A portcullis is a latticed grille
A grille or grill is an opening of several slits side by side in a wall or metal sheet or other barrier, usually to let air or water enter and/or leave but keep larger objects including people and animals in or out.-Spelling:In the United States, "grille" is used to differentiate the automotive...

 made of wood, metal, fibreglass or a combination of the three. Portcullises fortified the entrances to many medieval castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

s, acting as a last line of defence during time of attack or siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

. Each portcullis was mounted in vertical grooves in castle walls and could be raised or lowered quickly by means of chain
A chain is a sequence of connected links.Chain may also refer to:Chain may refer to:* Necklace - a jewelry which is worn around the neck* Mail , a type of armor made of interlocking chain links...

s or rope
A rope is a length of fibres, twisted or braided together to improve strength for pulling and connecting. It has tensile strength but is too flexible to provide compressive strength...

s attached to an internal winch
A winch is a mechanical device that is used to pull in or let out or otherwise adjust the "tension" of a rope or wire rope . In its simplest form it consists of a spool and attached hand crank. In larger forms, winches stand at the heart of machines as diverse as tow trucks, steam shovels and...


There would often be two portcullises to the main entrance
A gate is a point of entry to a space enclosed by walls, or a moderately sized opening in a fence. Gates may prevent or control entry or exit, or they may be merely decorative. Other terms for gate include yett and port...

. The one closer to the inside would be closed first and then the one farther away. This was used to trap the enemy and often, burning wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

 or fire-heated sand would be dropped onto them from the roof. Hot oil, however, was not commonly used in this manner, contrary to popular belief, since oil was extremely expensive. There were often arrowslits in the sides of the walls, enabling archers
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

 and crossbow
A crossbow is a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrels. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.Historically, crossbows played a...

men to eliminate the trapped group of attackers.

In England, working portcullises survive at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

, Monk Bar in York, Amberley Castle
Amberley Castle
Amberley Castle is in the village of Amberley, West Sussex . It is a Grade I listed building.It was erected as a 12th century manor house and fortified in 1377...

 and Hever Castle
Hever Castle
Hever Castle is located in the village of Hever near Edenbridge, Kent, south-east of London, England. It began as a country house, built in the 13th century...



The portcullis was the heraldic badge of the House of Beaufort, and the first Tudor king, Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

, who was of matrilineal Beaufort descent, adapted both the portcullis and the Tudor rose
Tudor rose
The Tudor Rose is the traditional floral heraldic emblem of England and takes its name and origins from the Tudor dynasty.-Origins:...

 as the Tudor badge. Since then, the portcullis has been a moderately common motif of English heraldry
Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry comes from Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, "army commander"...

, especially that heraldry dating from the Tudor period. The heraldic office of Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary
Portcullis Pursuivant
Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary is a junior officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. The office is named after the Portcullis chained Or badge of the Beauforts, which was a favourite device of King Henry VII. King Henry's mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort. The office was...

, a junior officer of arms
Officer of arms
An officer of arms is a person appointed by a sovereign or state with authority to perform one or more of the following functions:*to control and initiate armorial matters*to arrange and participate in ceremonies of state...

 in the College of Arms
College of Arms
The College of Arms, or Heralds’ College, is an office regulating heraldry and granting new armorial bearings for England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

 at London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, dates from this period.

Although the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

 served as the official royal residence for both Henry VII and Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

 until 1530, the current use of the portcullis as a symbol of the Palace and of Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 does not date from that time. Rather, the symbol was developed as part of Sir Charles Barry
Charles Barry
Sir Charles Barry FRS was an English architect, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in London during the mid-19th century, but also responsible for numerous other buildings and gardens.- Background and training :Born on 23 May 1795 in Bridge Street, Westminster...

's plans for the rebuilt Palace after the original burned down
Burning of Parliament
Burning of Parliament is the popular name for the fire which destroyed the Palace of Westminster, the home of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, on 16 October 1834...

 on 16 October 1834; he conceptualized the new Palace as a "legislative castle", and the symbol of a castle gate—i.e. a portcullis—fitted well with the scheme.

