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Medieval Castles: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tammie Mihet

Tammie has taught elementary school for 14 yrs. and holds an MA in Instructional Technology

What comes to mind when you hear the word castle? In this lesson, enter the world of the Middle Ages as you discover the mighty fortress known as the medieval castle!

Castle Building

Imagine if a dog kept getting into your garden. What would you do? Build a fence, right? But, what if you discovered that he was still getting in by jumping over the fence? Then what? You'd build a stronger, taller fence! It's all about cause and effect.

Medieval castles were built during a period of history known as the Middle Ages (5th-15th century), and the changes in design were all about cause and effect! The idea of castles was to create a strong, protected area that would be able to keep the enemy out and the people inside safe if there was an attack. But, as warfare and needs changed over time, so did the science of castle building.

The First Castles

The first castles were called motte and bailey castles and were very simple to build. They consisted of the motte, a large man-made mound of dirt, with a wooden tower on top of it. This tower could be used to defend the castle grounds in case of attack.

At the bottom of the mound, there was a large area of land, called the bailey, with stables, storage buildings, and houses. Both the motte and bailey were usually surrounded by a deep ditch and a large fence.

Now think about defending this type of castle against an attack; what is its weak spot? Wood! Many attackers just used flaming arrows to burn the fortress down!

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To solve the problems of the motte and bailey castles, shell keeps were built. Basically, builders came in and built a thin wall of stone around the wooden tower on top of the motte. It had to be a thin wall since the man-made mound could not take a lot of weight; otherwise it could collapse!

Can you see the weak spot here? It's the shell itself because it was so light and thin. Castles were about to undergo a massive transformation!

Stone Fortress

Castle builders began to use stone once they realized that better protection was needed. Even though stone castles were stronger, they were much more expensive and took longer to build. To help with the cost, sometimes the roofs and walls would be built of wood.

The most important part of this castle design was the castle keep. This was a tall, thick-walled rectangular tower built on top of the motte, so it had great views of the surrounding land! This allowed archers, or people who use a bow and arrow, to more easily protect the castle grounds against an attack.

Inside the tower, there were the chambers, or living areas. Even though they were large, these chambers were damp, dark, cold, and not very nice to live in!

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