A postern is a secondary door or gate in a fortification such as a city wall or castle curtain wall. Posterns were often located in a concealed location which allowed the occupants to come and go inconspicuously. In the event of a siege, a postern could act as a sally port, allowing defenders to make a sortie on the besiegers. Placed in a less exposed, less visible location, they were usually relatively small, and therefore easily defensible.[1]

Tactical use

Posterns were one of the essential means of ensuring safe communication between the enceinte and the outerworks of a defensive fortification.[2] An 1850 West Point course summary on permanent fortifications discusses the placement and construction of posterns.[3]



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 in the chanson de geste, The Four Sons of Aymon. A postern also provided a safe retreat for Ogier the Dane.[1]

In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, "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.[15]

The term is occasionally used in other contexts referring to a secondary door placed after a main entrance.


  1. ^ a b 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 ISBN 9780816620036
  2. ^ Straith, Hector. Treatise on Fortification and Artillery, W. Allen, 1858, p.153
  3. ^ Mahan, Dennis Hart. Summary of the Course of Permanent Fortification, U.S. Military Academy Press, 1850, pp.139 et seq.
  4. ^ Condor, C.R., "The City of Jerusalem", Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, London, 1896, p.4
  5. ^ de Saulcy, Félicien. Narrative of a Journey Round the Dead Sea, R. Bentley, 1854, p.83
  6. ^ "North Street Postern Tower", Historic England
  7. ^ The Strangers' Guide to the City of York, Blyth & Moore, 1850, p.36
  8. ^ Britton, J. and Brayley, E.W., The beauties of England and Wales, 1812, p.31
  9. ^ Davies, Robert. Walks Through the City of York, Chapman and Hall, 1880, p.81
  10. ^ "York City Walls", The Antiquary, 1889, p.215
  11. ^ Cooper, Thomas Parsons. York: the Story of Its Walls, Bars, and Castles, E. Stock, 1904, p.318
  12. ^ Wood, Anthony. Survey of Antiquities of the City of Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1889, pp. 108-109, 646
  13. ^ Salter, Herbert Edward. Records of Mediæval Oxford, Oxford Chronicle Company, Lltd., 1912, p.83
  14. ^ Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remembrancia, 1878, p.427
  15. ^ Malory, Thomas. Le Morte D'Arthur, Chap IV, Library of Alexandria, 1904