Friday, February 6, 2009

How to defend your castle - the marvel of medieval architecture

winding+castle+stairsIf you've not noticed already, I'm totally obsessed with stairs these days. Not least that we used them practically everyday. Xiaocangshu pointed out an article in her comment on my previous post on Londoners using standing on the wrong side on escalators, which attempted to explain the link between samurais, merchants to the manner we are using escalators currently.

That got me thinking about how stairs in medieval castles are orientated to tilt the balance towards the defenders.

To give medieval architects some credit, the direction at which winding staircases were built in castles were dictated by pure design. The next time you visit a castle, take special note of the direction of those winding stairs leading up to the castle walls.
Tower of London - History and review

winding+castle+stairsYou would notice that they are invariably turning towards your right if you are rushing up the stairs and turning towards your left if you are on your way down. It wouldn't make a difference to you now but imagine if you were wielding a huge sword with your right hand while attempting to stand on those stairs. The way the stairs wind would made a whole lot of difference.

If I've managed to lose you already, take a look at the graphics below. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a visual learner.

Imagine that you are rushing up the stairs with a heavy sword on your right hand and trying to balance on your right foot on the smaller slab of stone step. You might just lose your balance and tumble down before the defending soldier have a go at you.

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Fëanor said...

Unless, of course, you were a left-hander?

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

I did not know that! Thanks for a new fact for today. Feanor- I don't think they let people be lefthanded much back then, did they?

lina said...

What an interesting fact.

I think left-handed people would be somewhat forced to use their right hand back in those days?

Fëanor said...

For infantrymen attacking in formation, everybody had to wield sword in right hand and hold shield in left, to protect their neighbour, so yeah, no lefties there. But for knights, the strong arm was the arm used - I think. I could be wrong. Here's a rather comprehensive survey of left-handed life and war. Note the bits about how even in modern times, arms are designed for right-handed users.

Ravyn said...

Fascinating notes; I think I'll have to use this somewhere.

As to the people discussing left-handedness--I think if one were a southpaw back then, they might try to hide it. It's no coincidence that "Gauche" and "sinister" both have negative meanings that have carried over into English where their literal translations haven't.

Dutchie said...

That pix reminds me of the stone staircase in Pembroke Castle. It was scary to walk in up those narrow stairs in dimlight n dunk air :-/

There r small slabs in all staircases. I hv fallen down a few times while lugging the laundry up the attic to hang them out. My bums would turned black n blue for 10 days at leaset n it really hurts, I can tell u !

Now, the link of lefties in Fëanor's comment - my eldest sis n bro were lefties. Dad did try to make them change, to no avail. I thought it curious at first but they r both very artistic. Bro crafted furniture n ornaments for the home n Sis made all our clothes up to our teen years. In later years, she's very good at flower arrangements (for birthdays n weddings) n her dinner spreads r always eye-catching.

Bro's first born is also a leftie n I hv seen her artisic skills since she was old even to walk !

Having said that, we all need both hands to carry out chores everyday. We r not complete without one or the other ;-o

Truesilver said...

By the time attackers are in your castle, as opposed to still trying to get over the battlements, it's already over

xiaocangshu said...

(sees username in post)

I feel humbled. Thank you for the link!

Sadie said...

I love the Tower of London! When I went to London, it was my favorite place I visited. Very interesting fact, though! I didn't know that!

xiaocangshu said...

Talking about knights, I remember another one, about the origin of the phrase "right hand man".

In days of old, a nobleman could readily protect himself against an attacker approaching from the left. If the attacker approached from the right, he would be vulnerable. He would need to stand and turn to the right if he held his weapon in the right hand, whether it be a sword, dagger, pistol or fist. He would appoint his most trusted deputy as his "right-hand man" to protect his vulnerable side. A gentleman offers his left arm to his lady so his right is available for defence.
Bob Brooks, Little Bay

Also at a feast, the top enemy would be seated on the left of the lord so he had control over the enemy's sword hand, and the right hand man on the right for the same reason as cited above.

Michele Cameron Drew said...

You have a blog award waiting for you on my art blog. You can pick it up at Digital Artisan.



blogger said...

Hello Singaporean in London!
Singaporean (who will be in April) Sheffield here!(:

Nomadic Matt said...

that was a pretty cool lesson. i did like the picture. im also a visual learner.

Martin in Bulgaria said...

I know is has been commented before, but ss a left-hander it would seem that I would make a dab hand at attacking in this case. Any jobs going?

kyh said...

Cool! I hope we've got castles here for me to explore.

BTW, you're pretty good at graphics, aren't you?

C K said...

Now, why am I know surprised that you'll be the first to bring that up? :)

Thanks for bringing up the fact on infantry vs knights. For all we know, there might be a lefties infantry regiment back then. Then again, after going article that you've pointed in your comment, I seriously doubt so.

Well, you know what they say about lefties... being more creative and all. So life's fair. That's coming from a righty.

@Sharkbytes and lina,
I would supposed so after referring to Feanor's comment. Tough luck for those lefties.

Thanks! Hidind the fact that one's a left hander would be rather difficult. I mean, it's almost an instinct, isn't it?

That reminds me. I was borned a leftie until my mum basically forced me to write with my right since young. Mainly because it was more convenient for her to teach me writing if I were a rightie instead.

Well, I could have been the next Monet...

Hey, no worries! Thanks again for the information on the origins of the 'right-hand man'. It all make sense now.

Then again, I would imagine it for a right hander to deal more effectively with enemies approaching from the right, no?

I first learnt of that from a guide at Colchester Castle. I can imagine him still there nowdays revelling visitors with little known facts. :)

Thanks for the award! Really appreciate it. Cheers!

Sorry, I didn't quite get that. Are you in Sheffield or is your name Sheffield? :p

Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

@Nomadic Matt,
Welcome to the club. Hmm... more graphics coming your way!

Hey, you apply just a couple of centuries too late. Pity, you would have made a mighty good knight. :)

Thanks! Can't really compare with your skills in PS, can I? lol

Just wondering whether the Sultans had any fortifications back then.

E-Tavasi said...

wow interesting fact, if i were defender i just throw big stone so it can rolling down from up to go down hehe..

Anonymous said...

No, Lefties in that time were usually burned, as it was the sign of a witch.