Castle Terms

Allure or alure: passage; wall walk; the walkway along the battlement of a curtain wall; allure also means the quality of something toward which one is attracted; the term is derived from the French word lure: an enticement or bait; to invite; perhaps the original connection is to invite someone along a passage, or maybe the two words have very different origins and have simply converged through time

Apertures: openings in walls, such as slits, loops, and windows; see arrow slits; gun loops; windows

Arrow Slits, Arrow Loops: slits in walls for shooting arrows out of a castle or tower; the slits were very narrow on the outside but wider inside (splayed) to provide archers with a field of fire out of the slit while providing protection from arrows fired from outside

Ashlar: stone with cut flat surfaces for building castle walls, towers, churches and other buildings

Aumbry: a recess in the thickness of a wall, used for storage cupboards or wardrobes

Bailey: the area enclosed by a castle wall; see also Courtyard and Ward; the term originally referred to a palisaded enclosure

Barbican: an exterior defense or small castle defending a gate or approach to a castle

Bar-hole: holes behind a door for timber or iron rods to bolt a door closed

Barmkin: another term for barbican in north England; often a simple walled area without towers protecting a gate

Barrel vault: an elongated roof of a chamber, in the shape of a barrel, of uniform diameter; usually semicircular in section

Bartizan: a small turret or corbelled look-out along a wall or at a tower angle

Base Court: the bailey or courtyard at the base of a motte or keep

Basement: the lowest level of a keep, usually at ground level but below the entrance, which was approached by wooden stairs; used as a storage area; sometimes also containing the well; 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; if a person was dropped into the basement, without a rope or ladder, it was nearly impossible to climb out (see also Oubliette)

Bastion: an outwork, such as a tower, beyond the main walls of a castle, designed to cover dead ground and provide cross-fire

Batter: (see also Plinth, Talus); the slanted footing of a wall or tower; designed to cause dropped missiles, such as stones, to ricochet horizontally so that the rock hits an attacker in the nose rather than on top of the head; it also provides a wider base for the wall and helps prevent battering and tunneling

Battlement: (see also Crenel, Merlon, Parapet); the upper, crenellated part of a castle wall or tower

Berm: the level area between the base of the wall and the edge of the ditch surrounding a castle

Blacksmith shop: all castles had one or more blacksmith shops either in the lower bailey or nearby for shoeing the large number of horses and for making and repairing armor and weapons

Bower: the room attached to a hall for private domestic life and sleeping; the lord’s family and close associates may sleep in the bower, everyone else got to sleep in the hall

Braie: a low-level defense, often only a short palisade or picket protecting castle approaches or the foot of ramparts

Brattice: Bretasch: a perimeter defensive palisade or stockade

Bressumer: a beam to support a projection from a castle wall such as a hoarding

Bridge: a stone or wooden structure built over a ditch, moat, or river; major bridges over large rivers in a given region were often protected by a castle; most castles were protected by several ditches or moats with one or more bridges over each at entry points into the castle; these bridges were often protected by barbicans or towers; a section of the bridge could usually be rotated or drawn up for defense

Buttery: a service room usually between the kitchen and hall; storage area for cups and bottles; also called the bottlery; presided over by butler or bottler, in charge of butts (casks, barrels, or bottles)

Buttress: a thickening of a wall for support, usually tapering toward the top

Butts: a shooting or archery range; a butt was a post onto which a target was painted or attached

Caen Stone: a high quality stone imported from Caen, Normandy; used mainly as strong building material around doors, windows and outer corners of towers; in many castles, the stones around the doors, windows, and corners are tan and lighter in color than other castle stones

Cannon Fort: a fort built of thick sloping walls to support cannons on the allure and to resist cannon fire from outside 

Caphouse: a gabled turret, often at the top of a staircase, such as in a vice (tower)

Castellan: owner or manager of a castle

Castle: a fortified structure capable of defense by a small garrison against a much larger attacking force; castles ranged from a single tower to large, complex structures with many walls and numerous, ditches, moats, bridges and gates

Cavalier Tower: a square wall tower that provided additional living space, by the late 13th century, when domestic buildings began to be built along the inner surface of the curtain wall, such towers were seen as a waste of space and were cut off flush with the inner wall surface

Chamber, Great: (see also Solar); a room entered from the upper end of the great hall, sometimes located above the hall

Chamber Keep: a keep without a great hall; the great hall was built separate from the keep after the late 12th century

