Castle Learning Center Glossary
Castles of Britain


One of the easiest and most complete castle glossaries on the web. A complete listing with a clickable index.

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abutment: solid masonry placed to counteract the lateral thrust of a bridge, arch, or vault.
adulterine: an unlicensed castle.
allure: wall walk along the top of a curtain.
angle-spur: buttress rising at the angle of a square tower to support a round superstructure.
apse: semi-circular projection. Tower that is round fronted or u-shaped.
arbalest: crossbow.
Arbalestier: crossbow-man. Arbalist.
arcade: a range of arches.
arch: the head of an opening.
armoury: a weapons storage room.
arrow slit: narrow slit in castle walls for firing arrows.
ashlar: building stone neatly trimmed to shape. Stone with cut flat surface.
Atilliator: skilled castle worker who made crossbows.
attainder: forfeiture of hereditary honours and dignities following a conviction for treason.
aumbry: a mural cupboard for storing valuables.


bailey: defended courtyard or ward of a castle. Open area enclosed by the castle walls. A ward.
ballista: early missile weapons resembling large crossbow on a carriage, firing metal bolts, arrows or stone slugs.
balustrade: ornamental parapet of posts and railing.
barbican: fortified outwork defending the gate of a castle or town.
bar-hole: holes behind door to receive timber bar used as door bolt.
barmkin: Scottish term for defended courtyard of a castle. Also, the wall enclosing such an area.
baronial castle: a private castle.
barrel vault: A vault in the shape of a half barrel split lengthways.
bartizan: overhanging corner turret. Small turret.
base-court: the outer or lower ward of a castle.
basement: a secure storage space.
bastion: an open projecting work, at the corner of a fortification.
bastel-house: a poor mans pele. A small stone house with provisions for cattle on the ground floor, and living quarters above with small protected windows.
batter: inward and upward slope of a external wall.
battlement: jagged stonework protecting the wall walk.
bawn: bailey or ward. A defended courtyard of a castle.
bear: a tower similar to the belfry.
belfry: siege tower; wooden tower mounted on wheels or rollers, often covered with wet hides as protection against fire. Many had drop-bridges at the top, so that attackers could fight their way across on to the towers or wall walks.
bellcote: Small gabled or roofed housing for a bell.
benefice: source of income.
berm: flat area between base of wall and edge of ditch or moat.
besiege: surrounding a castle in order to cut off its supplies and make the occupants surrender.
boss: an ornamental projection covering the intersection of the ribs in a vault.
bratticing: wooden housing erected on top of walls. When erected on top of towers, sometimes also known as "war-head".
bretasch: Wooden tower or wooden defence.
bolt: a short arrow fired from a crossbow.
Boon Day: compulsory work day when manor workers helped in the lord's fields.
bore: iron-tipped battering ram for attacking masonry, also known as pick.
Bottler: a person who presided over the buttery.
bower: the lady's apartment, or suite. Withdrawing-room and sleeping apartment.
brattice: a wooden perimeter defence.
bressumer: beam that supports the hoarding. A massive beam spanning an opening.
Butler: a person in charge of the bottles of beer and wine.
buttery: room where wine was dispensed from barrels. Bottlery. Usually located between the hall and the kitchen. A store room for provisions.
buttress: thickening of a wall for strength and support.
butts: targets for town archery practice.


caphouse: gabled turret, often containing a stair-head.
Carpenter: a skilled craftsman who shaped or made things of wood.
Castellan: a person in charge of the castle. Custodian.
castellation: battlements. Implying use as decorative feature.
castle: properly fortified military residence. Derived from the Latin castellum.
cavalier tower: a square wall-tower astride a curtain to provide additional living space.
chamfer: beveled face formed by cutting off corner of stone or timber structure.
capital: head of a column.
caput: feudal term for the administrative center of a lordship.
chamfer: plane formed when the sharp edge or angle of a squared stone block is cut away.
chivalry: rules of polite and honorable behavior that knights were supposed to follow.
concentric: castles having two parallel lines of defence, the outer wall closely surrounding the inner.
Constable: title of governor of the castle: also warden, captain, castellan.
corbel: projecting stone (or timber) feature on a wall to support an overhanging parapet, platform, turret, etc.
counterscarp: outer slope of a defensive ditch.
crenellation: fortification- a "license to crenellate" was official permission to raise a fortified building or fortify an existing structure. Jagged protective stonework at the top of a castle wall.
crenels: low sections of the battlements.
creasing: groove in a wall face insuring a weather proof junction with a roof or chimney which abuts it.
crosslet/crosslit: a loophole arranged in the form of a cross.
cruck: curved timber from ground to roof ridge to support the roof.
culb: bowl.
curtain: wall enclosing a bailey, courtyard, or ward, generally constructed in stone.
cusp: projecting point usually in the upper portion of a tracery window and often seen in ogee-headed windows.
Custo: temporary custodian or governor of a castle or lordship.


