A postern is a secondary
A door is a hinged or otherwise movable barrier that allows ingress (entry) into and egress (exit) from an enclosure. The created opening in the wall
A wall is a structure and a surface that defines an area; carries a load; provides secur ...
A gate or gateway is a point of entry to or from a space enclosed by walls. The word derived from old Norse "gat" meaning road or path; But other terms include '' yett and port''. The concept originally referred to the gap or hole in the ...
A fortification is a military
A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typically authorized and maintained by a sovereign state, with i ...
such as a city wall
A castle is a type of fortification, fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by Military order (monastic society), military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word ''castle'', but u ... curtain wall
. Posterns were often located in a concealed location which allowed the occupants to come and go inconspicuously. In the event of a
A siege is a military
A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typically authorized and maintained by a sovereign state, with its members ...
, a postern could act as a
A sally port is a secure, controlled entry way to an enclosure, e.g., a fortification or prison. The entrance is usually protected by some means, such as a fixed wall on the outside, parallel to the door, which must be circumvented to enter an ...
, allowing defenders to make a
A sortie (from the French word meaning ''exit'' or from Latin root ''surgere'' meaning to "rise up") is a deployment or dispatch of one military unit, be it an aircraft, ship
A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans ...
on the besiegers. Placed in a less exposed, less visible location, they were usually relatively small, and therefore easily defensible.
[Van Emden, Wolgang. "Castle in Medieval French Literature", ''The Medieval Castle: Romance and Reality'' (Kathryn L. Reyerson, Faye Powe, eds.) U of Minnesota Press, 1991, p.17]
Posterns were one of the essential means of ensuring safe communication between the enceinte
and the outerworks of a defensive fortification. An 1850
The United States Military Academy (USMA), also known metonymically as West Point or simply as Army, is a United States service academy in West Point, New York. It was originally established as a fort, since it sits on strategic high gro ...
course summary on permanent fortifications discusses the placement and construction of posterns.
*In 1896, C.R. Condor, writing for the London Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society viewed Zion Gate
Jerusalem (; he, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם ; ar, القُدس ) (combining the Biblical and common usage Arabic names); grc, Ἱερουσαλήμ/Ἰεροσόλυμα, Hierousalḗm/Hierosóluma; hy, Երուսաղեմ, Erusałēm. i ...
, built west of one of the city's medieval main gates, as a likely postern. Also mentioned were the postern of St. Lazarus, west of the Damascus Gate
; the postern of the Tanners' Gate; and the postern of the Madeleine at Herod's Gate
. Right of the Golden Gate
is a small postern called the Gate of Jehosaphat.
*The city walls of York
contained a number of posterns; at North Street Tower, the postern gate was demolished to accommodate the Great North of England Railway
. The tower still stands. There were also posterns at Fishergate
, and Longwalk. Around 1672, the Castlegate
postern was made wide enough for carriages. The fourteenth-century Layerthorpe
Bridge, a crossing of the Foss, adjacent to the King's Pool, was once attached to a postern in the city wall, known as Layerthorpe Postern. The original Skeldergate
postern was only large enough to allow pedestrian traffic to and from the city.
Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London
London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kin ...
, there was a postern in the east city wall called Windsore Postern. There were at least three posterns in the wall at New College Gardens
*The Tower Hill Postern
was a small fortified entrance at the eastern terminal point to the London Wall, at the junction of the Wall and the Tower of London moat. In the early 17th century the City and the Crown contested ownership of the postern as part of a Tower boundary dispute. Moorgate
was built by upgrading a postern built in 1415, and enlarged in 1472 and 1511.
In literature, a postern features in the ''Le Chanson de Girart de Roussillon''
, where the hero makes use of one to escape when betrayed; as does
Renaud de Montauban
Renaud de Montauban (; also spelled ''Renaut'', ''Renault'', Italian: ''Rinaldo di Montalbano'', Dutch: ''Reinout van Montalba(e)n'') was a legendary hero and knight which appeared in a 12th-century Old French
Old French (, , ; Modern Fr ...
in the chanson de geste
, The Four Sons of Aymon
. A postern also provided a safe retreat for Ogier the Dane
In Malory's ] Le Morte d'Arthur
' (originally written as '; inaccurate Middle French
Middle French (french: moyen français) is a historical division of the French language
French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vul ..., " La Cote de Male Tayle" is rescued at the Castle Orgulous when a damsel slips through the postern to find his horse and ties it to the postern so that La Cote de Male Tayle can escape the 100 knights assailing him.Malory, Thomas. ''Le Morte D'Arthur'', Chap IV, Library of Alexandria, 1904
The term is occasionally used in other contexts referring to a secondary door placed after a main entrance.
File:Tour Barker York 3.jpg, North Street Postern Tower (aka Barker Tower), York
Image:Poterne remparts de Provins.JPG, Postern in the rampart of Provins,
Seine-et-Marne () is a department in the Île-de-France
The Île-de-France (, ; literally "Isle of France") is the most populous of the eighteen regions of France
France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a c ..., France
File:Newport_Arch.jpg, The postern of Newport Arch, built by the ancient Romans in Lincoln, England, located to the right of the larger main arch, and used for pedestrian traffic
Types of gates