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Thread: Architecture of a Castle.

  1. #11
      Ryan K is offline
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    Cursed Victorians. They've polluted our understanding of medieval society and culture.

    As has been said before/above, a gate hinged upon the side, or sides, has a very lovely advantage to the defenders. When it is time to sally forth to reclaim the fortress, a defending force can be certain that the area immediately outside the gate will be clear, or will be cleared when the gate swings open. With the help of a few consistently placed spikes on the outward-facing gate, any aggressor unlucky enough to be too close will be taken for a very point ride. Everyone smart enough to get out of the way will push themselves back away from the gate... and into a better position for any wall-mounted defenders with projectiles.
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    RK

  2. #12
    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    I've been looking in vain for an example, but all I can find is a quote from a reference book:
    Quote Originally Posted by http://www.angelfire.com/wy/svenskildbiter/madict.html#H.
    Herse: A door stuck with protruding iron spikes. The door was hinged at the top and suspended in the open position by a rope. This rope was cut or released to effect a surprise blockage of the gateway or passage where it was situated.
    The best way to do something is not usually the way it gets done, particularly when governments are involved. I was attempting to describe a portcullis that could be used without the necessary overhead space requirement, and this device fits the bill.

    Incidentally, I ran across that Scottish gate during my research. It appears to have been called a yett.
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  3. #13
      the-golem is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Midgardsormr View Post
    I've been looking in vain for an example, but all I can find is a quote from a reference book:


    The best way to do something is not usually the way it gets done, particularly when governments are involved. I was attempting to describe a portcullis that could be used without the necessary overhead space requirement, and this device fits the bill.

    Incidentally, I ran across that Scottish gate during my research. It appears to have been called a yett.
    Oh this sounds lovely. The protruding spikes would catch maraduers as the gate came crashing down. Thankyou. I'll probably be using this feature.

    As for the crank, couldn't it operate similar (in idea, not mechanics) to a fishing rod? Freely moves one way, but you have to crank it the reverse?

  4. #14
      rdanhenry is offline
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    Yeah, that's about the only place where spikes would actually be useful. A proper gate isn't going to swing open fast enough to make a good weapon and you need to not put spikes anywhere they'll be useful to help climbing.

    I haven't been in a lot of castles, but I those I have been in did have rather steep stairs.

    Normally, you'd rather lower the portcullis than crash it down, because you don't want to damage it or the mechanism. Even replacing a cut rope is work you don't want to do if you don't have to. That doesn't mean you wouldn't do it if the situation was dire enough.

    Note that the portcullis need not have its own height to be drawn up into. There are certainly enough representations of the bottom of the portcullis showing in the entryway to a castle. The entry arch would lose a little off the top, but you plan the height to meet your needs without assuming the tall guy will always ride in the middle. This not only saves you a few feet of space above, but it makes the gate look like it has teeth. Why wouldn't you want a castle with bite? They are also commonly used in pairs, with the passage between them lined with murder holes or other defenses, so if the attackers get through the outer portcullis by whatever means (including overeager charging in while you allow it deliberately), they're trying the breech the inner portcullis from a killing zone.

    You can find authentic castle plans online and in library books. Study of these and using them as guides in making your own drawings is the cheap way to go about it, if you don't want to invest in a book discussing castle design.

  5. #15
      Talroth is offline
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    Every portcullis I have ever read about that was in working order was counter balanced so a single man could raise or lower it. (Note, this has not been a lot of material. It is an oddly lacking detail from a lot of books on fortifications.) This means that you can't really 'crash the gate shut' in general design, because there is a nearly equal weight that you have to raise up to lower the gate.

    Now yes, you could possibly cut the cables holding it, but we're not talking about a thin little rope that you can easily slice through in the blink of an eye. Also I know a number of gates were eventually upgraded to metal chain in place of fiber rope, because chain doesn't easily rot out and let the gate fall at a random and potentially highly inconvenient time.

    I also agree with rdanhenry about actually letting the gate crash down suddenly being a bad idea, as you risk damage to the thing that is suppose to be in good enough shape to withstand rams and the like. No sense doing part of the attacker's job for them.

