Tag Archives: medieval war

Book Review: The Medieval Fortress by J.E. & H.W. Kaufmann

The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages is a good study of the art and methods of fortifications and castles built in Eastern and Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the early modern period.

The book is right around 300 pages long and includes many illustrations.  It also includes a glossary, which is very helpful to those that are not familiar with the technical terms for elements of castles and fortifications. It is separated into 5 chapters, the first deals with the elements of fortification, the next three are chronological about the development of castles and the final chapter covers the significant castles of Europe by country of location.

The layout and organization of this book is very good, but one of the things I like the best about it is the way in which the information is presented.  This book is written for the layman but the authors manage to maintain the scholarly feel of the writing without putting the reader off the subject.  that is a very difficult balancing act with any subject but particularly so with something as inherently technical as the design of castles and fortifications.  The authors manage to both inform and entertain in this book.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the author’s use of castles that are not famous as well as those that are to illustrate their points.  What I discovered while reading this book was that many of the less famous castles are more interesting than the ones we have all heard of.  It is interesting to read about the history of the White Tower in London but most people have heard of it.  What most people have not heard of who do not study fortification or the medieval world are Vincennes Castle in France or Doonagors Castle in Ireland, both interesting takes on tower construction.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the descriptions of significant forts and castles of the countries in Europe.  I got several travel ideas from reading this section of castles I would like to visit when I get the chance. The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that there are no color illustrations in the book, everything is black & white.  That is only a minor complaint though and the lack of color photos does not really detract from the value of the book.  This is an excellent book on medieval fortification that should be of interest to both the medievalist and those who just think castles are cool.  I highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History is a very interesting book.  I picked it up because we had a three hour bus ride to get to my son’s football game and my wife was using my Kindle.  I am certainly glad I did.

This is a well written 330 page book.  It includes an index and bibliography, both unfortunately short.  The book is organized chronologically in five chapters covering fortification and castles from the 5th to the 16th century A.D.  Each chapter is further subdivided geographically and covers both eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East. There are many illustrations, both ground plans and sketches that help to illuminate the text. This is a very good introductory volume to medieval fortification.

I found the book to be both entertaining and informative.  The author has a very readable writing style and except for using the unavoidable specialist vocabulary of fortification is easy to understand.  For someone like me who finds the military aspects of castles fascinating it was quite illuminating to read.  I already knew quite a bit about castles but I learned a few things myself.  Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the development of the Trace Italienne fortifications of the 15th and 16th centuries.  I was not aware that many of the elements of that style were not really developed in Italy, but instead were only perfected there. One of the most interesting things about this book is that the author deliberately chose to focus most of this work on less famous castles and forts.  Everyone has heard of Carcassonne, Beaumaris, and Krak des Chavaliers.  Most people have not heard or seen descriptions of such equally important castles as Helmond Castle in the Netherlands or Bellver in Spain.  Many of these lesser known castles are fascinating in their own right and the descriptions cause me to add some of them to my bucket list of places to visit.

The only complaint I have about this book is that it does not include a glossary of terms which I feel would be extremely useful, especially for people unfamiliar with the technical terms for the parts of fortification   It can become pretty confusing to keep the different elements in mind when the author continually throws around such terms as enciente, ravelin, keep, donjon, burgfried, bastille, bastion, etc. Overall this well-written and illustrated work about medieval European and Middle Eastern castles and frost is well worth reading.  I highly recommend this work to anybody interested in European castles and how they developed over time.

How to Build and Fire a Medieval Trebuchet

Who would not want to build their own Trebuchet and rain down destruction on various targets in their backyard? I know I did. Luckily, I got a Trebuchet kit from my wife for Christmas. The below video is the result of that and one I put together for a class I am currently taking on Desktop Video Production. The assignment was to make a five minute video on a topic of our choice. It had to have x-number of transitions, background music, narration and video effects. That is why there are so many crazy transitions in the video.
Believe me, shooting it is way more fun that watching me shoot it. That doesn’t bother me because I am having the fun. However, you too can have as much fun as me. The Trebuchet I have is a kit available from Oakland Ballistics on Amazon.

The background music is from an awesome Celtic band I found a while back called The Gothard SIsters.  They have several albums out already and a new one is due out this coming summer.

Book Review: Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson

Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson is perhaps the best book describing Castles aimed at the general reader that I have ever read.  The author manages to make the somewhat technical and dry language of describing castles and their construction lovely and entertaining.

