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Category: Research

Some Useless Info On...Medieval Castles, Walls, & Battlements

Image Credit: Ansgar Scheffold

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. 

Castle Engineers

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.

Literally.

Undermining

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.

Fortified Castles

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.

Uh oh.

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)

The original patent letter of Edward III to the burgesses of Kingston-upon-Hull confirming the licence by the late king for the strengthening their town with moats and a wall and to crenellate the wall (Source: http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/LtoCren.html)

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:

http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/Licences%20to%20Crenellate%20-%20Philip%20Davis.pdf

http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/LtoCren.html

If you like castles…

You might want to check out my books:

CLAIMING HER
DEFIANT
THE IRISH WARRIOR
THE CONQUEROR (debut)

There are castles galore in these stories, as well as hard heroes, strong heroines, and epic romantic adventure.

Have fun in there!

Behind The Scenes: King's Warrior

Time to drag you behind the scenes!   

I wanted to show you some storytelling decisions that go into writing a book, and show you how real-life research can fuel a story.

This one’s about King’s Warrior.

First, a little backstory on the story.

Originally, King’s Warrior was part of an anthology of connected stories, & mine was kicking things off, so I knew I wanted something big and exciting for all the other stories to reference.

The theme for the anthology was a ‘captured’ theme.  

The stories were all going to be connected via this theme,  all have Celtic heroes, and all were going to have a jeweled dagger running through them.  The SAME jeweled dagger. And yet, the stories were going to span hundreds of years.

Since my story was appearing first in the anthology, I wanted to set up a compelling, exciting ‘story’ for the dagger that the other authors were going to be working with.

I knew I wanted to set it during the 2nd Crusade, with King Richard the Lionheart and all that crazy jazz. Lots of potential for drama, but where to focus…and get my dagger??

Assassination, of course. Of a Crusader king. By ANOTHER Crusader king.  Amiright??

The History

Okay, so what REALLY happened?

In 1192, Conrad of Montferrat,  Marquis of Montferrat (Northern Italy) and one of the leading crusaders, was elected King of Jerusalem by the other crusader leaders, although he’d ruled as de facto king as a result of his marriage to the heiress to the crown, Queen Isabella, in late 1190.

(I’m not even going to go into that crazy, convoluted history, but it’s worth a look!)

Anyhow, England’s King Richard was pretty unhappy about this bonhomie among the other crusading leaders. Richard didn’t want Conrad to be king: he wanted someone else.

In fact, Richard had lobbied hard for one of his own vassals to be elected king.  More specifically, one of his troublesome vassals, in the even more troublesome duchy of Poitou, Guy of Lusignan.  But Guy wasn’t a popular…well, guy.  He wasn’t brave, he wasn’t honorable, and he wasn’t really a very good fighter.  Also, he was a right arse. I suspect no one in the entire world actually liked Guy. 

But Richard was extremely motivated to hoist his independent-minded, belligerent vassal off on the Holy Lands where he would trouble Richard no more. 

Alas, the English king’s candidate was outvoted by the other crusader kings.

I’ll go out on a limb and say this wasn’t something the strong-willed Richard appreciated. 

(Of note: Richard really, really, really did not want Guy returning home to bother him, so at this point, he SOLD Guy the lordship of Cyprus (where he could still be called ‘king’) to keep him away from Poitou. Ha.) 

Everything seems good, right? 

Richard got rid of his troublesome vassal, plus some money into the bargain.

Conrad, who was a courageous fighter & leader and respected by everyone, would get the kingship. Happy days ahead in the land of fighting.

Then tragedy–or opportunity–struck. 

The Murder

Two days before he was to be crowned, Conrad was assassinated by, well, two Assassins.  As in, the real-life Assassins. They’d been disguised as monks and had infiltrated the grounds for awhile before they struck. Conrad was basically hacked up in the gardens.

The Assassins fled. One was killed, but one was caught alive.  And guess what?

Under torture, he claimed King Richard contracted them for the kill.

Whaat??   Yup.

Medieval crazy sauce.