    And on another random note, I can't really think of many times where you would need to suddenly slam heavy gates shut. Often times if there was any worry of attack or possible attack, the gates would simply remain close. Either smaller secondary gates would be used, or possibly wicket gates set within the main gates themselves. Gates that weren't locked down firmly would have been guarded by a number of armed men, and the space from a large distance around the gate is cleared. If a large party that posed a threat to the castle appeared, the gates would have been barred before the enemies could get there. Now it is true that a small party could attempt to take a gate, but the defenders still have an advantage: A narrow passage with a few men armed with spears isn't a fun thing to walk through. Add in a few men above the gate throwing stuff down, and it becomes down right nasty even with the doors wide open.

    Traps and surprises could be useful at some times, but you also have to consider the risks to the people who are actually suppose to be there. Hair trigger death gates would be kind of frowned upon if they killed someone they weren't suppose to.

    Can anyone find a reference as to what castles a Herse was ever used on? It isn't something I've come across before, and now I'm really curious about it.

  6. #16
    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    I haven't been able to find such a reference yet, and I'd bet that there aren't any still in existence because a 400+ year old death trap isn't something you want to keep in working order, especially in a touristy location such as an intact castle. They've probably all been removed. Plus, it's been 15 years since my last real study of medieval fortifications. So my reference library on the subject is somewhat thin.

    edit: That should read "there aren't any gates of this kind still in existence." I didn't mean that there aren't any references.
    Last edited by Midgardsormr; 03-20-2011 at 04:06 PM.
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  7. #17
      the-golem is offline
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    These are all awesome replies. Thank you all very much.

  8. #18
      anstett is offline
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    If I can offer one slightly counter view point.

    Depending on the setting Magic does have a lot to bear on this. Speed at getting things up and down can be increased and likely will be one key factor.

    It was mentioned earlier that you typically can see someone coming from a long way off and know to close the gates. In a fantasy setting speeding things up on one or both sides can make a huge difference. Magically fast movement (up to teleport) means your guards need a hair trigger or you just need to accept that you will be surprised once in a while by an attacker. Magical camouflage means not noticing that bush walking up to the gates.

    Given the idea that there are magical barriers on the walls to protect from magical entry such as teleport attackers still need to breach the gate in a physical fashion so there is still a need to keep those defenses up to snuff. I think the hinged gate idea works well because of its quickness rather than the more complicated counter balancing for a drop down portcullis.

    I think that even in High Magic settings a strong castle defense is required to give the attackers a rock/impediment that they have to somehow overcome at some point. The more problems you can put in front of an enemy the more chances they have of screwing the attack up.

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  9. #19
      the-golem is offline
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    I spent a good hour (probably) on this, and came up blank. However, it's entirely possible I'm not searching with the right terms; I've found that when I change a word or two, and that makes a world of difference.

    Anyway, I've been trying to figure out an "average size" of a portcullis. Alternatively (as I've tried both methods) the average height of man on horseback. To put it succinctly, how much clearance does my gate need to clear a cavalryman? My gut says 8ft average for a cavalryman, plus a few feet for clearance, which gives me 10ft. This leads me to a portcullis size of roughly 10ft by 10ft. This is all guesswork on my part, mind you.

    If anyone has some insight, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!

    PS: I've started a "WIP" thread of sorts on enworld, documenting my progress on this hefty undertaking. I figured that much was out of the realm of this forum. For those that are interested, you can find it at: Project: Harken Keep at Scale
    Last edited by the-golem; 03-21-2011 at 07:10 PM.

  10. #20
      ravells is offline
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    It's a shame you don't have photoshop, you can use the vanishing point filter to measure dimensions from a photograph. All you need is one 'known' starting dimension. There must be ways you can do it with a ruler and trig as well, but I'm no mathematician.

    Different portcullis entries were different heights and sizes, I don't think there was a standard. If you want to post a photo of one you had in mind, I (or anyone else with photoshop CS3 extended or better) can measure it for you.

    Here's one. Assuming the person standing under the gate is 5.8 feet high, I make the portcullis about 15.2 feet high, and the width is about 13.8 feet.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Architecture of a Castle.-portcullis.jpg  

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