchants. So in some ways similar to the later idea of a highly defended castle and town walls to protect the town.

Larger castles could have several baileys for example outer bailey, middle bailey, inner bailey, these were sometimes called wards.


A large ditch usually filled with water, but not always,  that is around a Motte and/or bailey. Often they had drawbridges over them that could be lifted.

Curtain wall

A large, usually high wall that surrounds all the castles baileys. Many have walks and battlements on the top. They also often got from tower to tower and the firing positions within the towers also can be used to protect the curtain wall.


Developed from the building on the Motte, and was the place of last refuge that could most strongly be defended, often the home of rooms of the most important person and his family. Usually made of stone with an entrance at, at least the first floor with a drawbridge or other means of isolation.

Concentric castle

Walls within walls, arranged so that you can fire over lower outer walls. This provided a multiple layering of defences and eliminated anyone being able to rush the castle. They developed in Britain mostly after people had been to the crusades and seen similar designs while there.


The most important part of a castle as far as its defence was concerned, the entry being the weakest point. Older ones were little more than a strong arch with heavy iron-bound wooden gates with drawbars and a guard chamber on top or to the side. Later on, flanking towers were added to the gateway, and Portcullises and Drawbridges. Whereas the Keep was a place of last resort, the gatehouse was right up in front where most of the action would be, and became the most elaborate building in the later castles. Some of these are very elaborate with multiple drawbridges, a number of Portcullises, some also constructed so that you have to turn at right angles in them so that those defending can shoot around any shields.  The typical gatehouse is similar to the modern day vehicle entrance to a prison where entry is into a boxed-in room or hall and one door is not opened until the other is shut. In the castle gatehouse this enclosed area is able to be viewed and fired into from the sides and from above. Above the entrance to the gatehouse and often above the entry chamber are murder holes that allow boiling water and other items to be pored on those below. Some gatehouses are very highly defended with numerous portcullises and other defences to stop anyone from entering the working areas. Some gatehouses had Barbicans,  additional defences in front of the gatehouse that  restrict access to the main gate. Often contained drawbridges and parapets from which defenders could shoot down into the roadway.



By: Keith Park Section: Castles Key:
Page Ref: castle_terminology Topic: Castles Last Updated: 03/2009

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