Strategical Architecture

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Strategical Architecture

by Victoria Mercouris

Strategical Architecture
Milestone Image
Photo Credit Patrice Soudier


This project looks at how the architecture of castle might have been used in warfare. By looking at both Farnham Castle and Ashby de la Zouch I explored the remains of two castles that were involved in the British civil war. I then compared what I found while visiting both of the castles and explained how each of the defenses work.


The goal of this milestone is to explore architecture beyond style and look at instead functionality. This was done by visiting two castles and exploring the remains of both in search of examples of defenses that would have been useful if an enemy decided to attack. There has been a lot of previous studies on castle defenses in general but I intended to focus on two specific castles, Farnham and Ashby de la Zouch.

Section 1: Background

Castles were designed to be medieval strongholds that usually housed the lord of the territory in which it stood. In western Europe, the castle developed rapidly starting in the 9th century beginning as just a motte and bailey structure. An enclosed courtyard usually accompanied this type of fortification; over time castles began to include different features that helped with defenses. Some of these included being located on a high mound with a ditch surrounding the stronghold, having a surrounding wall and a keep that served as a safe place to retreat to in times of a siege.

The Influence of Castles on Medieval England

In the 1000s motte and bailey castles were being built all over England and gave way for establishing Norman control through William the Conqueror. The castles provided a small garrison of men the ability to control a decent portion of land and population. By having this control they were able to drive the Saxon rebellion out of the land. After that castle became a place for a lord to run his estate and see the surrounding area that was claimed as his. Over time the small wood motte and bailey castles became large stone fortresses showing off the lord's wealth and power. Over time castles became very important in warfare as a castle usually control a land economy by acting as the Treasury.

Castles in Media

As of recently, castle have grown quite famous due to their role in media. Many TV shows and movies have used castles as the backdrop to their productions such as the American musical comedy, Galavant, which was filmed in Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Merlin, The Crown and more. The famous castle Hogwarts was created by J.K. Rowling for the series Harry Potter and has become widely known. Many people also visit restored castles or ruins and take videos, which are posted on the web. Before these portrayals though the most famous comes from the many different versions of the Arthurian Legends that have been around since the early 12th century.

Ashby de la Zouch Castle

Ruins of Ashby Castle

The castle of Ashby de la Zouch was a manor house that was modified by Lord William Hastings in the 15th century. Lord Hastings also build a new chapel and two towers that still stand in the ruins. The ruins also contain the remains of a kitchen and a great tower. While Lord Hastings was the one to start work on Ashby de la Zouch Castle he was executed in 1483 interrupting work on the castle, however, Ashby became a prominent site for his descendants. During the time of the Civil War, Ashby became an important Royalist base under the command of Henry Hastings. The castle served as a steady fortification during the war till it surrendered in 1646 with its fortifications being demolished two years later. It wasn't until the 19th century that Ashby became popular as a tourist location, due to Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe (1819).

Farnham Castle

Farnham Castle, almost 900 years old, was a place for powerful and wealthy medieval Bishops of Winchester. For hundreds of years, it served as an administrative center, fortress, and accommodations, as well ass providing a convenient stopping place in between London and Winchester. For over 800-years bishops renovated and rebuilt the castle buildings which ensured the castles survival as well as covered up and destroyed evidence of earlier building work. During the British Civil War Farnham's position on the western edge of the area held by Parliament made the castle strategically important. In 1642 Captain George Wither became a commander of a Parliamentarian garrison at Farnham Castle. On November 10 he evacuated the castle after reports of a Royalist advance across the Thames into Surrey. A few days later the keep was occupied under a Royalist. Parliament then sent a regiment under the command of Colonel Sir William Walle to the keep. On November 26 after a three-hour assault, the attackers blew up the central gate and attacked the keep causing the Royalist soldiers to surrender. It was then on December 29 that Waller ordered the north-eastern wall of the keep blown up. Once the war had ended Parliament in 1648 ordered that Farnham Castle be made indefensible. In 1958 archaeologists discovered the remains of a smaller square tower buried withing the larger round keep. This earlier keep was a variant form of a motte and bailey castle. Sometime in the middle of the 12th century, the tower was knocked down, probably order by Henry II, leaving the foundation and the well which remained until a Tudor Bishop had both filled in. The castle now is used as a training, conference, and event venue. In 2011, a permanent exhibition '900 Year of Living History' opened in the stable block and is still open to the public today