Chapel: there were usually one or more chapels in the keep and/or bailey

Chase: a slot or groove above doorways or gates through which the portcullis descended

Chemise: a wall set close to the base of a keep or great tower; more common in 16th century artillery forts

Chimneys: when fireplaces were built against a wall, chimneys were added – usually after the late 13th century; many older castles had fireplaces and chimneys added to some rooms

Cistern: a basin, usually located in a roof, for collecting rain water for use in the castle; this may augment or even replace a well

Concentric Castle: a castle with rings of defensive walls, one inside the other

Corbel: a stone bracket projecting from a wall to hold a gallery, floor, roof, or wall extension such as a machicolation

Counterscarp: a leveled area on the outermost bank of a ditch

Courtyard: (see also Bailey and Ward); the area enclosed by a castle wall

Creasing: the inverted V on a wall marking the pitch of a former gable, now long since gone

Crenel: the lower part of a battlement; the embrasure between two merlons

Crenellate: to fortify; to build a castle

Cross-wall: an interior wall dividing a keep; this allowed timber to reach across the spaces in large keeps

Crow’s nest: a high look-out tower, there is a rare example at Warwick Castle

Crypt: the basement of a church; usually for the preservation of relics – often the bones or other body parts of old, long-dead saints

Curtain Wall: a stretch of wall between two towers; usually these were the main high walls of a castle (see also Mantlet Wall)

Dais: an elevated platform usually located at one end of a hall, usually at the end opposite of the main door; the head table for the lord, lady, and special guests was placed on the dais; it was also used for the thrown when the hall was used for court 

Ditch: many castle walls, towers and keeps were protected by a ditch dug either right at the base or nearby; in a rocky area, the rocks from the ditch were often used to build the castle walls; most ditches did not contain water – or alligators; if a ditch was filled with water, it was called a moat – but there were still no alligators or crocodiles (however see Menagerie and Zoo)

Donjon: (see also Keep); the strongest towered structure in the castle and point of last defense (see also Dungeon)

Doorway: a passage between two rooms or other parts of a castle; doors may be open passages or be closed by simple or elaborate structures, such as a curtain, yett or wooden door

Drawbridge: a bridge with one or more sections that can be pivoted or raised for defense; some drawbridges hinged in the center (Turning Bridge) rather than at one end so that when the outside end was raised the inside end rotated into a pit – a big surprise to an attacker on the bridge!

Drum Tower: a round tower

Dungeon: (see Donjon; see also Keep); this term, derived from Donjon, 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; in later castles, dungeons did have cells and torture rooms

Earthworks: early castles consisted of ditches with rings of earth and stone thrown up on one or both sides; mottes were large earthwork mounds, as much as 80 feet high, with a ditch around its base; earthworks were usually protected by a wooden palisade along the top, which was often later replaced by a stone wall

Embrasure: (see also Crenel); an opening in a wall, a term also used as equivalent to crenel

Enceinte: the entire castle enclosed by its outermost walls

Finial: a thin, pointed stone set in the top of a gable or merlon; they may have prevented the use of grappling hooks or ladders by invaders and may have served as attachment points for hoardings

Fireplace: fires began to be moved from the center of the room toward one end by late 11th century; the smoke still exited the room only by air vents near the ceiling; eventually, by the end of the 12th century, fireplaces with chimneys were built into many rooms

Flanking: towers were placed so defenders could use covering fire along the wall face

Floors: a ground floor might be earth or stone, others were stone or wood

Flying Parapet: a little crenellated bridge connecting gatehouse towers

Footing: the lowest section of a wall or tower, including the foundation

Forebuilding: an extension of the keep through which one must pass to enter the main building; the forebuilding may even contain gates and drawbridges

Fortified Town: a town with outer walls, towers and gates

Fortified Tower: a tower with windows for shooting arrows or guns; often crenellated on top

Gallery: a roofed promenade or balcony; many castles had long, open hallways within the walls of keeps and in other castle walls, some of these faced into courtyards but those in keeps usually faced into the great hall or other rooms; the keep at Dover castle has a good example 

Garderobe: (see also Wardrobe); a small room for storing clothing, jewelry, and money; many of these small rooms were also used as a privy or latrine, and the term now largely applies to this latter use; there was an advantage of hanging clothes in a privy because the ammonia produced as urine breaks down drives out lice and other vermin; garderobes for privies were often located in the walls of a Vice (stairway tower) or other stairways; such garderobes can be recognized by a small, roofed structure protruding from the outside of the tower; these little rooms are open below allowing excrement to fall from the garderobe to the base of the tower; from there, it was often gathered and used as fertilizer in the fields; in some cases, pigpens were built below a garderobe so that the partly digested human food in the excrement could be further digested by the swine, which were, in turn, eaten by the humans – yum

