A Medieval Knight's Dream
T0 build or not to build, that is the quest
During the Medieval era of history, life was lived by a very different set of political, economic, and social rules. The only form of government was a Monarchy where the king or queen ruled by "divine right." "Divine right" simply meant that God appointed the king or queen to rule with absolute power. The main economic system was Feudalism in which the king appointed a baron or knight to oversee a portion of his land in return for loyalty and protection in case of invasion. The baron or knight would oversee the serfs who labored on the land in return for protection given by the baron or knight. In order to better understand Feudalism and Monarchy, click here before you begin your task.
You are a Medieval Castle Builder living in Wales in the year 1076. You are hired by the Norman Baron Lord William de Whinesalot to build him a fantastic castle in Aberystwyth, Wales. The population of Aberystwyth is approximately 300 serfs, 150 soldiers in residence, a household staff of about 50 people and approximately 20 family members. Before beginning the design of the castle, it is important that you see the location. Click here and locate Aberystwyth on the map of Wales. Be sure to note any geographical features that you will want to accommodate in your plans.
The Baron wants his castle to not only be beautiful, but also the strongest castle of defense ever built. You are confident that you can build the Baron this castle because you have the technology to search out many different castles all over the world and select the best features from each.
Before you can begin the castle design, you must first become familiar with the Welsh people who are going to inhabit this castle. It is important for you to research the purpose of the castle and become familiar with the daily life of a Welsh castle.
After researching and taking notes on what daily life in a Welsh castle is like, you will then begin the design of the Baron's new castle. Be sure to follow the Baron's list of things he wants in the castle, then you may use your imagination to design the rest.
Your design may take the shape of a three-dimensional poster, a three-dimensional model, a video, or a sculpture. The design must be complete and detailed and must give the viewer a true sense of what the castle will look like when it is actually built.
Step 1 - Daily Life
To begin your research look at the Internet site "Life in a Medieval Castle" which will give you a good look at daily life in a Welsh castle. Keep a "Builder's Journal" in which you record all of the important aspects of daily life so you can address these areas in the design of the Baron's castle. Use the following guide questions to help you take notes on certain important areas:
- What is the importance of a "Great Hall" in a castle?
- What did a typical hall look like? Flooring? Lighting?
- Describe how heating was accomplished in the Medieval halls.
- Describe the kitchens usually found in Medieval castles.
- Explain how the main bedrooms and guest rooms were laid out in the castle.
- What were squints used for?
- Did castles have water accessible on all floors? Explain.
- Where was the chapel located in early castles?
- How are guests seated when they come for dinner?
- List four things you learned about knights.
Step 2 - The Baron's Castle Specifications
Once you have taken notes on the life of the castle inhabitants, you are ready to review Baron William de Whinesalot's specific requirements. Use our "Glossary of Castle Terms" or our "Castle Deffinitions" to identify each thing that the Baron is requiring in his castle. Write the definition of each word on a sheet of paper and keep it next to the computer for your reference. Be sure you do not leave anything the Baron wants out (he is not a forgiving man), so review the list carefully!
- postern gate
- outer ward
- outer curtain
- murder holes
- donjon or keep
- great chamber
- gate house
Step 3 - Castle Research
Once you have made a list of all of Baron de Whinesalots' requests, you may begin researching other castles for design ideas. Be sure you stay focused on castles from the same approximate time frame - 1000 to 1150. A good place to begin your search is at our Land of Castles.
As you browse through other castles, be sure to look for features that will help you make the Baron's castle as strong as possible. In other words, it must be able to withstand the strongest and longest attack from any enemy! Some good information on castle defenses can be found at the Castle Siegecraft and Defense site. This site will give you lots of information on how to design your castle to withstand attacks successfully.
Step 4 - Castle Layout and Design
Now that you have researched several different castles, it is time to begin a blueprint of the Baron's Castle. Begin by establishing the dimensions of the castle, be sure it is large enough to accommodate all of the castle inhabitants, including the serfs, in case of a siege.
Next, draw an outline of the main castle and of all the outbuildings that you will need. Include all gardens and food storage facilities that you will need. Remember food capacity is crucial to survive in case the castle is under siege. Some sieges lasted for over a year in Medieval times!
