The shape, size and purpose of the medieval castle has changed over time. This page describes the changes that took place.
Pre 1000 A.D.
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.
This type of castle is where a Saxon or Norman Lord would live in relative safety from attack where it was deemed less important to build a large keep. The castle consisted of a roughly circular enclosure surrounded by a wooden palisade with a small range of buildings at the center. A gatehouse with drawbridge over a ditch of water-filled moat provided extra protection. In times of trouble the surrounding population could find shelter in the bailey.
Motte and Bailey Castles
The motte and bailey castle is categorised by a large earthen mound known as the motte and a circular or kidney-shaped enclosure known as the bailey. The Normans built many of 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
Norman Keep Towers
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
Although square keeps were still being built, it became clear that the old design had several problems: -
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.
Examples: Orford, Conisborough, Odiham
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.
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
1300 - 1499 A.D.
Fortified Manor Houses
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
A Virtual Reconstruction
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.
1538 - 1540 A.D.
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
More castle pages
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Types of castles
Types of castles