Gargoyles: water spouts in the shape of animals, such as dragons, or grotesque humans; gargoyles were situated high on the sides of buildings, especially church buildings; water from the roof entered the back of the animal and usually exited the mouth or, sometimes, another body opening, hanging way out over the side of the building

Garrison: the compliment of soldiers defending a castle

Gate: an entrance to a town, castle or inner bailey of a castle; gates were as small as postern gates, the size of a small door, or as massive as the great gatehouses of the late Edwardian castles (late 13th century), in which this massive structure replaced the castle keep; gates often had drawbridges, portcullises, and heavy, metal-studded wooden doors; many main castle gates were of two parts: a small drawbridge and door for pedestrian traffic, next to a large drawbridge, portcullis, and doors for wagons, horses and knights; most gates also consisted of outer and inner portcullises and doors with a hallway between – with murder holes in the ceiling and arrow slits in the walls; if invaders were able to break through the outer door they entered a murderous hallway of rocks and arrows

Gatehouse: a structure protecting a castle gate; the gatehouse may consist of one or, usually two, towers with guardrooms and other rooms inside and/or above the gate; these rooms often housed soldiers, the porter – keeper of the gate – and/or machinery for lifting the portcullis, drawbridges, etc.; in later, Edwardian castles (late 13th century), massive gatehouses, usually with four towers, replaced the keep as the most formidable part of the castle

Glass Windows: appeared in cathedrals in the early Norman period; it was not possible to manufacture glass in large sheets, so small sheets, often of various colors, were formed into mosaics with lead rods between the small glass sheets; by the 13th century glass windows began to appear in castle chapels of wealthy nobles; these early glass windows were so rare and expensive that they were often taken with the noble family as it moved from castle to castle

Gorge: the narrow connection between a tower, bastion or other outwork and the rest of the castle; an open gorge had no wall or walk within the castle wall; this gap in the wall walk had to be covered by a small bridge, often little more than a plank – watch your step!

Graft: an earthwork, especially a ditch; the word graft also meant to dig or work hard

Great Hall: in early castles, the great hall was the main room of a castle keep; this room often comprised the entire second floor of the keep – the floor reached from the ground by a wooden staircase – the first floor, the basement, only accessible from the second floor; the keep was the room where court was held, meals were taken, entertainment was given, and, later at night, where many people slept; in early great halls, there was a fire pit in the middle of the floor and smoke escaped through openings in the gables; by the late 11th century, fireplaces began to appear at one side or two sides of the great keep but smoke still vented through the gables; by the end of the 12th century, chimneys began to appear over the fireplaces – and people finally started to smell less liked smoked hams or campers who had sat around the campfire all night 

Grills: used in larger windows of halls in later castles

Grotesques: statues of grotesque animals or humans usually placed high on the walls or gables of buildings such as churches; these were similar to gargoyles but did not transmit water 

Guardroom: a room, often in the tower of a gatehouse, where the guards of the gate and/or porter (gate-keeper) were housed and/or equipped

Gun loops, Gun-ports: in later castles the arrow slits were modified with round holes to accommodate the barrel of a musket to be thrust through and fired; larger gun-ports were built into castles to accommodate cannons 

Half-timber: the main type of medieval house; timber frame with wattle-and-daub in the spaces

Hall: the main all-purpose room of a house; the functions were similar to those of the Great Hall depending on the size of the house and manor, or estate

Hall-keep; a keep with a Great Hall; in later years the Great Hall was often a separate building from the keep, in which case the former Great Hall of the keep may have been subdivided into smaller rooms

Hearth: a central hearth, with the fire in the center of the room, was the main form of heating in early castle halls; at night, when it was time to retire, a clay or ceramic cover, called a couvre-feu, was placed over the fire in the hearth to prevent the straw on the floor catching fire at night – the word couvre-feu gave rise to the word curfew; when fireplaces were later built against the wall, the front edge of the fireplace was still called a hearth

Hedgehog: a barrier of pointed stakes often in the ditch around a castle

Herringbone: a zig-zag pattern of flat stones, tile or bricks used in the construction of some walls; in later periods (16th century), herringbone brick patterns were used in some construction to replace the wattle-and-daub in half-timber buildings

