Castles and Fortifications of England & Wales
1. Bran Castle
Bran Castle is located in the Transylvania mountains, and has been there for over 600 years. Originally built as a stronghold for the knights of the Teutonic Order, the castle has stood as a stronghold since the 15th century and boasts that it once had a very famous inhabitant: Count Dracula.
Vlad the Impaler was the actual name of Count Dracula, and the Prince of Wallachia likely sacked Bran Castle many times in his various campaigns in the late 1400s. When he was arrested, the Impaler was likely imprisoned here, but no one really knows. A deeper look inside reveals a greater mystery.
2. A secret passageway
Given the castle’s strategic location, and the constant climate of conflict in the area, Bran Castle changed hands many times, and when that happens, not all secrets are transferred with it. After 1836, when city-states in the region began combining to form larger nation-states, the castle lost its strategic importance.
Then the castle was given to Queen Marie in 1918 by the people of Romania, and she went about restoring the castle. A few of the workers began moving a fireplace, and what they revealed had been lost for hundreds of years. It was a secret passageway, but where did it lead?
3. Where it leads
The passageway is narrow to say the least, barely big enough for a man and his sword. But given how much the castle was attacked over multiple centuries, it’s fair to say it was used a lot. Behind a fireplace on the first floor was an iron door that would’ve been impossible to see with the naked eye.
The secret passageway is also steep, as according to historians it was used by officers to move quickly from the first floor to the third floor. It was built right into the wall, which is several feet thick. When attacked, officers would opt for the higher ground, taking elevated positions to rain down fire upon their enemies.
4. Mingary Castle
Given the Mingary Castle’s strategic location as the westernmost castle on mainland Britain, it’s safe to say it has seen some action. Historians still debate when the castle was first built, but it likely dates back to the 13th century.
Back in those days, the castle was used to fight off rivals, including when it was used by King James IV of Scotland to defeat Clan Donald. It also survived an attack from the Spanish ship “San Juan de Sicilia” during the attempted Spanish invasion of 1588. For three days the ship pounded the castle, looking for weaknesses, and it looks like they found one.
5. Secret window
The castle remained usable after the failed Spanish Armada invasion of England, and was even seized by forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell in 1644. But the owners of the castle noticed a weakness, and it came in the form of one of the windows on the lower level.
They added extra protection around the window. It was due to the invention of the cannon. Castles around Europe and the world refortified their walls, and in the case of Mingary Castle, a 6-foot-by-6-foot room was walled off and forgotten for 500 years. Nobody even used the castle for the past 200 years, until 2014 when an excavation uncovered the secret room.
The below photograph reveals the staircase that leads to the dark room, with a window view that hasn’t been seen in over 500 years. Since 2014 historians have debated just what exactly the use of the room was, but they have yet to come up with an answer.
What is known, however, is that the room was empty, with one notable exception—a human skeleton. With the one skeleton it is unlikely that the room was a crypt, but something that has historians thinking terrible thoughts is the fact that the person may have been alive when the room was enclosed.
7. The Mingary Castle Hotel
We may never know if the person who was interred there was being punished, or was just plainly forgotten. As for the Mingary Castle, the excavation in 2014 was meant to revitalize the 800-year-old castle. Take a look at the photograph below to find the presence of a brand new hotel.
Perhaps it was the hotel owners that didn’t want to disclose something sinister about the secret room they found. Today visitors at the Mingary Castle can see the mystery for themselves. There may be more mysteries to come also, as tests have confirmed the outer wall is in danger of collapse. When construction workers excavate castles, ancient secrets come to light.
8. Glamis Castle
The dark legends of Glamis Castle have been the talk of Britain for hundreds of years, and today the castle is still in use. The Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne call the castle located in Angus, Scotland home, and tours are open to the public of this well-kept castle that was first built in the 14th century.
But this castle has a dark secret, and in 1790 the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott stayed a night in Glamis Castle, and this is what he wrote: “I must own, I heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself as too far from the living and somewhat too near to the dead.”
9. The legend of Glamis Castle
Prior to the castle being built on the the land, it was a prominent hunting lodge, and the site where King Malcolm II was murdered in 1034. Over 500 years later, Lady Janet was burned at the stake after being condemned for witchcraft, and it is said that her spirit lives on—in the clock tower of the castle.
But the most horrifying story comes in the form of the Monster of Glamis Castle. According to legend, the heir to the castle was a beastly man who was too hideous and violent to be seen in public. He lived out his days in a secret room in the castle, and it is said that his spirit still haunts the castle.
10. Hidden room
“If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret,” said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, “you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.” There is a secret room somewhere in Glamis Castle, and although the myth is just that, the room does exist.
Legend says that the monster’s chest is as big as a barrel, and that he is deformed and hairy like a beast. He also had no neck, and his arms and legs were like “toys.” Basically, it seems that the monster has evolved from a centuries-long game of telephone, where he has only gained more ghastly features as the years go on.
11. Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle lies on a strategically important site on the Avon River. Located in the heart of England, it was built on land that was originally for a wooden fort, built by none other than William the Conqueror. That was over a thousand years ago, and then it was built in stone in the 12th century.
A century later it was refortified into its present form during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. It’s one of the most iconic castles ever built, and additions were added over the years. Secrets that abound were recently revealed, including four rooms that were previously unknown to the world.
12. King Richard III Tower
Two towers of the castle stand tall, and their construction dates back to the reign of Richard III. The short-lived King of England has been in the news in the past few years, as his body was just recently discovered, and reconstruction of what Richard III actually looked like was conducted by a team of researchers and scientists.
Richard III was not a very successful king, as his army was crushed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. That may be why he built Bear and Clarence Towers separate from the main castle itself, as it may have been a place to hold up if his own garrison turned on him.
13. Barbican Battlements
The Barbican Battlements of Warwick Castle protected the fortress from intruders. If attackers were successful in breaching the outer gate, they would be confronted by another inner gate, and trapped in a three-sided pit of death. Locked for 500 years, the hidden room in the Barbican Battlements has a gruesome history.
Built during the reign of King Edward III (early 1300s), if soldiers were unlucky enough to breach the outer gate, men would pour all sorts of nastiness on them. According to reports, so called “murder holes” had boiling hot tar dumped through them, and as an exclamation point, they also poured human waste on intruders.
14. The bear pit
Bear Tower revealed a secret previously unknown to the world, as a room locked up for centuries was discovered in 2013. What you see in the photograph below is a bear pit, and yes, it’s just as scary as it sounds. Typically, a bear pit would be in an arena for people to view the beast, and possibly the blood sport of bear baiting.
The bear would be tied to that pole you see in the center of the room, and either put on display by itself, or pitted against another animal or human being. The practice was common for centuries, and thanks to historians you can actually visit the room if you take a tour of the castle.
15. Hidden room
The bear pit is not the only secret Warwick Castle has been hiding over the years. The guards’ room in Guy’s Tower was also recently discovered and opened to the public, giving visitors a sense of what it was like to defend the castle against a siege.
In 1642, while England was in a state of civil war, the guards’ room was reconfigured to fire cannons instead of arrows. While forces loyal to the crown laid siege to Warwick Castle, guards rained fire upon the attackers from this room, and successfully warded them off. Visitors note the smoky smell, which has lingered for 500 years.
16. Another hidden room
Watergate Tower revealed another room that had been closed off for centuries, and like the hidden room in Glamis Castle, this one is haunted. The ghost in this case is Sir Fulke Greville, who lived in the castle for some time until he was brutally murdered in 1628.
According to reports, Greville was stabbed by his servant, who was evidently upset that his master didn’t include him in his will. The servant then turned the knife on himself. Greville survived the stabbing only to face a new nightmare. To treat the wound, doctors (can we even call them that?) stuffed his wound with pig fat. After four agonizing weeks, he finally died.
17. Vyborg Castle
The Vyborg Castle was built at the easternmost point in the Swedish Kingdom, and was one of three principal castles in the former Swedish empire. It’s strategically located in an isthmus at the mouth of a river, and the castle built in the 13th century resides on an island all by itself.
Given that it is situated on the Swedish border with Russia, the castle has seen many battles between the two nations. From the 14th century all the way until WWII, the castle has protected the Swedish border from invading hordes from the east. The town of Vyborg on the banks of the river was actually ceded to Russia during WWII.
18. Secret crypt
In 2018 a massive $26 million excavation allowed archaeologists to explore the castle like never before. Within a month, one of them discovered a hidden spiral staircase, created in medieval fashion, with uneven steps and winding in a way that would make it difficult for attacking soldiers to reach for their swords.
As to where it led, archaeologists were shocked to find a crypt at the bottom of the stairs. In the hidden room they discovered two finds that had them excited—a purse containing gold coins that dated back to the early 19th century, and a clay brick that had a medieval board game etched into the surface.
19. Nine Men’s Morris
The game they found was known as Nine Men’s Morris, and according to historians it was a primitive form of checkers. It’s a strategy game that was invented sometime during the reign of the Roman Empire, and had many variations. The object of the game is to get your opponent down to two pieces, or block their moves entirely.
The room has been identified as being constructed sometime in the mid-1500s, though they have no idea how old the game is. Researchers also believe that they’ve only scratched the surface. They believe that the room may have another outlet to a secret passageway that connects the castle to the city.
20. Saint Peter’s Basilica
That is Saint Peter’s Basilica in the background there, which is where the Pope calls home. But we’d like to move your attention to that wall to the lower right that runs into the trees. It’s called the Passetto di Borgo, and it has been ferrying popes who were under siege for centuries.
Vatican City is the second smallest country in the world, and since it’s been located in the heart of Rome, it’s seen its share of conflict. The Pope himself has been residing in the Apostolic Palace since the mid-1450s, and it is certainly no fortress. To escape attacks and sieges, popes fled through the secret Passetto di Borgo to safety.