dais: a raised platform for the high table, at the end of the upper hall.
daub: mud coating-like plaster-on a panel.
demesne: land retained by the lord.
dernier ressort: last refuge in a fortress.
donjon: keep or great tower, the main citadel of a castle.
dormer: a window partly in the wall and partly in the roof.
doune: a Celtic word meaning "a fortress".
drawbar: sliding wooden bar to secure a door in the closed position.
drawbridge: a bridge or roadway across a moat or ditch that lifted to make crossing impossible.
dressed stone: stones worked into a smooth molded face. Used to outline angles, windows, and doors. Dressings.
drum tower: tower that is completely round.
drystone: method of building without mortar or clay.
duel: a fight to the death with formal rules to settle an argument.


embrasures: splayed opening in a wall or parapet. Arrow loops in the merlons.
enceinte: enclosure or courtyard.
escalade: assault on a wall or palisade by scaling ladders.
Ewerer: worker who brought and heated water for the nobles.


familia: personal household of a feudal lord.
facet: straight line of defensive walling.
fenestration: arrangement of windows in a structure.
feudalism: a political and economic system under which land was granted by a landowner to a person in exchange for military service or other duties.
forebuilding: projecting defensive work screening entrance of keep or other structure from direct attack.
forestair: external open stair, leading to the upper floors.
fosse: ditch.
freestone: stone which is easily cut and molded, such as fine grained limestone or sandstone.
Fuller: worker who shrinks & thickens cloth fibers through wetting & beating the material.


gabion: wicker basket filled with earth and/or stone, used in fortifications.
garderobe: latrine, toilet or bathroom. A room to store personal items. Wardrobe.
garth: courtyard or internal enclosure, open to the sky.
gatehouse: strong multi-storeyed structure containing a fortified gate.
Gong Farmer: person who cleans the latrine.
groin vault: the line which two vaults, running at any angle, meet.


Herald: knights assistant and an expert advisor on heraldry.
heraldry: rules controlling use by nobleman regarding patterns used on flags, armor, and shields.
herisson: wooden palisade.
herringbone masonry: stone or brick laid diagonally instead of horizontally.
hoarding: wooden fighting platform fitted to parapet of wall as extra protection for defenders.
hornwork: outer earthwork obstacle usually set before an entrance to inpede attackers.


inner ward: interior courtyard, hub of castle where daily activities took place.
intra-mural: in the body of the wall.


jamb: vertical side of a doorway, window, archway, or fireplace.


keep: the main citadel of a castle. A great tower. A fortified tower containing living quarters. A self sufficient tower.
keystone: central wedge shaped stone at the top of an arch.
kife: tub or vat used in brewing or bleaching. Kive


Laird: minor baron or small landlord.
lance: long pointed pole used as a weapon in war and jousting.
lavabo: a stone basin for the washing of hands.
light: compartment of a window.
lintel: horizontal beam or stone placed over the head of a door or window and suporting the wall above.
loophole: vertical slit for air, light, or shooting through.
louver/louvre: opening in the roof of the hall/turret to let smoke escape from a central hearth.


machicolation: openings in floor of projecting parapet or platform along wall or above archway, through which defenders could drop or shoot missiles vertically on attackers below. Murder holes.
mangonel: siege engine for hurling heavy stones.
mantle: simple curtain wall without towers.
mantlet wall: wall covering or protecting an entranceway or courtyard.
Mark: unit of account, though not a coin, valued at 13s. 4d.
mason's mark: cut on dressed stone by a mason to identify his work.
merlon: the "teeth" of battlements, between the crenels or embrasures. High sections of battlements.
mezzanine: floor or landing between two main storeys. Entresol.
moat: water-filled ditch around the castle. A body of water around the castle.
molding: continuous ornamental contour formed on a surface or bevelled edge.
motte: artificial or improved natural mound on which castle was built.
mullion: vertical member dividing a window.
murage: tax levied by boroughs to pay for the building of town walls.
mural stairs: stone stairs in the wall.
murder holes: openings in the roofs of passageways through which missiles and liquids could be dropped onto attackers.


