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Castle Glossary

Castles come with a unique language of their own. It's part military jargon and part architectural and has words taken from a number of languages.

Arrow-loop or slit
a hole in wall, most often tall and narrow, through which arrows could be fired.
a courtyard, often containing domestic buildings, within the curtain walls of a castle.
an overhanging, wall-mounted turret that projects out from the wall, often at a corner. It allowed the person inside a better view while offering a measure of protection from missiles.
a tower or turret projecting out from a wall to allow defenders to fire at attackers approaching the walls.
a high wall used for defense.
also known as a barmkin, a courtyard surrounded by outer defensive walls.
a pillar built against a wall to stregthen it.
a fortification structure that projects into or across a ditch allowing fire along the bottom of the ditch. These are normally built low and with strong curved roofs to deflect incoming fire.
Casemate or casement
a vaulted chamber usually contructed under a rampart used for sheltering troops or stores. Modern usage tends to mean a fortified gun emplacement or armored structure from which guns are fired.
a pit or covered cistern used to collect sewage and refuse.
a pattern of regular, most often rectangular, spaces (crenelles) alternating with solid wall (merlons) along the top of a wall.
Curtain wall
the walls of a castle. Often arranged between a gatehouse and tower or between towers and hence appearing to 'hang' between them like curtains.
the keep or central fortress of a castle.
originally a corruption of the word donjon; nowadays it refers to an underground prison or vault underneath a castle.
a French term for the inner ring of fortifications around a concentric castle or town. In 20th Century fortification it was often used to refer to the innermost continuous line of defences.
a medieval toilet. Often a simple hole which discharges waste to the outside either to a cesspit or the castle's moat, depending on the design of the building.
rooms over a castle entrance.
Great tower
the main tower of a castle.
Gun-port or gun-loop
a hole in a wall through which guns could be fired.
the main tower of a castle.
Killing field
an area outside a castle that has been cleared to allow defenders to easily pick off attackers with ranged weapons. It can also refer to areas within a castle designed to bunch attackers together so that if they breach the outer defences they are vulnerable to attack from murder holes or arrow-loops.
a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a monarch for service to the monarch or country, especially in a military capacity. In medieval times they were regarded as a form of lower nobility.
Knight Bachelor
the most basic rank of knight in the British honours system. A man who has been knighted by the monarch, but not as a member of one of the recognised Orders of Chivalry. This is also the oldest class of knight.
Knight Banneret
sometimes known as a banneret, a knight banneret led a company of troops under his own square-shaped banner. By custom this rank could only be conferred by the sovereign on the field of battle. His rank was higher than a knight bachelor, but lower than that of an earl or duke.
an overhanging part of the wall with holes in the floor to let defenders drop missiles or liquids onto attackers underneath.
a defensive ditch, often filled with water, around a castle.
a hill or mound on which a castle is built, can be man-made or natural.
Murder Hole or Meurtriere
an opening in the floor of a gatehouse or above a passageway which allowed defenders to drop missiles or liquids onto attackers below (see machicolation above).
a defensive fence or wall, typically made from wooden stakes or tree trunks.
a stone wall on top of a tower or defensive wall which shelters defenders.
a defensive mound of earth or a wall with a broad top and parapet.
a sloping wall designed to support the interior wall of a parapet. The slope was used on the outside to help deflect incoming fire.
the deliberate destruction or dismantling of key defensive features of a castle to render it useless.
a siege method where attackers dig a tunnel under the walls and light a fire. The sudden collapse of the ground beneath would weaken or bring down part of the wall.
iron gates used to protect a castle entrance.

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