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Castle Terms

the central column or post of a spiral staircase

Norman Keep
Norman Motte & Bailey Castle

Norman Castle: the Normans, or Northmen, were Vikings who occupied the northwestern part of what is now France (Normandy) by the first half of the tenth century; there they either developed or learned from others how to build motte-and-bailey castles, as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry; a few Normans probably moved to England before 1066 and brought the technology with them; the main Norman invasion of 1066, however, was the real beginning of Norman Castle construction in England; over the next thirty years, motte-and-bailey castles popped up all over England, Wales and, later, Ireland and Scotland; from early on, the Normans also built massive, square keeps such as at Dover and the Tower of London; these latter, square keeps with, usually, a square tower at each corner are often what is meant by the term Norman Castles, as opposed to the motte-and-bailey castles, which are usually referred to by that name

Norman Keep: the massive, square building, usually with four square corner towers characteristic of Norman Castles

Oillet: an “eye hole”; a small, round opening in a castle wall usually as part of a loop or slit; some were decorative, some were for gun loops

Oratory: a small chapel or prayer room in a castle, often within the keep and often in a tower near the family living quarters

Oriel: a bay window; originally the term referred to a look-out window; but in later castles (13-14th centuries) oriels served a non-military function of bringing more light into a room or providing a pleasant, lighted seating area

Oubliette: a prison where a prisoner was lowered through a trap door by a rope into a dark, windowless pit – often the basement of the keep (see also basement)

Outer Bailey: also called the lower bailey; the enclosed fortified area below a motte; in later castles this was the outer part of concentric castles

Outwork: any fortification extending out from the main part of the castle

Ovens: ovens were usually located in Kitchens, buildings separate from the hall; some, however, were located in the basements of keeps or other buildings

Palace: the term originally referred to any house with a hall; the term later referred to houses with Great Halls and, later still, only to prestigious houses; as compared to a castle, a palace is usually a building with larger, more spacious glass-covered windows

Palisade: a wooden wall or fence made of heavy timbers standing vertically

Parados: a rear wall of a wall-walk or allure; apparently built in castles where there may be a threat from inside the bailey; most wall-walks, however, did not have a parados so watch your step!; most allures now have metal grates where the parados would be

Parapet: a battlement protecting a bastion, rampart or roof walk

Park: the area between the outer walls of a castle, especially between the Curtain Walls and Mantlet Walls

Pele Tower: a strong tower built on the Scottish border, larger and stronger than tower hoses but not as strong as a keep

Penthouse: the term means a sloping roof; the upper rooms of a keep; the term is also applied to a covered walkway between the buildings within a bailey or courtyard

Piscina: a sacred sink for washing when entering a church

Plinth: (see also Batter, Talus); the sloped foundation of a castle; projecting course of stones at the base of a wall

Pomerium: the space between the town walls and the nearest houses; the term originally referred to the sacred boundary of the city of Rome


Portcullis: a grate of metal or metal and wood, which can be lowered to protect a gate; it was dropped through a chase above the gate and slots in the sides of the gate; it was raised by a windless in a room above the gate in the gatehouse

Postern Gate: a back, often secret gate of a castle; most postern gates were very small; the postern gate at Dover, however, is huge

Postern Gate
Rampart and Rampart Walk
Roman Fort

Prison: (see also Dungeon, which usually refers to a prison, because prisoners were often held in the keep of a castle, often in the basement, which was normally just a storage room with access only through a trap door in the floor above); prisons could range from a basement, with no light or ventilation, to an entire tower or even an entire castle; many castles were later used as prisons
Privy: a latrine (see also Garderobe and Latrine); also a term meaning private

Put-log Holes: holes in the side of a castle where wooden scaffolding
supports or War Footings have been inserted

Rainure: slot in a castle wall over the gate into which the gaff (lifting pole) of a drawbridge fits when the drawbridge is raised

Rampart: in early castles, the rampart consisted of an earthwork ridge with a palisade on top; in later, stone castles, the rampart consisted of the stone wall with battlements and allure on top

Rampart Walk: (see Allure, Wall-walk); the walkway along the battlements of a castle

Revetment: a sloping surface faced with masonry; the surfaces of some ditches and moats were covered with masonry to prevent slipping of the sides and to allow for steeper sides


Ring-work: very old circular earthwork castles with wooden palisades; now the palisades and interior buildings are long gone, but grass-covered circular earthworks remain throughout Europe

Roman Fort: the Romans built well planned, highly organized forts throughout their empire; some of these forts were later used by the Normans and other as the basis of their castles; i.e. Portchester Castle

Roof: the roofs of the keep and other buildings within a castle were usually made of wooden frames covered with slate, lead or thatch; thatch was usually used for cheaper buildings


Rubble: castle walls were usually built by constructing two parallel walls of dressed stones about 6-12 feet apart; the space between those walls was then filled with rubble often composed of flint boulders 4-8 inches in diameter set in concrete; as people visit castles today, it is often the rubble core that they are seeing as the dressed stones have long since been removed for nearby house construction


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