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Warfare and siege

Castles were a type of building brought about by military necessity. Their most important role was one of consolidation of conquered lands and as a military base for further excursions. A castle is unique in that it was designed for defence and attack. It stood as the largest structure for miles around, the recognised centre of controlled lands. As such the castle was the most obvious place of attack for marauding soldiers angry at the new domination of their lands by the Normans. This fact meant that the castle needed to be as solid and as impregnable as possible. The castle walls needed to be able to withstand medieval siege-engines whilst affording the defenders inside the ability to strike back.

Fighting Men

In the medieval period there were two main types of fighting men: knights and foot soldiers.

Knights were members of the nobility. To become a knight you had to train hard and be prepared to live by virtue and chivalry. It was generally accepted in the medieval period that only the sons of knights could become knights. In battle knights rode on horseback and were dressed in strong metal armour designed to protect the body from sword blades and arrows. Knights also had helmets, shields and long swords. This equipment was very expensive and could often cost the equivalent of 100 years' salary of an ordinary labourer. 

Foot soldiers fought on the ground; they had very little body protection and were usually only equipped with pikes (long spears) or bows and arrows. It was these men who were most likely to die in battle.

Both sets of men were recruited by the lord of a castle to fight for his cause and if necessary to die doing so. Knights that served a particular lord were required to do knight's service at one of his castles  - this could be up to forty days per year.

By the 14th century some men had become professional fighters, realising that they could make more money out of the sacking and pillaging (robbing) of a town than by manual labour.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2002]