Section 2: Deliverable

Ashby de la Zouch Castle

This Castle started out as a manner so while being built there was never a need to make sure that the castle had much defensive architecture. Ashby de la Zouch was designed to be a place of luxury so it was filled with a large kitchen, bedrooms, a hall for entertaining. There also was a chapel on site for the household who would have been served by priests and singers. It wasn't until the time of the civil war that the Ashby was used a base for the RoyalistsBoth the town and castle were fortified by Henery, the fifth Earl of Huntingdon. In the town, several buildings were torn down and used to create defenses, with the castle as the focus of these arrangements being dubbed 'Hastings' Stronghold'. When the Royalist eventually surrendered Ashby they were allowed to leave safely but the castle was unfortunately bombed.

Uneven Steps

One hand and a quarter high
Almost two hands tall

One thing that I noticed was this particular step of uneven stairs, while I was on the lookout for defensive architecture I actually found these because I trip over them, which was the purpose behind them. The idea was that the people living there and climbing the stairs every day would get used to the steps but those who would try and storm the tower would trip unfamiliar with the layout. As you can see in the picture one step is about a hand and a quarter high while the other is almost two hands high. While this many seem like not much to the eye people climbing the stairs in a hurry would be used to all steps being a certain level and this would cause them to at least stumble.

Winding Steps

Since the castle was blown up there is not much remaining in the way of staircases but on the one tower remaining there is a tall winding staircase. When the tower was being attacked these staircases would provide a benefit to those at the top due to the direction the stairs traveled. If coming from the top a person would be traveling counter clockwise. As most people are right-handed this gave them more room to swing their sword then the enemy who would be travel clockwise as the made their way upwards.

Winding Stairs.jpg

Supply Tunnels

It was only during the civil war that the castle had supply tunnels built. These ran under the castle's wall and were used to move troops and supplies. There also was a large storage area at the end of the tunnel that was used to store supplies. Supply Tunnel
Steps leading to the tunnel

Farnham Castle

Archer WIndow

These windows were created to be used for archers. There skinny long shape was to allow for an archer to be able to shot at the incoming enemy from above while providing as much protection as possible. Inside Arrow Window.jpg


Before entering the keep an enemy would first have to cross a deep pit. This would be done by going over the drawbridge when down. What is good with this set up is that there was a room right about the bridge that housed all the mechanics for it so if an enemy attempted to cross over it would be easy to raise it. Unfortunately when the castle was made indefensible the bridge was destroyed and the pit filled in. Below is an artist rendition of what it might have looked like and then what it looks like today. Drawbridge.jpg Brick Path.jpg


Assuming that a group of enemies managed to make it over the bridge the next line of defense would be the murder hole. Before they could enter the keep a gate would drop and the drawbridge would close locking the invaders in a small room with a hole over it. Then while trapped inside burning hole oil would be poured down the hole leading to a gruesome and painful death. Bottom Murder Hole.jpg


Each of the castles have their own unique set of architecture and in my opinion, I feel that they are so different from each other because of the way the buildings were originally designed. With Ashby de la Zouch there really wasn't much thought of warfare when designing the building, most of the money and resources were for style or luxury. This lead to very few and non-effective defenses such as with the stairs. The other thing to note is that the tunnel also was something that was built once the civil war had started so when looking at the original building it would not have been there. Farnham Castle, on the other hand, was built to be defended. This allowed for the drawbridge and murder-hole to be purposefully put into the design. It is unfortunate that both of these castles were so radically altered after the civil war we will never have true images of the buildings' original forms.


This project forcused on looking for strategical or defensive architecture in castles that would have help protect it against enemies. I found that the type of defensive varied based on the original purposed of the building. One way to expand upon this project is to visit some more of the many other castles in the United Kingdom and look at how their defenses compare with what I have already found.


Hidden complexities of the frankish castle (2012). . Amsterdam: Leiden University Press. Retrieved from

Hooker, D. (2004). The importance of medieval castles. Prep School, , 12.

The idea of the castle. (2004). In A. Wheatley (Ed.), The idea of the castle in medieval england (NED - New edition ed., pp. 19-43) Boydell and Brewer.

Seats of power in europe during the hundred years war (2015). . Havertown: Oxbow Books. Retrieved from