DONJON means KEEP
The term is derived from the Latin
dominium, meaning lordship, signifying that part of a
castle that was the ultimate strongpoint and refuge and
contained the most prestigious residential accommodation
for the lord himself.
It was thus an essentially feudal
concept: as the inner sanctum of lordship it was regarded
as the particular symbol thereof, and for practical and
symbolic reasons it was given a structural and
architectural emphasis to make it the main piece of the
In French the word retains much of its
original meaning, though confined to the tower keep, which
is only one form of donjon, but in English, through a very
early secondary usage (1186), it has come to mean a dark
subterranean place of confinement.
The word ‘keep’, which has been adopted more or less as an English synonym
for donjon in its original meaning, first appeared in the 16th century.
There are several types of donjon. The word was applied by contemporaries to
the motte and its timber superstructure (palisade and tower) of those early castles
constructed in the ‘motte-and-bailey’ form.
Surviving mottes, even denuded of all superstructure, can still be very
impressive and were a formidable obstacle to attack; it is interesting and significant that
on the late 11th-century Bayeux tapestry the motte is used as the symbol of a castle.
It is also clear from both literary and archaeological evidence that the
timber tower within the palisade upon the summit was or could contain the apartments of the
lord and could be surprisingly elaborate.