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For information on castles, what they were, how they were built, and what was inside, go to Castles. To learn about everyday life in the middle ages, have a look at the Society section. For an extensive listing of the fighting tools of the day, go to Weapons and Armor.

West Gate, Canterbury


Weapons and Armor


West Gate, Canterbury West Gate, Canterbury West Gate, Canterbury

The gatehouse was the focus of many an attack in the middle ages. Since a castle had to have an entrance to let people in and out, this was the most obvious place to attack. Therefore, gatehouses became the site of some elaborate defensive works.

If the castle had a moat, the gatehouse would have a drawbridge to span it. In time of peace, the drawbridge would be let down in the day, and pulled up at night by means of a chain. During an attack, the drawbridge was closed, and provided an extra covering for the vulnerable gatehouse.

The portcullis was a grid of iron and wood that could drop down in front of the normal gatehouse door to further protect it. It was very heavy, and was raised by a winch system that kept it suspended above the door in normal times. Sometimes, two portcullises would be used. The first one, close to the door, would be dropped first. Then, after the enemies had begun to attack that portcullis, a second one would drop behind them, trapping them and allowing the defenders to finish them off without worrying about reinforcements.


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The Ranseur was similar to a trident, with three points, but the main point was significantly longer, and sharpened. This was because the two side points were used for grabbing. The side points were also left without a sharpened edge, unlike the partisan, whose blades were sharpened.

Ranseur Ranseur Ranseur

Great Helm

Great Helm Great Helm Great Helm

The great helm is the classic helmet of the middle ages. Its use began in the late twelfth century, during the crusades and extended to the fourteenth century. During the latter end of its popularity it was mainly used as a jousting helm, or only temporarily in combat. Due to its large cylindrical shape and cloth padding, it was often hot, and restricted the wearer’s vision more than other helmets. During battle, the great helm could often be discarded in favor of a smaller, more maneuverable helmet usually worn underneath, either the bascinet or the cervelliere.

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