Use a ruler to draw the dimensions of the castle to scale. Drawing to scale means you must choose a standard scale for measuring so that each building is in proportion with the others. For example, each 10 square feet of castle space may equal 1 inch on your blueprint. You may choose your own scale.
Be sure that each area of your blueprint is clearly marked with dimensions and has its function clearly labeled.
Step 5 - The Model
Now that you have completed your blueprint, begin the construction of the model. Your rendering may take the form of a three-dimensional poster, a three-dimensional model, a tour video, or a sculpture. Your materials will vary depending on the type of model you produce.
Students will need the following materials to complete the assignment:
- Pencil and paper
- A map of Wales, England
- Whatever materials needed to construct the castle model
- David McCauley's book, Castles, clearly depicts the elements of a castle and would be very helpful in designing the Baron's castle
In conducting your research, use the "magical device" known as the Internet to help you locate other castles. No one in Medieval history knows what the Internet is, so the Baron will be impressed by how much information you gathered and how fast your horse rode all over Europe!
Try looking up these Internet sites:
Keep a sketch pad next to the computer so that as you see things on different castles that you would like to add, you can sketch pictures and take notes. For example, if you wanted to add a specific turret from a castle in Scotland, you could make notes on the specific features so you would remember to add them to the Baron's castle.
Be sure you do not forget to add everything to the Baron's castle that was on his list of things he wanted! Keep that list next to the computer as you work on your research.
Look up the Castle Terminology to view each section of this castle design. You can click on the outer curtain, the outer bailey, and other areas!
Your castle will be judged based on how well you cover the following areas:
- Research on the background of Medieval daily life
- Covering all of the Baron specific requests for the castle
- Creative design of the castle
- Strong defensive features
- Describe the research techniques you used to discover about Medieval castles.
- Would you have liked to live back in the Medieval times? Explain.
- Why do we no longer have structures like castles? Why are they no longer necessary?
- Do you think castles will ever be needed in the future? Explain.
- Think about what role the castle played in the life of every person involved with the Baron or lord.
- Would this system of government be effective today? Why or why not?
Many of the castles you have researched on the Internet are still standing and are visited by thousands of people each year. Understanding the need for castles is very important to understanding the basic ideas of the Medieval era. Perhaps, in the future, you will be lucky enough to visit one of these castles and walk in the footsteps of kings!
Have students work in small groups and construct castle models. Then have each group "attack" the others castle using Medieval techniques to see if the defenses are actually sound.
Have a Medieval Feast with students taking on the various parts of the Medieval castle residence, including the serfs, soldiers, and family.
Go to our healdry pages and create your own coat of arms for you are to be knighted for your excellant construction.
- Grade Level/Unit:
- Grade Six up: Medieval and Early Modern Times; Medieval Societies
- Purpose of Lesson:
- The purpose of this lesson is to enable students to gain insight into the daily life of the a Medieval Welsh society. Students will also gain a deep understanding of how the Medieval castle played an integral part in the daily lives of the various classes of Medieval people. This lesson will help the students gain a superficial understanding of Monarchy, Feudalism, and serfdom.
- Length of Lesson:
- To complete the entire lesson as written would take approximately 10 hours. The lesson is adjustable depending on how much class time is devoted to the creation of the castle itself.
- Teacher Materials:
- The teacher materials are the same as the student materials listed in the student activity: access to the Internet, pencil and paper, a map of Wales, markers, and whatever supplies are needed to create the castle.
- Possible Interdisciplinary Connections:
- English/Language Arts:
- Arthurian Legends
- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
- Social Studies Links:
- Estimate the costs of the construction
- Estimate the length of time it takes to build the castle
- Estimating the amount of food needed to sustain the castle and surrounding peasants under seige
- Adaptations for Special Needs:
- To adapt this lesson to a variety of student needs, the teacher can use one or more of the following suggestions:
- Have students work on the project with partners or small groups
- Slow the lesson pace down or speed the lesson pace up
- Eliminate or add sections of the lesson to fit the needs of the students
- Background Information and Additional Teacher Resources:
- Look at the Extension Activities section in the student activity for further resources.
- This Internet site has links to all of the major Medieval sites including primary source documents: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html
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