Whether or not King Richard was actually involved in the assassination, and whether that involvement was direct or indirect, no one knew. 

A lot of people believed it.  And the rumors spread throughout Europe, driven in large part by the French king’s enthusiastic support of them.

Oh how King Philippe wanted Richard to have done this deed. Or at least be thought to have done it. It would make his take-over of England so much easier.

Because that’s what Philippe was planning, of course. He’d already hie-tailed it out of the Holy Lands, and he was conspiring actively with Richard’s younger brother, Prince John. (Yes, the one who became the evil King John of so many truths & legends).

So, did Richard plot for the assassination of a king?  It was never proven, but it was a compelling enough rumor that the king was required to submit proof that he hadn’t been involved at one point. (A hard thing to do, but there you have it.)

(Second parenthetical: I’m not going into this crazy backstory either, of King Richard’s travels home from Jerusalem et al, but omg, the drama!!!  Another day, another post.)

But whether he did or didn’t conspire, all you need for Story is plausibility, and this was intrigue I couldn’t ignore: King Richard accused of conspiring to commit regicide and assassinate another king.

But I still needed my dagger…

Fortunately, history provided that too.

The Dagger

What you need to know about the Assassins was they really like daggers. Like, a lot. They used them as weapons, but they also used them as threat.

They were legendary for sneaking into the tents of political opponents at night and leaving behind one of their daggers and a note, right next to the leader they’d stood beside, undetected, in the dark.

The message was clear, but in case it wasn’t, they often followed up more overtly. 

For instance, one of their exploits: In 1092, upon his coronation, the new sultan of the Seljuk empire rebuffed a Hashashin ambassador. Bad idea.

One morning soon after, he woke up to find a dagger plunged into the ground beside his bed. Terrified, he didn’t say anything about it–who wants to announce a weakness like that?  A little while later, a messenger from the Assassins arrived, saying, “Did I not wish the sultan well, that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast.”

Gotcha. That one was pretty effective.  For decades after, there was a ceasefire between the Seljuks and the Nizari.

Guess what this gave me? My dagger for King’s Warrior! 

The Proof

The way I saw it was…King Richard’s involvement in the murder was never proven.

But what if it could have been??

What if this dagger, specially constructed and engraved with runes that implicated the king, boasting the king’s very own ruby in its hilt, was used in the assassination.  It would be an unavoidable message to Richard, and the world.

The Story

I had my story!

An Irish warrior, once bodyguard to the king, on the run, with a dagger that was (or was not??) used in the assassination of Conrad, hunted by noblemen and kings who’ll stop at nothing to get him and his contraband.

The Romance

Our hero is desperate, cornered…dangerous.  He’ll do anything to accomplish his mission.  Even kidnap an innocent merchant woman and use her as camouflage to escape.

The drama hurts, yes?  :)

If you’ve read King’s Warrior, I hope you loved it, If you haven’t, go check it out!

If you like big adventure and hot romance, you’ll love King’s Warrior because it has a charming, dangerous Irish hero who finds the love of his life on the mission of a lifetime.
Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo

Elizabethan Slang

I’ve been remiss in sharing some  behind-the-scenes stuff for you.

I do A LOT of research for my historicals. And then use…oh, I don’t know…EIGHT PERCENT of it. 😫

I researched Elizabethan sexual slang for CLAIMING HER, but it turns out Aodh didn’t need it. 

But it’s wasn’t a complete loss, because I came out of it with this Extremely Fun list!

Unnecessary Commentary

Pay her the shot (Okay, well, that might work. Or it might not. This one seems all about technique.)

Put the devil into hell (That sounds exciting, doesn’t it??)

Pup-noddy  (That doesn’t sound exciting.)

Make butter with one’s tail (Um, I’ve got nothing.)

Fucking (Best. Word. Ever. Was there ever a better word in the history of wording? :admires fuck:)

Fucker (Defined for us as “one who copulates.” Ah. So that’s a what fucker is.)

Fadoodling (Light-hearted, yet with an undertone of dirty.)

Sluice (Um, eww.)

Please (I like that!)

Which is your favorite??
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