It is a coffee table sized book that is jam packed with beautiful color photos of castles from all over Europe and the Middle East.  There are 200 pages with a glossary, index, and bibliography.  It is divided into 6 chronological chapters with a lengthy introduction that describes the development of the art of fortification up to the development of the first castles.  He also includes a chapter describing what living in a castle must have truly been like.  The glossary is short but helpful as it includes all the technical terms that are easily misused.

John Gibson has produced work about castles and their construction that is both informative and entertaining.  He deftly covers the castles invention and development over a period of about 1,000 years and ties the castle into both hat came before and what came after in the art of fortification.   Along the way he dispels some myths about castles, such as that they were dark dank places or the opposite that they were full of light and warmth.  He gives the lie to both notions and establishes that the truth lay somewhere in between.  He also points out that dungeons as described in popular literature did not really exist although there were some places in castles that were used as prisons including entire castle at times.  What was good for keeping people out was also pretty good at keeping them in when used for that purpose.

Aside from the quality of the photos the thing about this book that I enjoyed the most was the quality of the writing.  I never got bored while reading this book and the illustrations are well placed to illuminate the text.  There are several fold-outs of significant castles that illustrate stages in castle development.  This is a highly enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.


Burg Waldeck in Waldeck, Germany

Below is a series of photos I took recently when my family and I visited the castle ruins of Burg Waldeck in Waldeck, Germany.  The top photo is a screen shot from Google Earth showing the layout of the castle as it appears today.

Overhead view of the castle and the hill it sits on from Google Earth.

Burg Waldeck is a typical Keep and Bailey type castle.  There is a rounded keep at the center of the complex with a small courtyard and various outbuildings.  It is surrounded by a curtain wall that is currently about 10-15 foot high with rounded turrets defending the most vulnerable parts of the wall.  It sits on top of fairly steep hill that rises about 300-350 feet above the surrounding terrain.  Today the castle complex is entered from the northeast but in medieval times the entrance was through a double gate on the southeast corner of the complex.  There are a couple of cisterns I found at the base of the hill that had tunnels leading in the general direction of the keep and may have been built concurrently with the castle to ensure water supply.  I did not follow them very far because of lack of equipment and they were fairly full of rubble and probably dangerous.  I did get some pictures of the interior though.

Complex Map that I found on-site. The translation follows:
1. The Inner Palace
2. Prince’s Parlor and Chamber
3. Keep
4. Chapel of Saint Agid
5. Granary
6. Outer and Inner Gate
7. New Bastion
8. Smithy, powder and ammunition chamber
9. Stables, rifle, and storage chamber
10. Round Tower “Ober Waldeck”
11. Stables and Bakery
12. Kemnath Tower
13. Courtyard
14. Forward Bastion
15. Armesberger or Trinity Tower
16. Kulmain Tower
17. Granau Tower
18. Tower

The castle itself was originally constructed in the 12th Century and was in almost continuous use until its destruction in 1705 at the end of an unsuccessful seven month siege.  The castle was besieged several times in its history and passed back and forth in possession between Bavaria, Franconia, and the Swedes.  Much of what exists today are reconstructions completed by the local historical society.

Approaching the modern entrance to the castle


The medieval entrance to the castle. Only the inner gate is still standing, the ruins of the exterior gate are in the foreground of the photo
South side of Castle complex showing the Courtyard/Inner bailey and storerooms and workshops against the southern wall
This was next to the keep and I am not sure what it is. It looks somewhat like a filled in well to me but I am not sure.
A view looking north towards the central keep. Note the large basalt outcropping the keep is constructed on.
The remains of the Prince’s Parlor with the Kitchen to the left and storage rooms or servants quarters to the right. The actual living quarters for the lord of the manor would have been on an upper floor that no loner exists.
View from the Kemnath Tower looking west towards the Town of Kemnath
View from the inner gate looking over the south wall towards the “Rauher Kulm”, a volcanic basalt cone south of Waldeck.
Castle Goats, the castle’s current occupants and guardians. They chased my son up the hill when he tried to get close and menaced my wife.
More Castle goats, there were some sheep too but like sheep everywhere they were too timid to let me get close enough for a picture.
Cistern entrance below the castle on the east side of the hill. Beware Goblins :)
Interior view of the cistern showing the closed up opening in the roof. I don’t know how deep it is, I stuck a stick about 5 feet long into the water and did not touch bottom so that gives us a minimum.
Entrance to the other cave. Notice the worked stone on the upper part of the hole. This cave extended into the hill for at least 75-100 feet. I did not go very far in because I did not have any caving gear or a flashlight except for the app on my phone. One of my goals is to go back with the right gear and see what I can find out. There are bats in there because the smell of guano is almost overpowering, even in the entrance.
View from just inside the entrance to the second cave.