Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A small rear gate, especially one in a fort or castle.
  • adj. Situated in the back or at the side.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A back-gate, backdoor, side entrance, or other gateway distinct from the main entrance.
  • n. By extension, a separate or hidden way in or out of a place, situation etc.
  • adj. Situated at the rear; posterior.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Back; being behind; private.
  • n. Originally, a back door or gate; a private entrance; hence, any small door or gate.
  • n. A subterraneous passage communicating between the parade and the main ditch, or between the ditches and the interior of the outworks.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A back door or gate; a private entrance; hence, any small door or gate. See cuts under castle and barbican.
  • n. In fortification, a covered passage closed by a gate, usually in the angle of the flank of a bastion, or in that of the curtain, or near the orillion, descending into the ditch.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a small gate in the rear of a fort or castle

Etymologies

Middle English posterne, from Old French, alteration of posterle, from Late Latin posterula, diminutive of Latin posterus, behind; see posterior.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Late Latin posterna, and its likely sources, Anglo-Norman posterne, Old French posterne, alteration of posterle, from Late Latin posterula ("back door"), from Latin posterus ("later"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • IV. ii.91 (101,4) [that spirit's possess'd with haste, That wounds the unresisting postern with these strokes] The line is irregular, and the _unresisting postern_ so strange an expression, that want of measure, and want of sense, might justly raise suspicion of an errour, yet none of the later editors seem to have supposed the place faulty, except sir Tho.

    Notes to Shakespeare — Volume 01: Comedies

  • If the Germans and their allies crossed the river above and below the city, enveloping it from three sides, their bridgeheads across the river would not only be vulnerable to flank attacks, but the city itself would become a staging area for attacks, what a German general in a previous war had called a postern gate, an opening in a fortification that enabled the defenders to sally forth and surprise the besiegers.

    Deathride

  • Running down the path, vaulting the little gate leading into the shrubberies, and dashing down a back way almost dark with the thick laurel-bushes overhead, he soon reached what was known as the postern door.

    Chatterbox, 1906

  • a narrow postern, which is generally accepted as that through which

    Beautiful Britain: Canterbury

  • For an adventuring mood this window was a kind of postern to the house for innocent deception, beyond the eye of both the sitting-room and cook.

    Chimney-Pot Papers

  • After this Vellido took the king apart and said to him, If it please you, sir, let us ride out together alone; we will go round Zamora, and see the trenches which you have ordered to be made; and I will show unto you the postern which is called the queen's, by which we may enter the town, for it is never closed.

    The Junior Classics — Volume 4

  • Zamora, and see the trenches which you have ordered to be made; and I will show unto you the postern which is called the Queen's, by which we may enter the town, for it is never closed.

    Chronicle of the Cid

  • Romaine himself let us out of a window in a part of the house known to Rowley: it appears it served as a kind of postern to the servants 'hall, by which (when they were in the mind for a clandestine evening) they would come regularly in and out; and I remember very well the vinegar aspect of the lawyer on the receipt of this piece of information -- how he pursed his lips, jutted his eyebrows, and kept repeating,' This must be seen to, indeed! this shall be barred to-morrow in the morning! '

    St. Ives, Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England

  • She approached the postern gate where a pompous-looking black-clad guard halted her.

    The Gauntlet Thrown Chapter Thirty Six

  • I walked as far as the postern gate that led to the road but I did not pass through.

    Secrets of the Tudor Court

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  • "So it befell on a night, at midnight, he arrived afore a castle, on the back side, which was rich and fair, and there was a postern opened toward the sea, and was open without any keeping, save two lions kept the entry; and the moon shone clear."
    - Thomas Malory, 'The Holy Grail'.

    September 14, 2009

  • In castle architecture, a small door or gate, usually some distance from main entrance of castle or ward. Often hidden to allow defenders to enter and exit castle without detection. Sallyport. Secondary gateway or back doorway.

    August 26, 2008