An Introduction to the Fief and Castle
A castle in the middle ages was essentially a fort, albeit a very big one. It served as a
weapon of both offense and defense. If a king wanted to gain control of certain lands, he could
order a castle built there. Additionally, if lands that a king already had under his control
were invaded or were threatened with invasion, then a king would also order a castle built
there. Castles generally took an incredibly long time to build. Occasionally, they
could take centuries to build. However, sometimes, if the need for a castle was great enough,
they could be built in the relatively small amount of time of ten years! Castles were built
with defense in mind. They were often built on a hill so that enemies attempting to attack
would have to travel up often steep inclines. This slowed an attack down and made it easier to
defend the castle. Castles were also usually surrounded by a large ditch sometimes filled with
water. This was called a moat. It was
often filled with sharp objects like glass or metal.
Anyone who fell in could be killed. Because a castle was designed for military purposes, it was
often not very cozy inside. Castles were cold, drafty, and had
few decorations or comfortable furniture. Warmth was provided by fires lit in fireplaces,
and tapestries were hung on walls- more for keeping out cold than for beauty. Castles
had few glass windows, so it was dark inside.
The map below is a small section of a fief.
From the castle, the lord ruled his lands. The
castle can be seen located on a peninsula. A moat was dug at the beginning of the peninsula.
The castle is essentially isolated from the world. Any intruder would have to cross a
drawbridge to enter the castle gates. On the mainland is a town.
The castle wall was extended around the town to provided security to the town.
This provided another barrier to any attack on the castle. The extra land inside the town walls
and most land outside was used for the grazing of cattle and the growing of food. Eventually,
the town grew so large that houses sprang up even outside the town walls.
Fields Used to Grow Crops. Some were located inside the town walls, while other were
outside. As the town grew, more and more fields were sown outside of town. Farmland recently
created from land that was formerly fallow was called assart land.
Roads Leading Away From Town. Roads were used to connect different fiefs and
fief. Most were made of just plain dirt and
mud, worn by travel.
A Village House.
The houses in the village outside a castle were built as close together as
possible. This was to maximize the amount of space within the town walls. The land remaining
could be used to grow crops.
The Town Well. Every villager got water from the town well each day. It was one of the
chores and was usually the only source of water for most.
The Village Church.
The Town Gate and Wall.
The Drawbridge of the Castle.
It spans the moat and could be raised to
The Castle Gates and Walls.
The Wall of the Outer Ward. (Outer Curtain Wall) This was the first line of
defense of an attack against the
castle. Behind these walls were the outer ward. Small buildings such as servants' quarters and
small shops were located in the outer ward. They served to make the area behind this wall a
The Wall of the Inner Ward. (Inner Curtain Wall) These were the last line of
defense built to protect the
They were virtually impenetrable.
The Towers of the Inner Ward Wall.
The Great Hall.
The Cooks' Quarters. This building was next to the kitchen. Like most of the smaller
buildings of the inner ward, it was made mostly of wood. It was built in the
wattle and daub
fashion. The one stone wall was part of the inner ward wall. It
housed the many cooks'
quarters. Many other servants also lived in this small building such as servers and tasters.
The Barracks or Garrison. The soldiers that protected the castle lived here. Weapons were
stored in a special storage room here. This building was also made of mostly wood with some
The Blacksmith's Shop. The blacksmith worked and probably lived here. His shop was
to the barracks so that he could repair the soldiers' weapons. His shop was constructed of wood
and stone also.
The Kennel and Mew. The kennel housed the lord's dogs, used for hunting. They were also
on the castle grounds to provide a means of rodent control. Rats and mice were a never ending
problem at a castle. The mew was essentially an aviary. The lord's hunting hawks were kept
here. This building was made of mostly wood with some stone.
Additional Living Quarters. This building housed guests of the lord. More respectable
also lived here.
The Inner Ward Courtyard. This was a large open space in between all of the buildings in
inner ward. It provided a place for the soldiers to practice drilling. Also, fief events like
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