 Hoarding, Hourds: a temporary wooden structure built over the battlements of a castle in anticipation of an attack or siege; it was attached to the castle by the Finials and War Footings (see these terms); hoardings had roofs and a walk along the outer side of the battlements; the walks had Murder Holes and the walls had Arrow Slits (see these terms) 

House Keep: a strong, rectangular, fortified tower house built in North England and Scotland in the 14th and 15th centuries

House of Fence: fortified tower houses in Scotland

Inner Bailey: also called the upper bailey; the enclosed fortified area on top of a motte; in later castles this was the inner part of a shell keep or the area around the keep in concentric castles

Jamb: the straight side of a door or window

Joist: heavy wood beam forming the ceiling of one room and the floor support of the room above

Keeled: a tower or other castle structure with the foremost part pointed like the front of a boat

Keep: the strongest, towered structure in the castle and point of last defense; also called the donjon; the first floor, usually located above ground, was not typically accessible from the exterior; the second floor, often containing the Great Hall, was accessed by an exterior wooden staircase; it was made of wood so that if the keep became the defensive position of last resort, the staircase could be burned to prevent attackers access to the tower; the higher floors, the third and fourth, were living spaces and chapels, accessed by staircases within the walls or towers

Kitchen: the place where food was cooked and prepared for serving in the hall; because there was a danger of fire in the kitchen, it was often placed in a separate location in the inner bailey, but often connected to the hall by a covered walkway or penthouse

Latrine: (see Privy, Garderobe); a small room often located in the wall of a Vice (stairway tower) or other stairway; some latrines were small, roofed structures protruding from the outside of the tower; these little rooms are open below allowing excrement to fall from the garderobe to the base of the tower; in some castles, a shoot was cut through the wall to conduct refuse to the base of the wall or tower

Lavabo: a stone basin set in a wall for washing hands before and after meals

Lead: a common roofing material in castles; also used for plumbing pipes

License: to crenellate or build a castle

Linear Castle: a castle built in such a way that the main gate is at one end and the keep is at the opposite end, often backing up above a cliff, with several walls in between 

List: an area immediately in front of a castle’s defenses kept smooth and free of cover

Look-out: a high tower of a castle providing a view of the area around a castle

Loop: a vertical narrow slit through the thickness of a castle wall or tower wall, usually splayed inside to allow light to enter a room or allow arrows to be fired from the inside

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

L-plan: a tower house with a wing at right angles to the main rectangular house, seen most often in Scotland

Machicolation: because hoardings were made of wood, they could be easily burned; in addition they were only temporary and took time to build so that they were not useful for surprise attacks; the solution was to build permanent stone “hoardings”; the solution was the construction of machicolations, which are stoneworks that push the castle battlements out over the edge of the castle wall; they were built into new castles beginning in the 14th century; the machicolations were supported by corbels with gaps in between that were used as murder holes, but watch your step because the murder holes were big enough that someone stepping into the gap could find himself quickly outside the castle at the bottom of the wall – among the enemies!; today, most of the murder holes in machicolated castles are covered with grates – to help keep children in their places 

Manor-House: a manor was the economic basis of medieval life; manors were held by a lord and the work, usually farming, was conducted by tenants; often times the lord would build a house on the manor; to protect the manor-house from animals and people, a ditch or even a moat was built around the house; parts of the house were crenellated, and walls were even built around some parts of the property

Mantlet Wall: a low, outer wall forming an outer defense around part or all of the curtain wall; the walls were set low so that archers along the upper battlements of the curtain walls could shoot over the mantlet wall at attackers beyond; archers along the battlements of the mantlet wall could also fire at the same attackers; Harlech castle, Wales has the best example of a mantlet wall

Masonry: the rocks, tiles, bricks or other materials, along with the mortar, used to build walls of castles, churches or other buildings; also the discipline of constructing such walls

Mason’s Marks: when a mason carved a block of stone for a castle wall, he would carve a specific mark in the stone to indicate who carved it; other marks were also often included to indicate the orientation of the stone in the wall 

Menagerie: (see also Zoo); exotic animals, especially if they had heraldic significance, such as lions, were kept in some castles as a status symbol; the Tower of London had a menagerie for over 600 years; did anybody keep alligators or, more likely, crocodiles in the moat?

