Find more free maps and educational software      Build a Medieval Castle! Free educational project to make authentic medieval castle. Teaches about feudalism and life in the Middle Ages.

 Build a Medieval Castle

Make your own model medieval castle -- a learning activity that teaches about history, feudalism and life in the Middle Ages.





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Shields, Knights and Heraldry

      Free educational software.  Build your own medieval castle, complete with towers, gatehouse and keep. To understand how an army lay siege to a castle, how a castle was defended, or what it might be like to live in a castle (though this varied by who you were) -- build a model castle.

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Build a Medieval Castle online.

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Build a Medieval Castle Online

Go to Putting Your Castle Together

(Print these instructions out)

     Castles were an important part of cultural, military, and political history in Europe for many centuries.   Although the Vikings began raiding medieval towns and monasteries in the late 8th century, it took a while for the development of elaborate fortifications.  Defenses developed from moats, mounded dirt and wooden palisades to sophisticated stone castles built as a defense against both raiders and foreign armies.   Stone castles remained important until the effective use of gunpowder in the 15th century made them easy to demolish.  (Other cultures, notably Asian, had their own buildings that served the same purposes as castles, but we are only dealing with European castles here.)
     Typically the lord of the castle had a grant of land from the king or other higher lord, which he ruled from his castle. Peasants were bound to the land they worked, unable to go elsewhere.  They owed part of their harvest, and other taxes, to the lord.  From his portion, the lord had to feed himself and his family, his knights that fought for him, and various servants around the castle, and pay for other things that were needed.
     The castle was for both defensive and offensive purposes.  When attacked by outsiders, people from the surrounding area would take shelter in the castle.    A fair number of people could live for weeks within the castle walls, if they had brought adequate provisions in with them. Essential to a castle’s defense during a siege was a good, reliable well, within the castle wall or, better within the keep itself. 
     A castle was designed around the concept of layers, forcing the enemy to have to breach multiple obstacles or give up.  To attack a castle, the enemy had to get past the palisade, if there was one, and across the moat, a deep ditch usually filled with water.  To cross the moat there was a drawbridge, which could be pulled up if an enemy threatened.  A good, wide moat made it more difficult to use siege engines against the stone walls, or to try to undermine the castle walls.  Also, the attackers had great trouble getting their horses close to the castle, so the attackers would be on foot.  All of this time they would be under fire from the fighters in the castle.
     Beyond the drawbridge was a portcullis, a grate made of iron or wood in a vertical slot which could be lowered quickly to stop intruders.  There were doors on the other end of the gatehouse, so that the attackers could be trapped between the doors and the portcullis, and then attacked from above.
In the ceiling with appropriately named murderholes made specifically to allow defenders to bombard attackers with trash, hot tar, burning oil, or arrows.  On staircases to the guard towers—used for better sight of the battle, better vantage points for archers, and dumping tar, mud, and fire on the enemy—were spiral staircases, nearly impossible for a right-handed warrior to fight upward, but easy for a right-handed man to fight downward. 
     Inside the castle wall was the keep, a large, heavily-built building that was the most secure place in the entire castle.  This was where the Great Hall was located, and where the private apartments of the lord and his family were, possibly with a chapel, or a solarium.  If the castle walls were breached, the keep is the place everyone would run to. In many cases, if a castle were attacked by an enemy army, and the castle put under siege, the lord had already sent out messages to allies to help relieve the siege.  In that case, the castle defenders were trying to hold out until help arrived. There was generally a postern gate in the castle wall, at the back or side, probably near the kitchen, for use by tradesmen bring food, etc., to the castle.  It would consist of a low door, wide enough to allow only a single person through and as concealed as possible.  It would be barricaded during an attack, but it also provided a “sally port”—someone inside the castle could (maybe) sneak out to get a message through, or even start a sneak attack on the besiegers.
     Besides being a defensive fortification, the castle provided a base from which the lord and his knights could ride out into the surrounding countryside, to exert control of the area around the castle.  To be able to arrive quickly, with armed knights at your side, at any place in the surrounding area, kept down the possibility of rebellion or outlawry, or attack by an invader.  The lord’s control over his grant of land—either directly or through men he appointed—was essential in keeping order.  It provided some security to peasants and townspeople from bands of outlaws, but it also made sure that any rules or taxes imposed by the lord were enforced.
     The castle was both a fortification and a residence, and the degree to which it was one or the other could change with the political situation.  Castle were fortifications first, being built of stone, and were not comfortable to live in.  The lady of the castle would add tapestries to the walls and have straw and sweet-smelling herbs strewn on the floors, to help make the castle rooms more livable.  As the lord’s wealth increased, he would add features to the castle to make it both more livable and more impressive.
     The wife of the lord often was the one who actually ran the domestic arrangements of the castle, attending to her husband, and supervising  the servants.. A noble lady was also expected to be well-learned in etiquette, embroidery, and sewing. Castles were always cold; they were made entirely out of stone, so no heat circulated or was kept inside.  Fires needed constant tending all over the castle.  Any opening that allowed fresh air or light also let in the cold.  The amount of glass was limited; some castles had stained glass in the chapel, if the lord was rich enough to afford it.
     Children were often cared for by servants until the age of seven, when they were considered small adults.  At that age, they were sent off to serve in another noble’s household.  This both formed alliances and educated the children.  Boys learned politics and falconry while girls learned manners and embroidery. The nobility would seek to arrange advantageous marriages for their children, often when the children were toddlers. Marriages were made to keep the peace, expand territory, and to make sure there would be a next generation of nobles.  Girls were suitable for marriage at thirteen and boys at fifteen, but arrangements were often made years before the weddings.
     Life in a castle was very different for servants, though it might still be more pleasant that working in the fields.  Servants woke up before the lady of the castle, preparing food, setting the large table in the grand hallway. The kitchen of a castle was generally located outside of the keep, but near the great hall.  Good food took a long time to cook and the lord, lady, and knights loved to eat a variety of it. When one meal was done, another was being prepared. The kitchen centered around two fires, one for roasting large livestock or game, and one for a large cauldron for soup and stew.  People were always skinning animals, plucking birds, stirring the cauldron, tending the fire, turning the spit, or moving dishes.  Feasts lasted for hours, constantly requiring more food to be brought into the great hall.  Dishes were not washed in the kitchen, but outside, along with the laundry.
     Peasant life was very different from life in a castle.   Serfs were peasants that were forced to work the land around the castle in exchange from protection from invaders.  They lived in rough huts, probably made out of wattle and daub, worked the land, and were hungry much of the time.  Certain religious holidays were marked with feasts at the castle for those close enough to get there.  When war threatened, the peasants would take refuge in the castle.
     The peasants depended on their lords and castles more than they depended on their king.  Roads between towns and cities were leftover from the Romans, so they were often broken, abandoned, and full of robbers and murders while most of the stones from centuries ago had been looted for building.  Trade was difficult because travel was still problematic due to the weather; rains turned the roads to impassable mud, snow became a danger to animals and people while obscuring the road  
     The advent of gunpowder--and then artillery that made efficient use of gunpowder-- made it easy to attack and take over a castle.  No longer useful as a defensive fortification, castles went out of use.  Their stones were taken away to build roads and other buildings.

Castles in Medieval Times

Make your own unique castle

Castle with creative additions by Mikaela Harnock of Glencoe, Ontario, Canada.

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