You look up at a castle and are blown away by the enormity of it, the majesty, the forgotten people who built it and hid behind it and fired arrows from it.
Those gorgeous castle walls, that guarded and hosted so many lives, had a whole lot of engineering that went into them.
First concern, of course, is to ensure you make your castle walls as strong as possible without unfeasible.
Medieval castle designers (yes, that was a job!) and engineers were hard at the job.
(We’ll skip the fact that you needed to get the stones to build the walls for this article, but THAT could be a huge task.)
To strengthen the outer walls & the walls of the castle (i.e. the ‘keep’), the walls were often ‘buttressed,’ i.e. built wider at the bottom than the top. This not only made them stronger without adding unnecessary weight, but it made them more difficult to undermine.
The word “undermine” come from the practice of digging tunnels under fortresses/castles/walls, erecting support posts as you went, then lighting a fire…and then running like hell before the tunnel collapsed behind you, bringing that corner of the fortress/castle/wall crashing down.
Triumph for the besiegers, disaster for those inside.
Speaking of that…round towers were far more difficult to undermine, and so towers began to be built rounded instead of square, especially along the outer walls.
Another reason for round towers is because they give a larger firing range. i.e. Fewer places for attackers to hide as they sneak up to the castle. You’d build the wall & towers in such a wall to create line of sight anywhere along the walls, trying to eliminate any places enemy attackers could hide as they crept in close.
The walls themselves are just walls. The top of them though? The part that looks like teeth? Those are called the battlements.
They were to protect soldiers during, well…battle.
The were like a mini-wall at the outside edge of the main wall.
The top of main wall served as a walkway behind these barriers. Soldiers would patrol along them.
I can picture riding up on a horse and seeing sunlight glinting off the helms of the sentries on the wall. They’re all armed with crossbows, and as you ride up on your horse, you’re not sure of what sort of welcome you’ll get…
In my story CLAIMING HER, the heroine first sees the hero from the battlement walls.
The ‘teeth’ portions actually have a name–they’re called ‘merlons.’
The empty spaces between are called embrasures. or ‘crenels.’ And the term for the process of adding these ‘teeth’ to the top of your castle wall? Crenellation.
Did You Have To Get Permission From the King (or Queen)?
I know this is the very question you were asking, so I thought I’d address it.
There’s some question about this.
The easy answer is yes, obviously. Fortifying your castle made it a lot more defensible, and a lot more dangerous. Specifically, more dangerous to the king. Because you’d be more capable of effectively rebelling against him.
So of course kings wanted some say over who was getting their defensible, dangerous game on.
But it’s more tricky than that.
For all that we think of the middle ages as royal-led life for nobles, the peerage was really independent back the day. And lordship–be it a king or baron–carried with it solemn responsibilities. One of those was to protect your vassals. And you couldn’t NOT let your vassals protect themselves if you weren’t going to/able to do it.
So yes, there were royal licenses to crenellate (i.e. fortify your castle), but the king had no right to refuse you.
“It was not in reality necessary to obtain a licence to crenellate to erect a fortified building…but a licence was prestigious and could be had for the asking.” (Coulson, 1982, p70)
That’s why there are a LOT of crenellated castles where there’s no documentation that shows, reflects, or alludes to any sort of ‘licensing.’ 60% of crenellated castles show no documentation of royal permission.
In the end, building a castle was an INSANELY huge expense. Staffing it was a lesser but relentless, unending one. Those realities probably did more ‘licensing’ than any king.
Men Were The Fortifiers…Right?
As you’d expect, most licenses were given to men, and the gender of the grantee wasn’t always mentioned, but interestingly, when it was, 11 women are named in grants to fortify.
6 as ‘wife of’…
3 as widows…
And 1 as…THE KING’S NURSE.
Sadly, I could find no information about this kick-ass lady nurse who wanted to get her defensible, dangerous game on. If anyone knows more, let me know!
There’s more, much more, about castle walls, but I’ll leave it there. I thought you might enjoy a little pointless lesson about castle walls, because…CASTLE WALLS.
For anyone looking for a dry summary of royal licenses to crenellate–who are you and where have you been all my life?–here’s a a couple links:
If you like castles…
You might want to check out my books:
There are castles galore in these stories, as well as hard heroes, strong heroines, and epic romantic adventure.
Have fun in there!
I was here to post an excerpt, but I have to interrupt the except to welcome all Egg Hoppers!
My egg is hot pink with lots of wavy and infinity-looking designs, as it should be. Bet you can find it here on this page…somewhere….
But I hope you stick around long enough to read the excerpt
↓↓ below. ↓↓
If you like big adventure, scorching passion, & alpha warrior heroes who meet their match in unexpected women, this one’s for you.
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Onto the excerpt…..
It’s beyond the Pale in Ireland, 1589.
Irish warrior Aodh Mac Con has just returned home and seized the windswept castle the Queen of England refused to give him. He plans to conquer everything: the castle, the lands, the lady.
Unfortunately, the lady has no intention of being conquered…and things don’t always turned out as planned.
