A portcullis is a latticed 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 besieged 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.


See also

*Portcullis House

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Portcullis — Port*cul lis, n. [OF. porte coulisse, cole[ i]ce, a sliding door, fr. L. colare, colatum, to filter, to strain: cf. F. couler to glide. See {Port} a gate, and cf. {Cullis}, {Colander}.] 1. (Fort.) A grating of iron or of timbers pointed with iron …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Portcullis — Port*cul lis, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Portcullised}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Portcullising}.] To obstruct with, or as with, a portcullis; to shut; to bar. [R.] Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • portcullis — c.1300, from O.Fr. porte coleice sliding gate (c.1200), from porte gate (see PORT (Cf. port) (2)) + coleice sliding, flowing, fem. of coleis, from L. colatus, pp. of colare to filter, strain …   Etymology dictionary

  • portcullis — ► NOUN ▪ a strong, heavy grating that can be lowered to block a gateway. ORIGIN from Old French porte coleice sliding door …   English terms dictionary

  • portcullis — [pôrt kul′is] n. [ME portcoles < MFr porte coleïce < porte, gate + coleïce, fem. of coleis, sliding < L colare, to strain, filter] a heavy iron grating suspended by chains and lowered between grooves to bar the gateway of a castle or… …   English World dictionary

  • Portcullis — Das Wort Portcullis bezeichnet die englische Bezeichnung für das über dem (zumeist) Haupteingang angebrachte Fallgatter einer Burg oder eines Schlosses. davon abgeleitet: Portcullis House, das Bürogebäude der englischen Abgeordneten. wiederum… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • portcullis — UK [pɔː(r)tˈkʌlɪs] / US [pɔrtˈkʌlɪs] noun [countable] Word forms portcullis : singular portcullis plural portcullises a heavy iron gate that can be lowered in front of the entrance to a castle as a defence …   English dictionary

  • Portcullis — 1) Heavy grating of wood and metal which slid up and down, securing the entrance of a fortress or castle. [< OldFr. port = door + coulice = sliding] Cf. Herse 2) Her. Vertical and horizontal lines crossing each other over a *field. Cf. Herse… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • portcullis — [14] A portcullis is etymologically a ‘sliding door’. The word comes from Old French porte coleïce, a term made up of porte ‘door’ (source of English port, as in porthole) and coleïce ‘sliding’. This was a derivative of the verb couler ‘slide’,… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • portcullis — [[t]pɔː(r)tkʌ̱lɪs[/t]] portcullises N COUNT A portcullis is a strong gate above an entrance to a castle and used to be lowered to the ground in order to keep out enemies …   English dictionary

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