While many of us have never had the privilege of exploring a real medieval castle, they’ve been a popular setting in Hollywood for decades. Almost every castle we’ve seen on screen has had the same giant drawbridges, the seemingly impenetrable stone walls, and the bizarre clockwise stairwells. But it turns out that even the smallest design choices were made with the defense of the castles’ inhabitants as the top priority.
A story on The Vintage News explored the various reasons behind medieval castle design, but we were particularly impressed by the account of the staircases. One of the main reasons that the clockwise stairwells were used is because they allowed defenders a greater range of movement if they wielded their swords with their right hands. Those stairwells also diminished the ability of attackers to properly swing their swords, since right-handed fighters would have had to to contend with the walls while making their striking motions. That cut down on their ability to maneuver and it gave the castle’s defenders a much needed advantage. Of course, there may have been some left-handed attackers who wouldn’t have been as affected by the close quarter spaces. But as a design element, it’s hard not to be impressed by the thinking behind it.
Even the stairs themselves served as a defense, as the report notes that each step was designed to vary in size. While the castle’s inhabitants would be familiar with the smaller and larger steps, invaders could easily lose their footing and slip during battle if they misjudged a step.
You can read the rest of The Vintage News’ report here, which includes the rest of Will Kalif’s exploration of medieval castle defenses. These were commonly used elements because they were largely effective. Even an army wasn’t always enough to take a well-designed castle.
How would you attack a medieval castle without the benefit of modern technology? Share your tactics in the comment section below!
Image: Vincent Ferron/Flickr
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