Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I was doing some research on L shaped castles and the purpose behind them. Actually, most of them look more like towers, at least the oldest ones, than my idea of a castle. J Scotland has quite a few L shaped castles but they can be found in many locations in the world, Italy, Romania, and of course in England and Ireland,

The L shape was a design for defense. The top of the tower had battlement structures and walkways built up. The walkways allowed clear pathways around the top for soldiers and weapons to be moved in any direction and a clear position to see anything coming in any direction.  The crenellations were designed to give the most protection to the archers and the gaps between were large enough that rocks and other nasty things could be dropped on the enemy below. 

The beauty of the L shape was the ability to defend the entrance door of the tower house by providing cover for the defenders from the adjoining walls. They could lay down covering fire of weaponry. The doors to the tower house were very thick and heavy. It would take a serious effort to break through the barred entrance door. The walls were very thick—some were 14 feet thick—and better able to handle catapults and cannon fire. Aside from the cannon fire the walls needed to be thick to support a tall defensive tower. Protective stone walls were often built around tower houses for added defense and offer protection to the lord's men, horses, and whatever supportive industries needed to operate the castle. The population within those walls would rival many small towns of today.  Most castles were built on high ground and some with their backs near cliffs with the ocean below. This was an added protection.

One of best views of one of these old L shape keeps is, Gleninagh castle, in Ireland. Quite impressive, actually.

Most L shaped castles were built between the 13th and 17th century and then a curious thing began to happen as things began to move from feudal kingdom life and a more secure countryside under a central ruling monarch. The barons began to ‘modernize’ them. Oh, they maintained the strong defensive structure—some kings weren’t exactly trustworthy, think King John—but they also became more manor like. More of a home and less a strictly a defense structure and this became more pronounced as the years went by.

In the 13th through the 15th centuries no self-respecting warrior laird would allow anything more than window slits anywhere on the ground floors and if there were larger window openings they were on the upper floors. Glass windows weren't common for many years. Nice solid strong wood shutters easy to shut and bar. A laird concerned with defense had no forests fancy landscaping near the outer walls—too easy for invaders to hide. Land was cleared to a good distance so there was a clear view of the surrounding area. Any gardens or flowers were in designated areas enclosed within defensive walled area.

By the late 1700’s and 1800’s many of these old L shaped castles became impressive manors. A good example of an L shaped castle so remodeled is Muchalls Castle. You can still clearly see the original L shape but no defensive tower in the center, although there is an indication when looking at the foundations that there once was one.

Another impressive castle that went through 15 years of modernization is Culzean castle. It once was a fortified L shaped tower house. In 1762 the current Earl of Cassilis decided to renovate it and make it more comfortable. He employed a young Robert Adams to update it.

Today you would have to look long and hard to see it as an L shaped Tower house. But the tale of its transformation to one of Scotland’s best-loved castles is a story for another time.

  • I can’t help but wonder, if the original lords could see their castles now, what would they think? 


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I saw quite a few castles in Scotland and England, but I don't recall paying attention to the L shape. Makes sense as far as defense.

Michelle Wallace said...

Such beautiful structures...
A lot of thought went into the planning and erection of these well fortified castles!

Crystal Collier said...

Awesome. My hubby and I were talking just yesterday about things we'd like to do one day, and a European castle tour was one of the things on my list. When I saw the L shape, I instantly started thinking of some modern houses I see all the time. Now I get it! They're just guarding their front porch. ;)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Oh those are beautiful. I never knew there was a master plan behind the L shape.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I also never thought of the significance of L shaped castles. They are practical, as well as aesthetically pleasing.


Kat Sheridan said...

Castles! You know I love them. And lots of great information here!

Dani Harper said...

This was fascinating! Thanks for the post. Some of it I knew from my own research, but the significance of the L-shape eluded me. I'll be sure to share this with my hubby (who is also a history addict!)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex--there are quite a few castle built on other defensive plans like the Z and the T. Actually, when some of the castles were updated they moved to a T shape by adding another wing.

Michelle--yes indeed. Many castles castles were set on borderlands where there was more unrest. They had to protect and stand against enemies. The tower was one of the first things built. Quite defensible even before the protective walls were completed. Everything could be pulled into the tower. The lower area was very large and war horses could be protected there.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Crystal, there are castles, like Culzean, that offer accommodations.

Diane--don't know that I'd want to LIVE in one but I'd feel safe in one during a war especially if I had a water source--which many did.

Julie--different world then. First thought was protection.

Kat--I love them too! Just a bit from research files. :-)

Dani--I knew I would love your hubs!