Medieval Castles Part 1

Did you know that the Tower of London, the building in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Treasurer, and other nobles were hiding, is actually a castle? Yes, despite having the word “tower” in its name, the Tower of London is a veritable fortress. Castles in medieval times were an important part of any community, but it wasn’t always so.


Until the year 1066, there were no castles. So what was so special about 1066? Well, those of you well versed in history (and those of you who have gone to past fairs) probably already know that 1066 was the year William the Conqueror took control of England from King Harold. He built castles as bases from which he could subjugate the English population. However, these original castles were built in a motte and bailey style.


The motte and bailey castles had a few interesting features one doesn’t think about when you think of a castle. The foundations of a motte and bailey castle were two mounds of earth built extremely high (50-120 feet), and rather wide (from 50-300 feet in diameter). This is called the motte. An interesting side effect of creating these mottes were that it created a convenient defensive ditch. After all, all of that dirt had to come from somewhere.

Motte and bailey castle

A motte and bailey castle


This ditch enclosed the bailey, a defended yard which contained many of the staple buildings of castle life, such as stables, barracks, food storage buildings, and also contained weapons and equipment. A large wooden gate with guardhouses on either side served as the entrance to the bailey.


The crowning piece of the castle of course, is the tower (or keep). This wooden (and later, stone) tower served as a watch tower, an elevated fighting station, and as the living quarters for the resident lord or knight. These towers were generally two to three stories tall, with the first floor serving as the kitchen and storeroom, the second floor housing a “great hall”, and the top floor serving as the actual living quarters for the lord or knight.


Obviously, the motte and bailey construction of castles didn’t stay with us forever. People soon realized that wooden castles were not exactly the most sturdy, but in order to find out how we got to the castles we know and love today, you’ll have to wait until next week.

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 10:23 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] kinds of castles and you missed our blog post discussing motte and bailey castles, you can find it here. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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