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Palace vs. Castle vs. Manor House – What Are the Differences and Similarities?

Palace, Castle or Manor House, whatever their differences, we all really want to live in one of them. But if you are curious on their differences, then find out the answer with us.

A gorgeous castle surrounded by a lake. The view of the sky from the castle's grounds are just breathtaking.

Alas, if we had such choices before us as the title suggests! Let’s take a look into the fairytale choice between the castle, the palace and the manor house. This fantasy is a familiar one – our slipper has been lost at the ball – or shindig, as it were – and the prince or princesses ‘ courier is on the look out for their sponsor’s soul mate – little ole you or me! It is the case of the glass slipper vs. the velvet slipper vs. the gilded slipper – unisex footwear, of course –  one slipper fits all.

Who do we prefer to seekeeth us – the Lord or Lady of the castle, palace or manor home? Where, o where would we want to live – and why? In my best British accent – “The appointment’s of each must be thoroughly examined… Shall we take a gander?…”

Related: 750 of the top castles in the world (by country) | 9 types of castles

The Castle & It’s History

A look at an old fairytale-like castle surrounded by a gorgeous surrounding.

A look at an old fairytale-like castle surrounded by a gorgeous surrounding.

The castle or “glass slipper”, remember Cinderella! We think of this beautiful place where dreams come true like in the fairy tales. However, castles of old were also places of battle. The glass slipper would have surely been shattered!

The word castle comes from the Latin word castrum or fort. Castles are buildings that were built generally during the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were between the 5th and the 15th century AD.  Castles were built for protection and fortified thoroughly against enemy attack. In addition to being structures that were built to safeguard against attack, these buildings were also homes for nobility or royalty. They were usually expansive structures.

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As time went on, they became more and more complex.  Builders had the task of combining noble living with defense against instant attack.

A morning interrupted…For example, the lady of the house is embroidering in the day room of her castle, chatting with a visitor when a footman enters – most unceremoniously – to announce an attack. The attendant hears and alerts the kitchen staff. “Put the bloody – blood pudding down”, she whispers – shrieks are not allowed in the castle – The queen immediately puts down her embroidery and is ushered into an adjacent hidden room – built just for this purpose.

A look at the Burg Eltz in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The photo was taken from the castle's walkway surrounded by countless mature and green trees.

A look at the Burg Eltz in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The photo was taken from the castle’s walkway surrounded by countless mature and green trees.

The added complication of the need to protect the most important people in the region – the royal family – from an instant attack meant that the castle had to be well-appointed, as luxurious as possible for those days, as well as fortified like Fort Knox.  The royal family wouldn’t be expected to climb a ladder or rope to reach safety. Likewise, they would not be hidden with their servants, either. As a result the expansive room sizes and number of rooms of castles, palaces and manor homes had to accommodate many. There were rooms for living, playing and hiding from attack.

The three most common types of castles were the:

  • Motte & Bailey Castle
  • Stone Keep Castle
  • Concentric Castle

The Palace

A view of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II's residence, the Buckingham palace from its lovely garden filled with healthy plants and flowers.

A view of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s residence, the Buckingham palace from its lovely garden filled with healthy plants and flowers.

The palace shall be referred to as the “velvet slipper” for the purposes of this article. It is a castle that is not fortified. As a result, the royals that dwell within can spend their leisure time in a soft velvet slipper. The word palace comes from the Latin word palatium. This refers to the Pallantine hills of Rome where the Imperials lived.  The word palace relating to government dates back to 790 AD, when Paul the Deacon described a governmental event of 660 AD.

This is the place the high borne such as a knight, lord or monarch would reside. Because it is not, by definition, fortified for battle or attack, it can be even more palatial and stately.

Many circles use castle and palace interchangeably. However, the only difference is that a castle is fortified while a palace is not. They can house the same types of individuals.

The castle and palace have very similar design features.

The elegant Versailles Palace in Paris. The exterior architecture of this enormous palace is absolutely striking.

The elegant Versailles Palace in Paris. The exterior architecture of this enormous palace is absolutely striking.

Some famous palaces include:

  • The Buckingham Palace – London
  • The Palace of Versailles –  Versailles
  • The Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna
  • The Kingsington Palace – London

Many countries have decided to transform former palaces into visitation sites. People are allowed to enter the palace to look around and get a glimpse of how royalty lived. Palaces are also transformed into museums in many instances, such as the 900 plus room, Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

The Features Of A Castle & A Palace

Due to the variety of people and the luxury they expected to live in, there were many types of castles and palaces that were built throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

Because the words castle and palace are nearly synonymous as they are used in culture today, the characteristics are the same with very little distinctions. Some common features include the:

