History of Castles: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

For over five hundred years, Europeans protected themselves from enemies by building massive structures of stone, castles. Learn about the first types of castles up until the end of their usefulness in this lesson.

Castles are Hard to Attack

Remember the fairy tale about the big bad wolf and the three little pigs? The pig's house of brick stayed up while the houses of straw and sticks fell over. Building a big, strong house will go a long way towards protecting yourself from danger. During the medieval era, a time from roughly 1000 to 1500 AD, Europeans constructed massive buildings of stone to defend themselves from enemies. These buildings, named castles, were extremely difficult to attack. Kings and rulers in a castle could avoid a fight altogether by withdrawing and waiting out an enemy.

Norman Castles

In 1066, William the Conqueror became king of England after taking over the country. William was a Norman, referring to a person from northern France, and this began the Norman era of English history. Under William's rule, the English began to build Norman castles throughout the country. These castles defended roads, rivers, large cities, and other important parts of England.

Each Norman castle had a central building, called a keep, surrounded by a stone wall and a ditch. Attackers faced the difficulty of getting over the ditch, then over the wall, and then into the keep -- all while their enemy fought back! As you can imagine, not many wanted to try. This castle spread throughout Europe thanks to its success in England.

Ruins of Norman castle
Norman castle

100 Years War

In the 1300s, the English and the French began a massive war called the 100 Years War. A lot of fighting took place at castles. Armies would use siege warfare, which is a type of warfare where a location (like a castle) is surrounded and supplies are cut off to force surrender. Anyone living in the castle might run out of food and water. Attackers used weapons like the 'trebuchet' to launch huge boulders against castles, knocking down their stone walls.

Trebuchet siege weapons
Trebuchet siege weapons

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