newel stair: circular or winding stair. The treads radiate from a central post or column called a newel.
Noble: a third of a pound, or half a Mark. The sum of 6s. 8d.


offset: slope or ledge on a wall or buttress where the upper face is set back.
ogee: double curve, partly concave partly convex, usually a window or door.
oillet: an eye hole. Roundel at the end of a cross shaped arrow loop.
ope: opening.
oratory: a small private chamber for prayer.
oriel: large projecting window supported on corbels.
oubliette: tiny cell where prisoners were left to die. Secret chamber.


palisade: wooden fence used for a fortification.
parados: the inner or rear wall of a wall-walk.
parapet: protective wall on outer side of wall walk.
penthouse: covered passage, built of stout(strong) timber and covered with raw hides, which protected soldiers or workmen when constructing a sap or mine within the range of the enemy, or those building a causeway across a ditch, or hacking with picks, axes at the footing or lower face of a wall.
pilaster: shallow buttress strengthening a wall.
piscina: basin with drain hole for the priest to wash their hands or vessels, usually set in a niche.
pit prison: underground cell, with access through hatch in ceiling. Dungeons. Bottle Dungeons.
plinth: platforms that keeps were raised on to prevent mining.
portcullis: heavy wooden, iron, or combination grille protecting an entrance. Raised and lowered by winches in the gatehouse.
postern: small door or gate, usually some distance from main entrance of castle or ward. Often hidden to allow defenders to enter and exit castle without detection. Sallyport. Secondary gateway or back doorway.
putlog hole: holes left by the withdrawal of timbers used to secure scaffolding.


quarrel: arrow for a crossbow.
quintain: target for jousting practice.
quoins: stones, frequently dressed, used in the angles of buildings.


rampart: a protected fighting platform for castle defenders. A defensive bank of earth or rubble
rainures: hoisting beams of a drawbridge.
Reeve: senior officer of a borough.
relieving arch: roughly constructed false arch.
rere-arch: arch on the inside face of a window embrasure.
revetment: an outwork or embankment faced with a layer of masonry for additional strength.
revetting: facing applied to the wall or bank.
ringwork: small enclosure with a high rampart around it.
rubble: walling of rough, undressed stones. Fill stone.


screen: narrow passage at the lower end of the hall. Screen passage
shingles: wooden tiles for covering roofs.
siege: attacking a castle in order to cause surrender.
siege engine: a machine for firing missiles at castle or for scaling walls.
siegework: an eathwork raised for the protection of a force besieging a castle.
sill: lowest horizontal member of a window frame or partition.
shutter: movable device for closing the crenel or other opening.
skene: knife dagger or small sword.
slighting: the process of rendering a castle useless to prevent its future use. Dismantling a fortification. This was done by breaching walls, undermining walls, and later, by blowing them up with gun powder.
Smiths: responsible for the forging and repair of domestic and military iron-work.
solar: private living quarters of lord, usually adjacent to great hall.
splay: an aperture which widens as it progresses inwards.
springer: lowest tilted stones of an arch or vault.
squinch: masonry arch bridging an angle to carry a stone structure in the angle.
Squire: trainee knight who served as assistant to the knight.
stop: carved device terminating a continuous molding or chamfer.
string course: horizontal projecting molding or band on the face of a wall.


transom: horizontal bar of stone or wood in a window to divide the lights.
trebuchet: giant siege engine in the form of a boulder firing catapult.
trefoil: three-lobed or three-leaved motif.
trunnions: axles on which a drawbridge turned.
turning bridge: early variation on drawbridge, operating on "see-saw" principle.
turret: a small tower.


undercroft: plain room under a domestic building of a medieval house or castle most often used as storage.


vault: an arched roof usually of stone.
voussoirs: stones or bricks used in the construction of an arch. Usually wedge shaped.


wall plate: beam laid along the lateral wall tops to receive the feet of the rafters.
wall walk: walkway on a wall top, protected by a parapet.
ward: courtyard enclosure of a castle. More confined version of a bailey with a stone wall.
Warder: person nominated for the duty of watching the lights in the castle chapel. Night-watchman.
weeper: hole for carrying off rain water from the wall-walk.
wicker centering/centring: frame of wicker built to hold the vault in place while being constructed.
windlass: mechanical device used to raise and lower the drawbridge.




yett: Scottish variation on portcullis. Gate made of intersecting iron bars penetrating each other vertically and horizontally.