21. Passetto di Borgo
The Passetto di Borgo looks like a wall, or usable fortification from the outside. But inside it’s shallow, and runs for over 2,500 feet. Construction of the wall started way back in 850. Pope Nicholas III updated it in 1277 and gave it its current form. In 1492 the wall was completed just in the nick of time for Alexander VI to use it.
Two years after Columbus came ashore in North America for the first time, the papacy was under attack from the French in the Italian Wars. Then, in 1527 an army led by the French King Charles VIII invaded Italy, and sacked Rome.
22. The secret passageway
The Italian Wars were a series of conflicts that pitted France and Spain against each other, as each fought for control of Italy. The day of the city-state was coming to an end, and yet the Vatican remains one of three city-states left in the world.
In part that’s because Pope Clement VII was able to escape the Vatican as his Swiss Guard were butchered on the steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. They fought bravely, and gave the Pope just enough time to escape through the Passetto di Borgo to the Castel Sant’Angelo. While the people of Rome felt the wrath of the invading troops, the pope held up safely in his keep.
23. The keep (Castel Sant’Angelo)
The Castel Sant’Angelo, as you can see, is a fortress, and the invading army that sacked Rome was unable to penetrate its walls. Clement VII did come out eventually, and paid a king’s ransom for the invaders to let him live.
Clement VII was banished from Rome for a year after, but because he was able to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, the Vatican and the Pope lived to fight another day. As for the Castel Sant’Angelo, it was built in the 2nd century, and was only taken out of commission by the Italian military in 1901. It’s never fallen, and can be visited to this day.
24. Predjama Castle
The Predjama Castle is located in south-central Slovenia, above the town of Predjama, and in the mouth of a cave. The castle’s elevated location made it nearly impossible to attack, and it was the Knights of Adelsberg’s for a period of time. It holds so many secrets that a 16th-century treasure chest was found in 1991.
In the 15th century, an Austrian army invaded and chased a Slovenian hero named Erazem Lueger up the cliff. The Austrian army did not dare to attack up the steep cliff face, so they attempted to starve Lueger out. But Lueger had a secret, and the Austrians never got their man.
25. Predjama Castle’s secret passageway
The Austrians failed to capture Lueger for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that he was able to use the cave to renew his food supply whenever he wanted. He even threw fresh cherries at the enemy troops to show them how good life was under siege.
But eventually, Lueger’s luck would run out, and that leads us to our second reason the Austrians didn’t capture him. According to legend, Lueger was on his…ahem, toilet, and they fired a cannon shell that found its mark and killed him. So he died on the toilet, but at least he wasn’t captured.
26. Bodiam Castle
The Bodiam Castle is one of the most iconic castles built in the entire Middle Ages. It’s strategically located in East Sussex, England, and just like the Warwick Castle, it was built to defend against a French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.
Sir Edward Dalyngrigge designed and built the castle that was completed in 1385. He took his lessons well from the Warwick Castle to make the Bodiam Castle basically impregnable. But the Bodiam Castle has a few features that the Warwick Castle does not, such as the moat you see in the foreground that surrounds the entire castle.
27. Concentric circles
The moat was a strategically important feature to castles, but unbeknownst to most people, it wasn’t made to prevent soldiers from getting to the outer walls. Moats’ most practical use was to prevent soldiers from attacking the castle where it is the weakest—underneath it.
Anyone trying to tunnel under the castle would be met by a wall of water. To go along with the moat, Sir Dalyngrigge also included the best design in the era—concentric circles. By creating circles on the edges of the castle, any soldier in the towers had a wide area to fire upon the surrounding enemy.
28. One small problem…
While Dalyngrigge certainly built a castle with some great design features, he may have favored design over practicality. The castle doesn’t have a keep, and relies entirely on its high towers and moats for defense. Perhaps that’s why it’s not known to have successfully warded off a siege.
In 1485, during the War of the Roses, the castle was confiscated without incident. That’s particularly bad considering the force was dispatched by Richard III, who lost just about every engagement he commanded. But the Bodiam Castle is stunning to look at, and has been passed around between rich aristocrats in England for centuries.
29. Stronghold Castle
The Stronghold Castle was built more recently than any castle we’ve mentioned, but the castle built in the early 20th century was modeled after Tudor castles. The castle that’s located in Oregon, Illinois was designed by Maurice Webster, and it belongs to the Strong family.
These days, the castle is used as a camping ground and retreat, complete with an Olde English Faire. Unfortunately, Walter Strong died shortly after its completion, but not without creating a castle that was both luxurious and full of secrets. Not only does the castle boast 25 rooms, but it also was built with four secret passageways.
30. Inside the castle
Below we can see what one of the secret passages looks like. Through a secret door that is opened in this photograph, we see a tunnel that connects the library to the chapel. Mr. Strong must’ve been quite the rebel to need to a secret passageway to connect his reading room to his praying room (did that sarcasm come through?).
But of course Mr. Strong couldn’t resist having a secret passageway, as he wanted the full medieval castle experience. So much so in fact, that he had to have four of them. But we just can’t get over it, why the passage from the chapel to the library?