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Definition of A Castle

as compiled for the Castles of Wales by Jerome Morris

Photographs copyright © by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Oxford English Dictionary

Old Northern French: castel variant of chastel (modern château) from Latin: castellun diminutive of castrum - a fortified place

Below: Chepstow Castle in Southeast Wales.
  • A (usually large) fortified building or set of buildings; a stronghold; a mansion that was once such. Also a site of ancient earthworks.
  • A tower mounted on an elephant’s back; a movable tower formerly used in warfare.
  • An elevated structure on the deck of a ship.
  • The Medieval Castle In England And Wales, by N. J. G. Pounds

    Page 27 with reference to a document of 1091

    "… At the same time, the authors of the text found it difficult to define a castle and to distinguish it from a lightly protected homestead. … The difference was expressed in terms of the work involved in creating it. If earth could be thrown onto a bank from the bottom of a ditch sine scabello, then the work did not qualify as a castle. Similarly, when did a fence become a fortification? When projecting towers and a fighting platform were added."

    Page 86

    Below: Dolbadarn Castle in North Wales.

    "In addition to providing a home for the king in the course of his travels the royal castles were extensively used for the accommodation, temporary or otherwise, of his relatives, dependents and friends. Indeed, some of them became virtually grace-and-favour homes."

    Page 96

    "Royal castles which became the centres of shrieval administration must be distinguished from the rest, which served for the protection of the realm or the residence of the king. The former were few in number – only about twenty. They ceased, with a few exceptions, to have any military significance …"


    Pages 105 and 106 with reference to 13th century castles and their declining number

    (italics added)

    "At the head of any scale of castles must be those strongholds both royal … and baronial … which were extensively rebuilt and modernized. Their number was relatively small, and they continued to play a role in political affairs."

    "Secondly, there were new castles built on virgin sites. … They were courtyard castles, subrectangular, with strong corner towers and a well-protected gate. Some had a second and more lightly protected bailey to one side, which commonly resembled a farmyard more than a fortified enclosure..."

    "On a lower plane were defended homes, capable of resisting an armed band for a short while, but quite unable to withstand a siege."

    "Lastly, there were what one might call protected homes. They included moated sites, sometimes entered by way of a flimsy drawbridge. There were hundreds of such sites in lowland England … where the moat could be filled without difficulty. The sites differed from ringworks in the absence of any form of rampart, though the moat may well have been supplemented by a wooden palisade. Within the moat there was, as a general rule, a simple manor house."

    "As we move into the thirteenth century, important castles became more formidable, as masonry walls replaced palisades, and gatehouses became ever more complex in design."

    Page 184

    "No castle ever stood in isolation. It was always part of a community. Indeed, there were two communities: the one within the castle, the other surrounding it and forming its milieu."


    Castles, by Tom McNeill

    Below: Carreg Cennen Castle in South Wales.

    Page 15

    "One of the things that makes castles interesting is that they are all different. Primarily this is because they were built by men of differing ranks, at different times in different regions …"

    Page 68

    "In continental Europe, the castle merged much more easily with the great house – the survival of the word château in French is an example, and castles continued in use in northern England, Scotland and Ireland longer than in southern England. This is connected in part with the widespread building of a particular type of castle, the so-called tower house. Its roots and popularity tell us both about the societies concerned, and about the role of castles in general."

    Page 87

    "Castles were built to maintain lordship, in times of war as well as peace."

    "… the castle was a focus for those loyal to its lord, and offered them protection in the short term. If he was to launch a counterattack against the invading army, the castle stood as a centre for his efforts, and as a base for his campaign."

    Page 119

    "Castles were built to serve a whole variety of purposes, to have a military, political, social and economic role. The emphasis on each of these aspects varied according to the wishes of the lord who built it. He was presented with different options, in military or domestic design, which he had to balance against his resources if he wished to be prudent. The site, the military strength and the domestic accommodation all tell us the sort of life that the lord expected to live in the castle."

    "This is what makes castles so interesting, that they are both so variable and yet are built according to certain clear principles. They provide us with an immediate point of contact with the middle ages …"

    Pages 122 and 124

    "Two pictures dominate the general image of the mediaeval castle. the first is that of war, of knights and sieges, while the second is that of brutality, exemplified by the change of the word ‘donjon’, or great tower, into the modern dungeon. Both have their place … A better image is of the busy workplace, not a factory but a centre of power and political domination of the land and the people around it. … The elaborate accommodation provided for the lord’s household, and the number of the people involved in the life of the castle reflect the way that the royal or aristocratic power in mediaeval Europe differed from that of other civilizations."

    Avove: Beaumaris Castle in North Wales.

    My Definition, by Jerome Morris

    A castle is a large medieval fortress with adequate living accommodations for its owner or Lord. Although early castles were constructed of timber and earth, our main image is of the later castles constructed of masonry and stone. Fortified medieval mansions are sometimes referred to as castles.

    Criteria For Answering The Question, by Jerome Morris

    In answering the question "What is a castle?" the following subjects are relevant.



    Time & Place


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