Merlon: the high part of a castle battlement, between two crenels or embrasures; in many castles some of the merlons had arrow slits

Mews: small, but often elaborate buildings in a castle for housing hawks or falcons

Moat: a ditch filled with water was called a moat; the water deterred attackers from tunneling or bringing siege towers to the castle walls – there were probably no alligators or crocodiles (however see Menagerie and Zoo)

Motte: a mound built by piling up turf, dirt and stones from a surrounding ditch; the term was derived from the French word for lump or mound; mottes differed in size from only a few feet high to 100 feet high and from 100 to 300 feet in diameter; the sides were very steep, and with a ditch at the bottom and a palisade at the top, a motte could be very difficult to attack

Motte-and-Bailey: a castle with a wooden or stone keep built atop a round earthwork called a motte; the top of the motte was also surrounded by a wall enclosing the upper bailey; at the lower side of the motte was a lower earthwork but much larger in diameter; it was also surrounded by a palisade or wall to form the lower bailey; the upper bailey and keep were usually only approached by a drawbridge and stairway from the lower bailey; the lower bailey was also surrounded by a ditch and was entered across a drawbridge and gate; the motte-and-bailey style of castle was developed in Normandy before 1066 and were introduced into England by the Normans, especially after the battle of Hastings 

Mound: an alternate name for the motte

Multangular tower: a tower having more than four corners

Mural: a term referring to a wall; the term as now often used refers to a wall painting

Mural Chamber: a room, usually quite small, set within the width of a castle wall

Mural Passage: a hallway or passage within the wall of a castle

Mural Tower: a tower attached to the wall of a castle

Murder Holes: holes in the ceilings of Gatehouses, floors of Hoardings, under the battlements of  Machicolations, or in other places, where rocks, hot oil or lead, boiling water, or other materials may dropped onto attackers, or through which arrows or other projectiles may be shot at the attackers 

Newel: the central column or post of a spiral staircase

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

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)

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

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

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  

Sally Port: a hidden, often postern door through which some of the garrison may rush out, or sortie, to attack an enemy threatening the castle

Scarp: the steep, inner portion of a ditch facing away from a castle; also a steep earthen bank at the base of a wall or tower facing away from a castle; scarps were steep banks that made it more difficult for attackers to reach the base of castle walls and towers

Screen: a more or less temporary wooden wall usually within the hall to block the views of doorways, etc from the occupants of the hall; they were often placed in front of the doorways to the Solar, Buttery or Kitchen 

Shell keep: in some motte-and-bailey castles, the palisade and wooden keep at the top of the motte were replaced by a massive stone structure occupying the entire crest of the motte; this stone structure was called a shell keep; some were roofed over but most were only partially roofed over with an open courtyard in the center; a good example it Clifford Tower at York

Shutter: usually hinged wooden flaps that can close off crenels, windows or other apertures in a castle wall 

Sink: kitchens may have massive stone or lead sinks for washing and preparing food 

Slit: (see also loop); a narrow opening or aperture in a wall; arrow loops are sometimes called arrow slits

Solar: a private room, usually for the lord and his family, located behind the dais at the end of the hall; it was separated by a screen and/or wall with and entered from the hall by a door

Spiral Stair: most castle stairs were located in the corners of castle walls or, more commonly, in stair towers, called vices; the stairs usually spiraled up clockwise; this design was an advantage to anyone defending the stairway, backing up, with a sword in the right hand; backing up a clockwise spiral stair, the defender’s right, sword hand was free toward the outer, wider part of the stair; conversely, the right, sword hand of an attacker, coming up the stairs, was forced against the newel and narrowest part of the stairway

Splay: most apertures through a castle wall, such as loops and windows, were wider inside the wall than outside; this widening is called a splay

Spur: a pointed structure extending from the wall or tower of a castle

Spyholes, Peepholes: some walkways within the walls of castles, or solars behind the dais had small shafts that opened into the interior rooms, such as the hall, so that someone in the hallway or solar could spy upon people within the room 

Stables: medieval knights depended upon horses and wealthy knights may have five or more each; war horses were very expensive; they were kept in stables and well cared for; stables were often located in the lower or outer bailey of a castle

Stairs: (see Spiral Stairs); access from one level of a castle to another was usually accomplished by stairs, which were usually spiral

Stores: food and weapons were held in secure parts of the castle such as in the basement of the keep; other secure building within the bailey were used as armories or for food stores

Swing Bridge: (see Turning Bridge)

Talus: (see also Batter, Plinth); a slope; the sloping face of a fortification wall