Since then, the portcullis has become the primary symbol of Parliament; an office building for Members of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

, opened in 2001, is named "Portcullis House
Portcullis House
Portcullis House is an office building in Westminster, London, UK, that was commissioned in 1992 and opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 Members of Parliament and their staff, augmenting limited space in the Palace of Westminster and surroundings....

". During the 20th century, use of the portcullis as a symbol of Parliament spread beyond Britain and to the other Commonwealth realm
Commonwealth Realm
A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations that has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. The sixteen current realms have a combined land area of 18.8 million km² , and a population of 134 million, of which all, except about two million, live in the six...

s; for instance, the coat of arms
Coat of arms of Canberra
The coat of arms of Canberra was created by the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs and Territories in 1927, in response to a request by the Commonwealth Department of Defence, who wanted to use it on the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra....

 of Canberra
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of over 345,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory , south-west of Sydney, and north-east of Melbourne...

 features a portcullis in its crest
Crest (heraldry)
A crest is a component of an heraldic display, so called because it stands on top of a helmet, as the crest of a jay stands on the bird's head....

, consciously preserving a connection between the British Parliament at Westminster and the Australian Parliament
Parliament of Australia
The Parliament of Australia, also known as the Commonwealth Parliament or Federal Parliament, is the legislative branch of the government of Australia. It is bicameral, largely modelled in the Westminster tradition, but with some influences from the United States Congress...

 to which Canberra is home.

A portcullis was previously found on the British one penny coin; this has since been replaced by a section of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom
Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom
The Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom is the official coat of arms of the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. These arms are used by the Queen in her official capacity as monarch of the United Kingdom, and are officially known as her Arms of Dominion...

. The badge of the now-defunct HM Customs and Excise also bore a portcullis, symbolising the agency's role as "gatekeeper" of goods into the UK, as well as the badge of the Canada's now-defunct Customs and Excise.

The portcullis may appear:
  • as a charge in its own right, as in the arms of the London Borough of Richmond: Ermine, a portcullis chained or, a bordure gules charged with eight fleurs-de-lys or
    • with nail heads shown in a contrasting colour, as in the arms of Wallingford Town Council: Gules, a portcullis or studded sable, chained Argent, ensigned with an ancient crown of the second, all within an orle of bezants
    • with spikes of a contrasting colour, as in the crest of Tendring
      Tendring is a local government district in North East Essex, England. It extends from the River Stour in the north, to the coast and the River Colne in the south, with the coast to the East and the town of Colchester to the west. Its council is based in Clacton-on-Sea. Towns in the district...

       District Council: ...a portcullis or, nailed and spiked azure
  • in the gateways of castles, fully lowered or part raised, as in the arms of Winchester City Council: ...five castles triple towered in saltire argent masoned proper the portcullis of each part-raised or...; though these do not appear in gateways of castles unless the blazon specifies them.

It is often shown with chains attached, even when the blazon does not mention them.

See also

  • Arrow slit
  • Castle
    A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

  • Hoarding (castles)
    Hoarding (castles)
    A hoarding was a temporary wooden construction that was placed on the exterior of the ramparts of a castle during a siege.The purpose of a hoarding was to allow the defenders to improve their field of fire along the length of a wall and, most particularly, directly downwards to the wall base.The...

  • Machicolation
    A machicolation is a floor opening between the supporting corbels of a battlement, through which stones, or other objects, could be dropped on attackers at the base of a defensive wall. The design was developed in the Middle Ages when the Norman crusaders returned. A machicolated battlement...

  • Murder-hole
    A murder hole or meurtrière is a hole in the ceiling of a gateway or passageway in a fortification through which the defenders could fire, throw or pour harmful substances, such as rocks, arrows, scalding water, hot sand, quicklime, tar, or boiling oil, down on attackers. They also allowed water to...

  • Yett
    A yett is a gate or grille of latticed wrought iron bars used for defensive purposes in castles and tower houses...

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