The Motte and Bailey Castle

The Norman Conquerors built their castles in locations where they could keep control of the local populations of Saxons or at important locations such as river crossings or on key roads. Many motte and bailey castles were built on the border with Wales to try and keep the Welsh at bay. The advantage of this type of castle was that it was quick to construct. Making a fortification from wood was much easier than making one of stone.

Key features

  • Norman Castles - during and after the Norman Invasion
  • Central wooden tower or stronghold (keep) raised on mound (motte)
  • Dry or wet ditch around motte
  • Outer court (bailey) surrounded by wooden palisade and dry or wet ditch
  • Rapid construction

During the early part of the Norman invasion, the designers of these early castles built wooden towers on the top of a mound for protection. They either used an existing mound where one was available, enlarged an existing natural hill or more usually built their own mound on which they then constructed the tower or keep. At the top of the mound, around its edge, they built a wooden wall or palisade. The mound, now known as a motte, was usually surrounded by a ditch which in some cases could be filled with water. At the foot of the motte was built a normally oval-shaped enclosure known as a bailey that had a palisade and a ditch of its own. The motte was usually placed to one side of the bailey rather than in the centre. Some castles had more than one bailey. An example of this type can be seen at Windsor which has the motte at the centre of two large baileys.

The arrangment of the motte and baileys was dictated by the conditions of the ground on which they were built. Although many of these castles had the motte at the edge of the bailey, some had the motte within the baliey. An example of this is at Skenfrith Castle in Wales. Where there was more than one bailey, the baileys could be arranged in a line to one side of the motte, or, as at Windsor, opposite each other with the motte at the centre.

 

Two Mottes

Some motte and bailey castles had two mottes. Examples include Lincoln Castle and Lewes Castle.

 

Under Attack

When the area around a castle was under attack, the local inhabitants could retreat first to the bailey and then to the motte if the attackers managed to enter the castle. From the top of the motte the defenders could throw missiles at their attackers and defend or even destroy the narrow bridge that linked the bailey to the motte.

Above is an example plan of a motte and bailey castle. The Motte is the circular structure on the left. There are two baileys shown on the plan, an inner and outer bailey. The lines on the plan show how the ground rises and falls. The thicker end of each line indicates a high point and the thinner end indicates a low point. The remains of many motte and bailey castles can be found all over England. They can be located by looking for the ditches and banks that have survived for hundreds of years. The wooden palisades have long since rotted away but it is possible to guess how the castle may have looked in Norman times.

 

TimeRef UK Castles Mobile App Android Phone

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Motte and Bailey Castles (1066 - 1100)

Castle Name Date Location Notes On this site
Berkhampstead CastleSoon after 1066Hertfordshire  
Cambridge Castle1068Cambridgeshire  
Caerleon Castle Monmouthshire, Wales  
Clare CastleSoon after 1066Suffolk  
Lewes CastleSoon after 1066SussexTwo mottesMore
Lincoln Castle1068Lincolnshire More
Ongar Castle Essex  
Oxford Castle Oxfordshire  
Pleshey Castle Essex  
Shrewsbury Castle1069Shropshire More
Thetford Castle Norfolk  
Warwick Castle1068Warwickshire More
York Castle1068YorkshireTwo castles builtMore

Trebuchet Game (Beta Version)

Take control of a medieval trebuchet to destroy the enemy castle and capture their flag.

 

Instructions:

  • Click the trebuchet or press the space bar to launch the projectile.
  • To get the best result wait for the basket to swing back to the left.
  • The trebuchet will reload automatically after each shot.
  • The game have been tested on desktop IE10, IE11, Chrome and Firefox. It may not work on mobile or other browsers.
  • This game in under development and will be improved at a later date.

Useful Terms

Keep: The defendable central part of a castle. Ditch: A trench dug around the outside of the castle. When filled with water is usually known as a moat. Bailey: The open area in a castle between the keep and the curtain wall. Palisade: Wooden wall surrounding the castle's bailey. Constable: Person in charge of the defence of the castle. Siege: The blockade of a castle or town to force the surrender of the occupants.

 

 

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