'FOR A MAN'S HOUSE IS HIS CASTLE'
Ever since man stopped being a nomad and settled down in one place,
his prime need has been to protect his property from wild animals or
other men who would wish to do him harm. Over a span of thousands of
years this has led to many intriguing architectural embellishments
to what we might term his home.
There has been no proper progression from mud-hut to castle in
Scotland, for Scotland in the past was a divided place, a country
split into tribal regions, each occupied by people who had their own
way of doings things; their own language, customs, method of
house-building, and means of defence. Hill-forts were popular for a
long time in many areas, your house, or group of houses, built on a
small hill-top and protected by a massive earthen bank and ditch, or
two. In other areas of the country, perhaps where a certain type of
stone existed, the people built great stone towers, or brochs, with
walls so thick they contained narrow passageways and stairs. In many
ways the Scottish broch was an early forerunner of the castle. Some
brochs have evidence of dwellings just outside their thick walls,
and in times of danger the occupants of these dwellings could have
retreated to the broch for protection.
But by far the greatest influence on the evolution of the castle
came from France. After the 11th century Norman invasion of England,
King David I of Scotland actually invited - INVITED! - French nobles
up to Scotland to settle and build castles. Initially these were
just wooden towers built on a mound of earth (or motte), with a few
other nearby buildings protected by a wooden fence. Like the broch,
in times of trouble those in the outlying area, or bailey, could
retire to the castle for protection.
Over the centuries these early castles became more sophisticated.
The wooden towers became stone towers, the wooden fence became an
outer stone wall, and other stone buildings were added, like more
towers at all four points of the compass to increase the defensive
capability. And so the castle was born.
But while the French played a key role in the development of the
castle, they can't take all the credit for all the castles in
Scotland. The Scottish Highlands was a wild and rugged land that no
sane French noble would wish to have anything to do with, and so in
these areas Highland chiefs built their own castles; dark stone towers with a
sombre menacing look that echoed the foreboding mountainous land in which they
DUNNOTTAR CASTLE, NEAR STONEHAVEN
DEFENDING ONE'S CASTLE
By far the most important factor in the defence of a castle is the
land on which it is constructed. Any sensible castle-builder would
pick his spot wisely, making good use of already-existing natural
features like rivers, rocky slopes and crags and what have you.
Indeed, the same principal was used by those who built hill-forts,
selecting the best small hill that already had steep inaccessible
sides. The less earth you had to shift to protect your home the
better. You only have to look at
and Dunnottar Castle
to see how effective natural
features can be in providing an almost impregnable defence, at least
on a few sides.
For sides of your castle that did not have the luxury of natural
defence, walls were important, as these were the areas likely to be
hit in any attack. At
example, there is a huge thick curtain wall strung across the
exposed landward side to take the impact from any attacking cannon.
The rest of that castle sits over a promontory with cliffs and the
sea providing ample protection on those sides.
Lower down your wall you might wish to have arrow slits or gunloops
to allow defenders to fire arrows or balls of lead at attackers.
Many such features were positioned near the main door, always a
vulnerable point in any castle, no matter how great and formidable
its walls. Arrow slits can be found in many castles. You can see one
in the ruins of
. An excellent example
of a gunloop can be seen at
castle's walls form an L-shape at the main door, and there is a gunloop on one wall, almost at ground level, pointing directly on to
whoever might be trying to break down the door.
In any structure the door is generally the weakest point. It is no
good having walls some twelve feet thick, cannon primed and boiling
tar at the ready, if someone knocks on your
door, shouts 'Pizza Delivery!', you open it, and ten thousand guys
in shiny suits pour in. The builders
of castles appreciated this, and the sheer variety and ingenuity of
main door defence is a joy to behold. If it wasn't moats with
drawbridges or great iron portcullis and boiling tar, it was a twin
gate arrangement where if you were unfortunate enough to break
through the first gate you'd find yourself in a small enclosed area
facing another gate and men attacking you from above and all sides.
Castle defence had to be racked up a gear with the appearance of
bigger and more accurate cannon. Now your castle could be attacked
from a distance, and great metal balls could tear down your walls
allowing men to flood through breaks and take over your castle.
Many castle walls were strengthened, either by the addition of extra
walls or by reinforcing existing walls with rubble infill.
, for example, had its huge curtain wall strengthened with
rubble infill. At
you can see an additional wall, a curious thing, not quite in
line with other walls, but there one presumes to provide additional
defence. Indeed, that is one of the joys of exploring Scotland's castles, in trying to figure out
what all the bits were for and why they felt the need to build them.
VISITING CASTLES TODAY
If you visit any castle in Scotland today you will see some or all
of the defensive features I have briefly discussed. Indeed, that is
another of the many joys of visiting a castle, in determining its
defensive capabilities - both natural and man-made - and in trying
to decide which side was the most vulnerable to attack. Which side
attack it from?
At Dunnottar Castle
, for example, you will see the
outstanding natural setting, with the castle constructed on a rocky
in the middle of the sea. This has to be one of the best-defended
castles in Scotland. But the builders of Dunnottar were aware of
door vulnerability, and as you go through the first entrance you
will come face to face with a battery of gun-loops. Had you
broken through that door you would have been blasted with grapeshot
or any number of small cannon.
You can see examples of a good solid Scottish tower at
don't suppose you would call
a castle, but in places its walls are a whopping eleven foot thick. That's some house,
and a very well defended house at that! Other good
examples of square Scottish towers can be seen in The Borders, with
the likes of Smailholm Tower.
Indeed, if you closely examine many of today's castles, some now
more stately homes than defended houses, you can
often see the original square stone tower somewhere amidst all the
more recent add-ons. In fact, when you're inside these castles you
can actually feel
when you are in the original tower. It's
the room with the thickest walls and the drop in temperature! Just
like at Glamis Castle
. Did I
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