  • Motte – This is an earthen mound with a flat top.
  • Bailey – is a fortified, enclosed structure. It was used to house residents of the castle and provide a defense against attack. You can also find horse stables and other work and storage places in the bailey.  As time passed, different bailey’s were erected in order to house different status levels of people who resided in the castle or palace. Castles and palaces often had hundreds of people residing on grounds for means of protection and labor to the royal or noble family.  However, the royals or nobles of that family would be kept in a different area. They did not reside together with soldiers, or laborers.
  • The Keep – is a common feature of the structures.  The keep was located on top of the motte. It is the most fortified part of the castle and is surrounded by other defensive structures. The highest ranking royals would reside in the keep of the medieval castle or palace. This term came about in the 16th century. Prior to that, turris was the Latin term for great tower. Also, donjon or dungeon was the term used for great towers. This is the tallest part of the castle. It has many windows so that the residents were able to see who were attacking them and where their positions were.
  • The Curtain Wall – was a conglomerate of structures that served as defensive walls. These walls typically enclosed the bailey. These walls defended against intruders who were attacking the residents. As a result, they had to be tall enough to not be easily accessible with a ladder. They also had to be sturdy enough to withstand bullets, which came on the battle scene later.
  • The Gatehouse – was the entrance to the castle or palace. The gatehouse was often used for defensive measures. Inhabitants would be able to counterattack enemy forces from within the gatehouse. The persons inside also directed who could enter the grounds of the castle or palace and understood who was leaving the grounds. The way gatehouses were utilized in those days is very similar to the way gate houses are used today. In short, they are used as a form of entry and security for the rest of the residence and grounds.
  • The Moat – was merely an elaborate ditch with steep sides all around. Sometimes it was filled with water and sometimes it was not. It surrounded the castle and was used for defensive measures. Whether water was used or not in the moat, a drawbridge would be part of this feature. The drawbridge would be lowered when visitors or other welcomed individuals would come to the castle.  When attackers were trying to seek entrance, the drawbridge would be raised so that they would not be able to cross the moat. This is the first area of defense to the castle or palace, surrounding the curtain wall.
  • The Battlements – were featured above the gate house and the curtain walls. The battlements had crenellations, machicolations, loopholes and hoardings. These were all constructive devices to protect the castle and fortify the structure. Arrow slits were also called loopholes which were the openings in the defensive walls. They allowed the space so instruments of attack could be launched from within.

A Manor House…

Barton Manor boasts a wide space of garden with a walkway. The surroundings are absolutely peaceful and lovely.

Barton Manor boasts a wide space of garden with a walkway. The surroundings are absolutely peaceful and lovely.

…is the gilded slipper of this trio because currently it is used mostly for show. Manor houses could be fortified or not fortified. It is, by definition the large country house and lands of a royal lord or noble. This term is more loosely applied to various country homes. Dating back from the late medieval area into today, manor houses house the nobles or lords of the agricultural tract of land. Manors usually have the components of comprised tracts of land. A manor is a village. The workers would tend to the land and the lord of the land would typically have a manor house on that property or village. It, like a castle or palace was magnificent, and luxurious.

 Some Features Of The Manor House And Grounds

A focused look at this 17th century English Mansion located in Belton, United Kingdom. It has a classy exterior and wide lawn area with walkways.

A focused look at this 17th century English Mansion located in Belton, United Kingdom. It has a classy exterior and wide lawn area with walkways.

The manors would have all the necessary components of a village. Typically there would be:

  • a blacksmith
  • peasant cottages
  • a bakery
  • a mill
  • orchards
  • gardens
  • lakes and/or ponds
  • extensive wooded areas

In the medieval times, manors were the way in which nearly all people lived in England. Manors were their own self-sufficient towns during that time. In this way, the residents of the manor would be able to provide for their own food and necessities. Generally, a manor was between 750 acres to 1500 acres.

Manor homes and the great hall within, were the formation and the place where the residents of the manor gathered. It was an unofficial conglomerate of wood and stone buildings. There would generally be a chapel, a kitchen, farm buildings and the great hall. The great hall is where the village business would be attended to as well as the court of the manor. Manors were generally managed by knights of the king. The king was supported through the work and business of the manor. Each of his knights would manage the manor and then in, in turn give the proceeds to the king. Their main business was of the agricultural type.

If The Choice Was Yours

An old manor house in Latvia with a yellow exterior and orange roof. It courtyard and garden look so peaceful and beautiful.

An old manor house in Latvia with a yellow exterior and orange roof. It courtyard and garden look so peaceful and beautiful.

When we decide to make a decision about which fantasy home style would fulfill our desire, it’s not an easy consideration. It definitely would depend upon if there was a time machine included in our fantasy Island trip. It depends upon if we could go back in time. All three of these structures are very similar to one another with just slight distinctive differences.

For example, if you are a worker and like the idea of getting your hands dirty between spa dates, you’d like to live in a manor home. The manor residents worked together as a unit. There is not as great a separation between the lord of the manor and one of the peasants.

If the peasant stable worker fell ill, every now and again, the Lord would have to get off of his high horse and put his own yearling into the stable.

Today there is not much difference between the three. They are all beautiful.  Touropia.com has a listing of the 10 most beautiful palaces in the world. This listing includes palaces, chateaus and other palatial structures. They are all opulent living spaces of old.

  • Number 10 is the Pena National Palace. It is in Portugal and is the oldest European castle built in the Romanticism style.
  • Number 7 on their list is the Summer Palace. This estate is highlighted by Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. It is located minutes away from Central Beijing. Hundreds of years ago it was used as the summer residence by some of China’s most formidable imperial rulers.

We can visit and enjoy them all today. The once secret gardens, keeps and gables are now open to the viewer – for a nominal fee, of course. As we wonder in the glorious sights of some of these treasures, we can ponder how life was in the days of old. They are all over the world and may make your bucket list for a some day tour. You won’t need a glass, velvet or gilded slipper for entry. However, you should don your comfortable shoes – the grounds are expansive.

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