Medieval Castle Development Timeline

The shape, size and purpose of the medieval castle changed over time. This page describes the changes that took place.

Pre 1000

Pre-medieval Castles


Key Features
  • Iron Age Hill Forts
  • Rocky outcrops
  • Steep slopes and ditches
  • Roman rectangular forts

To avoid being attacked either by fellow humans or wild animals and without the luxury of a stone castle the best defence for Iron Age people was to live somewhere that was difficult for those attackers to get at. This is how primitive people planned their defences. By living somewhere from which they could see attackers coming and somewhere they could easily defend early humans were able to survive.

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Keep and Bailey Castles

Key Features
  • Roughly circular enclosure known as a bailey
  • Defensive walls and ditches
  • Central Stronghold for added defence known as a keep
  • Mainly wooden and rough stone wall construction

This type of castle is where a Saxon Lord would live in relative safety from attack. In times of trouble the surrounding population could find shelter in the bailey.

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Military Tactics


  • Burn down palisade


  • Strong gatehouse
  • Water filled ditches
  • Keep built on mound (motte)
  • Keep last line of defence
  • Motte and Bailey Castles

    Key Features
    • Earth and timber construction
    • Central stronghold raised on mound (motte)
    • Motte built from scratch or reuse of existing feature
    • Extra ditches around motte
    • Many hundreds built during the Norman Conquest of Britain

    The Normans built these castles around England and on the borders of Wales to keep the local inhabitants under their control. Examples of existing castles that started as Motte and Baileys include Warwick and Windsor.

    Examples: Wallingford, Warwick, Windsor

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    Norman Keep Towers

    Key Features
    • Massive square tower with four corner turrets
    • Built in the times of William the Conqueror and William Rufus
    • Extremely thick walls
    • Internally divided into two halves
    • Incorporated rooms for storage and living quarters
    • Also has a built in chapel

    William the Conqueror and his master castle builder Gundalf built the massive White Tower in London to dominate the local inhabitants.

    Examples: Tower of London, Rochester

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    Improved Design

    Although square keeps were still being built, it became clear that the old design had several problems: -

    • Easy to undermine at corners
    • Corners had defensive blind spots

    To overcome these problems the castle designers began to build multi-sides and round keeps. Orford Castle is a very good example of a many sided keep and is still in very good condition.


    Concentric Castles

    A concentric castle consists of an inner ward surrounded by one or more outer walls. If an attacker manages to get past one wall there is still one or more set of walls to get past to get to the centre. An attacker could get trapped between walls and be an easy target for the defenders. The first true concentric castle in Britain was Caerphilly Castle in Wales ordered by Henry III.

    Examples: Beaumaris

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    Edward I - Castles in Wales

    Edward I built a series of castles in North Wales along the coast where they could be resupplied by sea. They allowed Edward to conquer Llewelyn ap Gruffyfdd, the Prince of Wales. Each castle had a small town attached to it protected by a enclosing wall.

    Examples: Caernarfon, Flint, Conway, Harlech and Hawarden

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    Siege Methods


    • Moats bridged with planks
    • Walls scaled with ladders
    • Seige towers built
    • Undermining of walls
    • Siege engines - trebuchet


    Siege Tower


    • Push ladders away
    • Counter mines
    • Boiling oil and Greek fire

    1300 - 1499

    Fortified Manor Houses

    Key Features
    • Defence less of a priority
    • Designed to impress
    • Crenelations for effect
    • Manor houses
    • Brick construction in 1400s

    In these two centuries fewer new castles were built. The King and Barons concentrated on improving the castles they had, making them larger and more comfortable to live in. Those that were built were designed first for luxury and to impress rather than for defence.

    Examples: Maxstoke, Nunney, Bodiam, Old Wardour, Hurstmonceaux, Tattershall, Stokesay

    Stokesay Castle - a fortified manor house

    Virtual Reconstruction


    View this page on a desktop computer to explore a virtual Stokesay Castle.

    If you are using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge for Windows 10 (tested on version 25.10586.0.0) explore a virtual Stokesay Castle.

    Stokesay Castle is an excellent example of a fortified manor house. It has remained largely unchanged since the time it was built in the thirteenth century by Lawrence of Ludlow. Lawrence was a wealthy wool trader who built a new hall and tower on the site of an existing fortification. Explore the hall and solar block that he created.

    Explore Stokesay Castle


    As you start moving you will pe prompted to hide the cursor. This is recommended for best results when exploring the reconstruction. Press 'L' to go full screen and press 'Shift' to run.

    1538 - 1540

    Coastal Defences

    Key Features
    • Squat and circular
    • Thick walls
    • Several tiers of gun ports
    • No living quarters for lord or family
    • Built to guard important estuaries

    The requirement to live in castles in England had passed because the barons and nobles were no longer fighting amongst themselves. But the threat of invasion from France was very real. In the reign of Henry VIII the threat became so great that the King ordered the construction of several new castles along the south coast of England. These are known as the gun-forts of Henry VIII.

    Examples: Deal, Walmer, Pendennis, St. Mawes

    TimeRef UK Castles Mobile App for Android Phone

    This Android app allows you to find castles thar are near you. Currently the app includes only English and Welsh castles.

    View Details in Google Play Store

    Download the app from the Google Play Store.

    View Instructions