(The hero’s name name is pronounced /Ay/–I hear it like you’d say the beginning of “Aidan.” It means fire. It’s a royal name.)
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…She stepped back, her lips parting. The paleness in her cheeks went even paler. He’d shocked her.
The realization caused a small, strange tinge of disappointment, that a woman who’d held an English castle beyond the Pale with only ten men would be shocked by such a thing. It seemed somehow…diminishing. But then, Aodh had a taste for rebellion today, and nothing but more of the same would serve.
A movement at the far end of the hall caught his attention. One of his captains, Cormac, poked his head through a door, caught his eye and nodded, then ducked back out. Good. They’d made it to the north side, which meant they’d secured the entire castle. Rardove was his.
And so where was the hot satisfaction of conquest? The rush of triumph? Where was…everything?
Lying at the bottom of the same cold pit that had marked his life for too many years to count, no doubt. Intrigues, battle, courtly maneuvers, it was all the same: naught.
Apparently even coups of castles did not rise to the level of interest anymore.
He turned his attention back to Katarina. “My lady, if you will—”
All he saw was a blur of green silk, then her small, bunched fist smashed into his face.
The impact, hard and square, landed directly on his jaw.
Caught utterly unaware—as he’d never been before, never, not even when his father had his head cut off—Aodh reeled sideways.
The retreat gave enough room for her to launch herself forward and slam her shoulder directly into his ribs so hard and fast, he grunted and stumbled backward and hit the ground, her on top, twisting and kicking.
She jammed a knee into his bollocks, and he doubled over protectively, at which point she grabbed one of his fingers and twisted it back almost to breaking, while her other hand—so sinuous and slender it was all but ungrippable—snaked between their writhing bodies and tugged his accursed dagger out of its sheath.
With a roar, he lunged up off the ground, lifting her with him, and backed her up to the wall. Predictably—dimly, he noted he was already predicting things about her—she wrestled like a hellcat. Whirling hair, arms, legs. Kicking, biting, punching, swiping with the knife.
First things first.
He caught hold of the feminine fist snaked around the hilt of his blade and slammed it to the wall above her head, gripping her wrist so hard she cried out, but she did not, of note, stop fighting.
He finally had to pin her to the wall with his entire body, her toes dangling half a foot in the air, their faces pressed together, cheek to cheek, until he stilled everything that was writhing and flailing and kicking on her curving, rampant, berserker body.
Fire burned in his veins, urging him to smash and destroy. He reached over with his other hand and wrenched the blade out of her grip, then tossed it to the ground behind him.
He inhaled slowly, forcing himself to calm. They stood like this for a moment, her body pinned between his and the wall. He supposed she could still kick his shins, but she’d impact against his greaves, and it would hurt her far more than him.
She seemed to agree. At least, she didn’t move.
He pulled back a few inches and let her feet drop to the ground. Breathing fast, she flung her head, spraying hair across her face. It was pale and beautiful, with slim, dark brows arcing over what appeared to be intelligent brown eyes. A shocking discovery.
“If you were a man, I would kill you right now,” he said in a low voice.
He waited for her response—everything now was a test, every moment a potential tipping point. Would she recoil? Be wise and retreat, apologize, surrender, run scared?
Would she be like everyone else?
She shifted the only thing he didn’t have restrained, her left hand, and laid what turned out to be the cold edge of a blade against the side of his throat.
“If I were a man, sir,” she whispered back, “you would already be dead.”
It was his dagger, one of many strapped to his body. In the mêlée, she’d succeeded in getting it free. In the distraction of staring into her eyes, trying to ascertain if she was mad, she’d succeeded in lifting it to his throat.
A rush went through him, hot and intense. “You are left-handed,” he observed grimly.
A humming filled his stomach. He’d come for battle, and that this slim audacious woman had given it to him, undefended, in a hopeless situation, outmatched and overpowered, bespoke great boldness. Of a kind he’d not seen in a long time.
Either that, or idiocy.
She did not appear idiotic. Of course, she’d not appeared reckless either, out in the bailey. She’d seemed calm, clever, pale, and beautiful. Then she’d launched her body into his and turned into a bold, roaring-mad hellcat.
Perhaps everything in her was latent. Who knew, idiocy might rear its head at any moment. Or more boldness.
Although it was difficult to see how she could be more bold than she was at the moment.
Small wisps of hair brushed beside her mouth. Aodh knew battle and fights; her lips ought to be dry with fear, parched and tight. But they were wet. Parted and wet, her chin up, her cheeks a sort of hot red. Her slim body was pressed hard against his, female curves barely detectable through his armor. But the vivid flush of her was clear. Her mad, energizing, fearless self was the clearest thing on his mind.
That and the blade pressed against his neck.
He laughed low in his throat. It had been a long time since he’d felt this hum inside him, felt this energized, this vital.
He leaned closer until his mouth was an inch from hers, until he felt the honed edge of his own blade indent the flesh of his throat.
“Do it, lass,” he whispered. “Or drop it. Now.”
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I’m sure that’ll go fine…or will it??
Go find out!
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