Featured image of Castle Drawbridge

Castle Drawbridge

During the medieval period, castles increased their defence capabilities by introducing features like a castle moat – one of the most effective castle defences of the time. A castle moat is like a ditch around the castle that is usually filled with water. But then how would castle inhabitants enter and leave the castle? That’s where a medieval Castle Drawbridge came in.

Purpose of Castle Drawbridge

Hammond Castle Drawbridge
Hammond Castle – Drawbridge”, by Brian Herzog, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A castle with a drawbridge meant having the drawbridge connect a road to the entrance of a castle, the Barbican, and finally, the Gatehouse. The Barbican was the second round of defence of the castle after the moat and consisted of an exterior wall with a portcullis and multiple gates leading to the Gatehouse.

A Castle drawbridge was made long enough to span over the moat and was attached to the castle via ropes or chains. In case of an attack, the drawbridge could be raised via those ropes or chains to prevent entry into the fortification. While the moat was the castle’s first line of defence, a drawbridge made this idea functional. The Castle drawbridge is laid down for regular commutation and raised to delay an attacking army. Once the danger had passed, the drawbridge was once again dropped down.

So the purpose of a castle drawbridge was to either facilitate or prevent easy entry into a medieval castle.

Design of Castle Drawbridge

Bunratty Castle - Drawbridge Mechanism
Bunratty Castle – Drawbridge Mechanism”, by Joseph Mischyshyn, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A medieval Castle Drawbridge had a relatively simple design. Made of wood, the drawbridge comprised a heavy deck long enough to cover the width of the moat with one edge hinged or pivoting at the gatehouse entrance. Thus, the drawbridge could be lowered or raised using ropes or chains attached to a windlass in a chamber of the Gatehouse. For heavier bridges, the bascule or other heavier counterweights were also used. Sometimes, even the portcullis itself would be used as a counterweight.

In the beginning, such bridges were designed to move by hand, but later, medieval castle drawbridges were more advanced and implemented pulleys and winches to raise and lower them. A few bridges were even designed to be destroyed during the attack. As pointed out earlier, a Castle Drawbridge was typically followed by one or more portcullises to further strengthen the defence. Apart from raising the bridge, attackers’ access was also resisted with missiles and arrows.

History of Castle Drawbridge

Cawdor castle, drawbridge
Cawdor castle, drawbridge”, by John Mason, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The medieval period was an exciting time. The old Medieval Castles were not just a symbol of prosperity and power but were also built for warfare and defence. Why? Because these medieval castles were often the centre of historic battles and sieges. These castles were built and renovated with new parts explicitly designed to uplift their defence capabilities. The medieval Castle Drawbridge was introduced with Norman and Plantagenet castles during the medieval period 1066 – 1485. Fun fact, the Helmingham Hall in the UK has two 16th century Drawbridges that still work!

Castle with drawbridge is quite a scene to watch as it is a remarkable symbol of innovation humans have always been capable of. These drawbridges and their gradual development from manual to mechanical signify the journey of history and innovation. We hope it was fun to learn about the medieval castle drawbridges and their history.

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