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Motte and Bailey Castles

What were the first castle like?

The first proper castles built in England were the Motte and Bailey castles.

A drawing of the old motte and bailey castle of Tonbridge

The term motte and bailey castle comes from Norman French words for mound and enclosed land.

Motte - mound or 'clod of earth'
Bailey - enclosure.

Who introduced the Motte and Bailey Castles to England?

The Normans from France, introduced the Motte and Bailey castle to England, when they invaded the country in 1066. It is believed that as many as 1000 Motte and Bailey Castles were built in England by the Normans.

How were Motte and Bailey Castles built?

The most important part of the Motte and Bailey castle was the Keep. It was built on a huge mound (the motte). Mottes ranged from 25 feet (8 metres) to over 80 feet (24 metres) in height

Model of a Motte and Bailey castle

The sides of the motte were so steep that it would have been impossible to run up them in one go For added potection, a deep ditch was dug around the bottom of the motte.

At the bottom of the motte was the bailey. The bailey varied in size from one to three acres.

Inside the bailey, lived the followers of the Lord who ran the castle. There were many buildings inside the bailey including stables, storehouses, bakeries, kitchens, houses, and quarters for soldiers.


A strong wooden fence (palisade) surrounded the buildings.

Wooden fence (palisade)

The bailey was surrounded by a ditch, called a fosse.

Windsor Castle - the first motte and Bailey castle

There were motte and bailey castles all over England and along the frontier of Wales. Many of England's existing castles began as motte and bailey castles. Windsor Castle in Berkshire, started life as a motte and bailey castle.

Windsor Castle - originally a motte and bailey castle

Windsor castle is one of the many homes of our present day Queen.

View of Windsor Castle from the River Thames

What were the advantages of motte and bailey castles?

Motte and bailey castles were quick and cheap to erect - - some only took a couple of weeks!

The huge motte with its timber tower on top gave the defenders an advantage.

The bailey was designed so that any point on its circumference (outer edge) would be within bowshot of the tower.

What were the disadvantages of motte and bailey castles?
How and why did Norman castle building material change?

Wooden castles were not very strong.

The wooden structures caught fire easily.

Stone was much stronger

From around 1100 onwards, people began to build castles in stone.

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