Tiltyard: a tilt was a battle with lances between two mounted knights; smooth, broad areas in and around the castle, such as the list or park, called tiltyards, were sometimes used for knight’s practice 

Tower: a tower was an elevated part of a castle intended for defense of specific parts of the castle, such as gates; towers were also places for stairways from one level of the castle to another; towers were square, round or some other shape 

Tower-house: a fortified house of several stories, most common in Scotland and Ireland

Town Gate: towns were often surrounded by walls and those walls had gates in several places to enter and exit the town; the gates were controlled by a porter and were closed at night

Town Walls: towns or parts of towns were enclosed by walls for protection from animals and attacking people

Tunnels: the stones for many castles were excavated from tunnels dug beneath the castles; in some cases, the stones were hauled to the surface through vertical shafts; these tunnels were often later used for storage of food, wine or weapons; at Dover Castle the tunnels were used as a hospital and command center during WW II

Turret: a small tower, which often had no footing on the ground but hung out over the edge of other castle structures, such as on the corner of a wall or on another, larger tower

Turning Bridge: a castle bridge that pivots on a central axis so that as the outer part of the bridge was raised the inside end rotated into a pit – a big surprise to an attacker on the bridge! 

Umbrella Vault: the domed roof of a of a vice (stair tower), called the Caphouse, was often supported by stone ribs extending up and out from the central newel, like the ribs of an umbrella

Underground Passages: (see Tunnels); additional underground passages may lead from one building in a bailey to another 

Upper Bailey: also called the inner bailey; the enclosed fortified area on top of a motte; in later castles this was the inner part of a shell keep or the area around the keep in concentric castles

Vice: a tower occupied entirely by a spiral stairway; stair tower

Wainscotting: wood, usually oak, covering the inner walls of a room, especially the hall

Wall: a wall is any vertical surface in the castle; a wall may be made of wood (as in a palisade) or, ultimately, stone and may be a few inches to several feet thick (up to 15-18 feet at the base and usually tapering toward the battlements); wall footings were placed on bedrock where possible; where bedrock could not be reached (as on a motte) large wooden pilings were driven into the ground to stabilize the foundation; stone walls were usually made of dressed stones (with smooth surfaces) on the inner and outer surfaces with a core of rubble made of stone and cement 

Wall Galleries: hallways inside a wall with embrasures (windows or slits) for viewing or firing arrows, etc.; a good example can be seen at Caernarvon

Wall Tower: a tower attached to, extending from or embedded in a castle wall

Ward: (see also Courtyard, Bailey) an enclosed, protected, guarded area

Wardrobe: (see also Garderobe); a small room for storing clothing, jewelry, money and other treasure; the king’s wardrobe was so vast as to require a cabinet position called the clerk of the wardrobe

Water Gate: a gate leading from a castle down the edge of a river, lake or ocean, specifically designed to allow the protected access to the water; water gates also provided access to ships to bring in supplies or reinforcements, or to allow escape from the castle; a great example is at the Tower of London

Well: a critical need for a castle to withstand a siege was a source of water within the castle; in some castles, the water gate satisfied such need; however, most castles were not built on the edge of a body of water, so it was critical to dig a well within the castle to provide a supply of water; in many castles the wells are very deep, and often located within the keep, the most secure part of the castle 

Window: (see also Glass Windows); an embrasure or opening in a wall or tower for letting in air and light; windows of early castles had no glass and were closed only by grills and shutters; as a result there was a trade-off between wanting the window to be large to let in light but not big enough for attacks and for cold, winter air to enter the castle; as a result, the windows of early castles were quite small and those nearer the ground were just slits; in later castles, the windows were covered with glass and, in many castles, small windows were enlarged to let in more light 

Wing Wall: a wall running up the side of a motte connecting the walls of the upper and lower baileys

Yett: a door or gate made of crossed iron bars; these differed from a portcullis in that they were hung on heavy hinges rather than being raised and lowered in slots; a yet may have been incorporated into a wooden door or hung separately

Zoo: also called a menagerie; exotic animals, especially if they had heraldic significance, such as lions, were kept in some castles as a status symbol; the Tower of London had a menagerie for over 600 years; did anybody keep alligators or, more likely, crocodiles in the moat?

Z-plan: a floor plan for some Scottish tower-houses; the plan consists of a central rectangular tower with two round towers set at opposing corners of the rectangle; this design gave each round tower flanking fire along two sides of the rectangular tower house