In order to protect its inhabitants during decades of warfare, Warwick Castle was built to withstand deadly attacks and utilised the best defence mechanisms of the age.
The Defensive Towers
Towers were the main defensive system for any castle. Also because of their height and position above and out from the main castle wall, they gave archers a clear view to target the enemy below. At Warwick Castle, there are a number of excellent examples of defensive constructive.
Did you know: As well as to provide protection, defensive walls were often symbolic and represented the communities status and independence.
The Gatehouse & Barbican
Since the entrance to a castle was likely to be a favourite target for an attacking force, it was vital for the defences to be as effective and deadly as possible. The first defence would-be attackers would have to face was the barbican. The barbican was an exterior walled passage which had a drawbridge, and would lead to the main entrance known as the gatehouse.
Soldiers would be faced with the first iron portcullis and a barrage of crossbow bolts. If the barbican portcullis failed to lower, the attackers would find themselves in a dark narrow roofed passage with arrow slits on either side and, worse still, murder holes from above, from which stones and missiles would rain down on them.
For the few that made it through these treacherous defences, they would then have to struggle through raking crossfire up towards the gatehouse itself. Here they would be confronted by yet another portcullis, another set of murder holes and another door! Needless to say, very few soldiers managed to breach Warwick Castle’s entrance!
Did you know: The word ‘portcullis’ comes from the French term ‘porte coulissante’ which means ‘sliding door’.
The Curtain Walls
The curtain wall is the main wall that connects all the towers and main castle structure. Along the wall, walkways were built which meant that crossbowmen and archers could move swiftly from one end of the castle to the other during an attack at any point on the perimeter. Once in position they could pick off the enemy from the battlements.
The tops of the towers were encircled by parapets that added a further layer to the Castle’s defences. Cut into the floor of the parapet at regular intervals are openings, or machicolations, through which the defence troops could drop stones or pour boiling pitch and quicklime onto the unfortunate attackers below.
Did you know: On the wall to the right of Clarence Tower is a rare corbelled turret. A watch would be posted there to keep a lookout along the base of the curtain wall as extra protection.
Standing at an impressive 44.8m tall, this is the tallest tower at the castle, and comprises of three storeys, excluding the Gaol. It was built on the orders of Thomas de Beauchamp in the 14th century and is a great example of military architecture. It has an irregular quatrefoil or cloverleaf shape, like the shape shown here, and is topped by a platform with a crenellated and machicolated parapet.
Did you know: Caesar’s Tower is roughly the same height as 10 double decker buses!
Guy’s Tower was built in the 14th century and is the first tower you see as you enter the castle grounds. It is twelve-sided, stands 39m tall and has five storeys. The first four storeys consist of a central stone-vaulted chamber with two small side rooms; a gardrobe (toilet), the other was probably used as a bedchamber. The fifth storey is a hexagonal guardroom. During the Civil War the windows here were enlarged so that they could take small hand-held cannons.
Did you know: A garderobe usually consisted of a single hole which simply lead to a the outside cesspit or moat. It usually smelt terrible and was a haven for disease and vermin!
Bear & Clarence Towers
Set in the centre of the north wall, these two stunted towers are the remains of the mighty tower house which Richard of Gloucester (future king of England) started to build in 1478. It was to be the same height as Guy’s Tower, but twice as wide, with a turret at each end. However, in 1485 Richard was killed at Bosworth and the building stopped.
In the Clarence Tower you can find what has become known as the Royal Keep. Inside wells and backing ovens were installed to provide those living within the castle grounds support during an attack. This room has been recreated to how it would have looked in 15th century so make sure you step inside and see! In its sister Bear Tower, evidence suggests that this is where bears used in baiting were kept.
Did you know: The Clarence Tower is name after Richard’s elder brother, the Duke of Clarence.
Occupying the lowest chamber of Caesar's Tower and built in the 14th century, is the Gaol. Leading from a hatch in the ground at the base of the tower, a single flight of steps provided the way into, and the only way out of, the Castle's miserable Gaol.
A single open drain running across the floor provided the only means of sanitation, whilst the only light to penetrate the gloom came from a tiny, shaft high on the wall, and a small window in a chamber, safely behind an iron grill, from where a guard could observe the wretched prisoners.
Did you know: Within the Gaol, graffiti from prisoners 100's of years ago can still be seen on the prison walls. See how many names you can spot.