Discover Medieval Life in the Middle Ages

Medieval Castles

Medieval Castles

Medieval castles can be seen today standing imposingly across the lands of Europe and further to the East and South. The castle was designed to provide positions of strength for the local Lord, and strike fear and intimidation into the local population and any invading army.

Early medieval castles began as wooden palisades surrounding a small wooden hall, normally perched upon a hilltop. This was a quick solution to building a permanent stronghold in a good defensive position. From the early 10th century, these wooden castles sprang up across the lands, especially in England, and quite commonly upon sites of old Iron Age forts.

When the Normans invaded in 1066, after successfully defeating Harold, the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, William the Conqueror set about building many of these simple fortresses all over Britain. William’s purpose was to quickly impose his authority and control over the country and the people. Furthermore, these medieval castles would provide protection for local Norman Lords in the towns and cities as well as safe-guarding the strategic roads that passed through.

Once the Normans had established control, they decided to upgrade each castle with stone. These medieval castles tended to be situated high on hill tops, built with huge defensive walls, many feet thick with stone. Dotted around the castle were small vertical arrow slots for windows used to rain down arrows on intruders. The entrances were guarded with large iron gates and portcullis’, sometimes a moat would surround the castle for further protection.

Inside the medieval castle, would be a keep. A central stronghold, in itself capable of holding off intruders for some length of time. Escape tunnels, secret doors and passageways were common place and add to the defensive designs of these great structures.

Motte and Bailey Medieval Castles

There were 3 types of medieval castle, the earliest being the Motte and Bailey castle.

Motte And Bailey Castle

Motte and Bailey Castle. Source

The motte, from the Norman-French word ‘mote’, meaning a flat-topped mound of earth, was the mound or hill in which the wooden or stone keep was built on. It was normally man-made, but on some sites the natural surrounding made for a perfect motte location, and so that was taken advantage of. The keep that would sit on top of the motte would be protected by a ring of wood or stone with normally one access route to the bailey.

The bailey, from the Norman-French word ‘baille’ meaning enclosed court, being the surrounding walled area and yard where castle buildings such as the stables, blacksmiths, chapels, workshops etc were located. A bridge or defensive path normally links the motte to the Bailey. Designs would alter slightly overtime, where some would have two mottes and others two baileys, depending on the size of the castle and its importance. A good example of a motte and (two) bailey castle is Arundel Castle in Sussex.

Stone Keep Medieval Castles

During the 12th century, the original wooden motte and bailey castles needed upgrading and reinforcing. The solution to this was to rebuild the walls in stone, and rebuild the grand hall into a large stone keep. The Stone Keep castle was born.

Tower of London Stone Keep Castle


The stone keep castle had far better defences because of it’s thick stone walls, but still roughly maintained the motte and bailey design. Usually the castle was rectangular or circular in shape, and surrounded by a moat, allowing access to the castle over a drawbridge.

The site of these stone keep castles rising up across the land, would have firmly cemented the realisation that the Normans were here to stay.

A superb example of a stone keep castle is the Tower of London, with its huge white tower keep in the centre. This was actually the first stone keep castle in England, built by William the Conqueror.

Stone Concentric Medieval Castles

As the 12th century passed by, the demand for even more impenetrable fortresses was as high as ever. Threats of invasion and wars with France, England needed to build castles that could not be taken by force. So, the stone concentric castle was designed.

Beaumaris Stone Concentric CastleConcentric means a circle within a circle, or in this case, a castle within a castle. Existing stone keep castles were once again reinforced, but this time with a thick outer stone wall surrounding the entire castle. This design produced a ‘dead man’s land’ in between the inner and outer castle walls. If the enemies could breach the outer wall, they would find themselves facing an inner wall, just as thick, but with less room for siege engines. Furthermore, they would be directly under siege from arrows, boiling oil and rocks propelled by the desperate castle defenders. No wonder they called these areas the killing pits!

One of the best examples of a stone concentric castle is Beaumaris castle on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. You can clearly see the outer stone wall, followed by the inner stone wall ring. The Tower of London was also upgraded to a concentric castle design too.

Discover more Medieval Castles

Discover more about Medieval Castles in our Medieval Castle category. There are some of the best examples of medieval castles our lands have to offer, with more being added all the time.

Further Reading

We can recommend the following:

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Main Image Source
Beaumaris Castle Source

Medieval Steward

A Medieval enthusiast and fan of the middle ages. I enjoy writing and sharing about Medieval history and the important historical events of our lands.

13 Responses

  1. Camil says:

    love your inf. it gave me a great idea for the project I have to do

  1. 8th October 2014

    […] design was a traditional Motte and Bailey castle, which soon became reinforced with stone around the 12th century by Henry II. The original Norman […]

  2. 7th August 2015

    […] Castle was originally a motte and bailey castle, that sat high up on the Tor above Dunster medieval village. The castle has been there for over […]

  3. 26th October 2015

    […] Castles in the Middle Ages were the strongholds of the Kingdom. Impenetrable power houses built for defence against invaders and rebels alike, and to show off the power and wealth of the owner. Kings worked tirelessly to build these across the realm, and many still stand magnificently today. You can find out more about Castles in the Middle Ages here. […]

  4. 1st May 2016

    […] Castle was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror as a timber Motte and Bailey Castle. It was then rebuilt with stone in the 12th century.  Being located on a bend on the River Avon, […]

  5. 2nd September 2016

    […] Medieval Castles […]

  6. 2nd November 2016

    […] fort at Corfe Castle was upgraded with Norman stone around 1068, and was one of the first Norman stone castles in […]

  7. 30th November 2016

    […] in 1139. He was concerned with the growing power the bishops had, with the number of castles they were building, and the increasingly large armed forces they were producing. Stephen […]

  8. 30th November 2016

    […] Lincoln, England. It has two mottes and a large bailey, which is a very rare design, as most motte and bailey castles have just one […]

  9. 3rd August 2017

    […] Conqueror had finally stabilised his kingdom. This was reinforced, when William commissioned huge Norman castles to be built across the kingdom. A clear message to all of power and control, which could not be […]

  10. 31st August 2017

    […] Henry III, had started. Edward spent £21,000 transforming the Tower of London into the largest concentric stone castle in England. However, despite the vast expense and work undertaken, Edward I rarely stayed there. […]

  11. 23rd January 2018

    […] was influenced by Edward’s travels through France on Crusade. Each castle was built as a concentric stone castle, using the latest techniques and architectural […]

  12. 23rd August 2018

    […] the next decade, Robert began transforming Warkworth Castle into a stone fortress, with a Motte and Bailey design. The Carrickfergus Tower, the eastern curtain wall and the Gatehouse all date from this […]

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