Origin, Meaning of the word 'Donjon'
The meaning and origin of the castle keep explain this unusual word! The word 'donjon' was originally used to describe the castle keep (the tower which was built on top of the motte). The origins of the word 'Donjon' was derived from a Latin word meaning 'Dominating Point'. Later the word 'Donjon' was changed to 'Keep'.

The term 'Donjon' was not lost - it was a derivative for the word 'Dungeon' - the Nobles moved from the towers to more easily accessible living quarters and important prisoners were held in the 'donjons'. As time passed these towers for prisoners ceased to be built and prisons were built below ground level - the dungeon!

Description of the Donjon
The Donjon was the great the tower built inside the Norman Motte and Bailey. The Donjon was first made of wood and later with stone when it developed into the Keep of the castle. The Donjon ranged from two to four storeys in height. The Donjon tower consisted of the following:

  • Each storey in the Donjon was divided by walls into separate rooms
  • A gateway to a staircase lead up to the first storey
  • Higher storeys were accessed by spiral staircases built at the corners of the Donjon
  • The Donjon housed a principle hall on the first storey
  • A Garderobe, or latrine, was provided
  • Windows were set in thick walls in the upper storeys
  • The ground floor acted as a storeroom
  • The top floor of the Donjon often contained the kitchens and ovens


Donjon - Part of a Norman Castle
The Normans introduced the wooden Motte and Bailey Castle to England following their victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Norman timber Motte and Bailey castles and the Donjon were quickly replaced by permanent stone Norman Keeps and castles.


Parts of a Castle

  • What were the purpose of the different parts of the Medieval Castle?
  • What was the difference between the parts of a castle called the Garderobe and the Wardrobe?
  • Identifying parts of a castle - Description, purpose and function of the Moat, Dungeon and Portcullis
  • Description, purpose and function of the Barbican, Gatehouse, Crenellations and Drawbridge
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