Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Castle Design and Sieges Poll: I Need Your Help

I've just started writing In the Company of the Dead, an epic fantasy novel for adults, and I've belatedly realised I need to do some research, something I don't usually find I need to do.

See, the story is set in a castle. Nearly the whole story. A small castle. So I think I need to have a very clear visual myself of the setting in order to be able to describe it, because there's not a lot of space here for me to get creative with, and if I make a mistake, that also means not much space to make excuses with.

I had already decided to loosely base the castle on Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland, purely because I stumbled across it and thought it was pretty. It has the advantage of being really defensible, too, which is important since the reason the whole story is set in the castle is because it's under siege. And we want it to be a long siege or, you know, the story would end prematurely...

So here's where I need your help.

Firstly, I've got most of my castle mapped out, but I have some empty space, and I'd like your thoughts on what else should be included. Here's what I've got:
  • Guardrooms
  • Well room
  • Kitchen
  • Servery
  • Bakery
  • Servant's Quarters
  • Banqueting hall
  • Withdrawing room
  • Lords' suites
  • Gatehouse
  • Library
  • Guest rooms

What else do I need? I'm thinking a small barracks, which was noticeably absent from the plans of Caerlaverock Castle, either because it was in the ruined section of the castle, or came under some other heading like 'public rooms' or 'private rooms'. At least, I assume it must have had somewhere for guards to sleep. 

What about stables? My people have horses, but it could either be inconvenient having the horses in the castle during a siege, or a source of food (blargh...). 

Anything else?

The other thing I need your help on is the siege. Caerlaverock Castle was famously defended for 36 hours by 60 men against 3000. Not long, but the fact that such a small number held out for any length of time against such odds is incredible. At least, the attacking king was impressed, and I daresay he was more qualified to judge than I.

So my castle is being attacked by 1000 soldiers. We'll say they have some small siege equipment, but nothing too huge. As you can see, the castle is surrounded by a moat, which is surrounded by a marsh, so the only approach is front on, at the gate. I want the siege to stretch out for some time, but the odds to be bad enough that the attackers will likely fail before help arrives.

Please do contribute any other thoughts in the comments below. I'm also open to suggestions for the name of my castle, as it remains nameless for the time being.


Your Sweet Satan said...

A smithy would be handy. Your castle's defenders will need to repair their armor and weapons. Likewise for a fletcher; once the defenders use their arrows, they'll need more. A bowyer will be needed to make new bows. Hell, there should be an arsenal/armory to store all this equipment, and a quartermaster to manage it all and the food stores.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Aha, most excellent! You make some very good points. thanks, you rock, and for taking the effort to try and post this twice :-)

Will Hahn said...

WOW! Ciara, what a fabulous design and a great question.

To suggest an answer to your question- have you considered, em, the garderobes? Classic infiltration path for the daring besiegers! And the fact is, you have to have them, and you have to do something with the, um, product or else the latter end of that siege is going to be unthinkable. Disease, miasma, the whole works.But most castles had adequate facilities and you should consider whereabouts those are. Another suggestion is the donjon or gaol, assuming this keep is also the lord's seat of justice and the place where the (rare) prisoner would be held in custodial imprisonment (perhaps an enemy noble being held for ransom). As such, it might be quite a nice room with a view. It was often in the space above the portcullis (not a basement level), because that was hard to get at. Great scene of possible action- the guard hall connecting the upper walls would run right past the barred room, maybe with a barred window where you could see the attack developing on the gate.
I agree this design doesn't leave room for much luxury- no training grounds, extra living quarters, maybe not much storage, that could impact their plight in a siege. Some foefs had a stone keep like this one for defence and numerous other buildings or a softer stockade to live in during peacetime. You might want to consider the chance of folks slipping in and out of the other keep (with the chance of getting caught of course).
Great stuff, love to see it! Hope I can remember to keep in touch and see how you're getting on with this tale.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Will, and I appreciate the thought you've given to the matter. You're absolutely right, there does need to be a garderobe somewhere! You've given me much to ponder :-)

Susan Leigh Noble said...

I too like the idea of a smithy. I also think a stable is doable. I would assume the entrance to the castle leads pretty quickly to that open courtyard. I am thinking a smithy and stable might work in the area listed as the banquet hall. I also think you need an armory - unless that is incorporated in guards room.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I think you're right. I'm also thinking there's nothing that really precludes me making the castle another level higher, or adding a sub-story - a basement could be used for storage, including possibly an armoury.

Greg said...

As to the defense troop count/time question:

The most important thing is that the castle is well-provisioned. Provided the soldiers inside have enough food, they have little choice but to sit and defend. Sieges were marked by a lot of waiting and often little actual violence - the attackers often sat outside bow range and "reduced" the defenses with whatever engines they had, while simultaneously waiting for the defenders to starve into surrendering.

If the defenders don't starve, the attackers need to start thinking about an assault. Storming the castle consists of actually walking up, overcoming whatever defenses you haven't already knocked down, and killing whomever doesn't surrender. With intact walls and other defensive options (like that moat) the assault would be incredibly costly for the attacker and still run the risk of not taking the castle, leaving you with a bloodied and demoralized force.

With the castle pictured above, I could see 100 troops being enough to discourage an attacking force from wanting to try an assault. 200 would almost certainly make them blanch at the thought, especially if they don't have siege engines up to the task of beating the hell out of the towers and walls. Small castles were extremely efficient in defense - not a lot of real estate for the defenders to watch over. It is easily within the realm of possibility that the attacker would not be secure in a numerical advantage of 10:1, or even 20:1, especially if he thinks time is on his side.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks! This is incredibly useful, and follows my logical reasoning, such as it was. My castle knowledge is a bit cobbled together, but this sure doesn't look like a castle I'd want to attack. 100 was kind of the number I had in mind. 50 seemed too low, 200 I was teetering on, 500 seemed far too many (particularly for the castle to accommodate). I could of course adjust the number of attackers if I had needed to, but 1000 seemed a reasonable number under the political circumstances of the story - more might be stretching belief. Cheers!

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