AskDefine | Define portcullis

Dictionary Definition

portcullis n : gate consisting of an iron or wooden grating that hangs in the entry to a castle or fortified town; can be lowered to prevent passage

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl xno porte coliz and etyl fro porte coulëice, from porte + feminine of colëis, from couler.


  • a UK /pɔːtˈkʌlɪs/


  1. A gate in the form of a grating which is lowered into place at the entrance to a castle, fort, etc.


gate in the form of a grating

Extensive Definition

A portcullis is a grille or gate made of wood, metal or a combination of the two.
Portcullises fortified the entrances to many medieval castles, acting as a last line of defence during time of attack or siege. Each portcullis was mounted in vertical grooves in castle walls and could be raised or lowered quickly by means of chains or ropes attached to an internal winch.
There would often be two portcullises to the main entrance. The one closest to the inside would be closed first and then the one furthest away. This was used to trap the enemy and often, burning wood would be dropped onto them from the roof. Pouring hot oil is a myth, it was far too valuable and rare at the time to waste as such. Also, archers could shoot arrows at the trapped enemies. There were often arrow holes in the sides of the walls for archers and crossbowmen to eliminate the besieging army.


By analogy to the gates, a portcullis is also the name given to a device used for quick change or scenes in theatrical stagecraft. The painted scene is attached to a grille, which then is made to appear in the stage, by moving it with a winch.


The portcullis often appears as a device or emblem in heraldry, such as that employed as the symbol for the Palace of Westminster in London. One example of where a portcullis is found is on a UK one penny coin, and another on the Canada Customs crest. The coat of arms of Canberra features a portcullis on the crest, symbolizing Parliament. Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary is also one of the officers of arms at the College of Arms in London.


portcullis in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Герса
portcullis in German: Fallgatter
portcullis in French: Herse (architecture)
portcullis in Polish: Brona (budownictwo)
portcullis in Swedish: Fällgaller
portcullis in Chinese: 吊闸
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