Final Project: The Rectangular Keep Castle in the Evolution of England’s Castle Architecture


This series of posts aims to focus on the evolution of the castle design in the early medieval ages. In particular, this project will focus on the place of the rectangular keep (or donjon) design in the evolution. More specifically, I will focus on rectangular keeps in England during the eleventh century through the twelfth century. I will briefly describe the (1) a precursor to the castle in England, (2) the motte-and-bailey design, (3) how William the Conqueror brought it with him to England, (4) the transition from the motte-and-bailey to the rectangular keep, (5) the basics of the rectangular keep’s design, (6) the strategic advantages associated with the keep design, (7) an early example of this design, (8) a later example of this design, and (9) the transition from the rectangular keep design to the concentric castle design.  I hope to investigate the various factors driving this evolution, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each design during both transitions and the circumstances of the time period that drove the change.

My interest in this topic arises from a few factors. First, my grandfather fervently claims that we are direct descendants of William the Conqueror. While I have yet to investigate whether the research my family has done on this topic is accurate, it was enough to get me interested in the Norman invasion. Second, I have been fortunate enough to actually visit England and see a handful of castles. It just so happens that two of the castles I visited were keeps. When I found out that English castles were strongly connected with the Norman invasion, it seemed as if two of my interests were surprisingly compatible, and I was curious to learn more.

Overall, I found it very interesting. The fact that the castle was a Norman import was unexpected, but I did enjoy learning how the castle was involved in England’s various power struggles. The fact that I had been lucky enough to see two types of these rectangular keeps in person made the topic seem much less abstract and engaging. I really enjoyed it and, truth be told, might have gone a bit overboard!

My project consists of a series of posts. Due to the fact that my project follows a timeline they should probably be read in order.

  1. Hill forts: the Unintentional Foundation of Many Castles
  2. The Motte-and-Bailey Castle: the Castle Precursor to the Keep
  3. William the Conqueror Introduces the Castle to England
  4. The Transition of the Motte-and-Bailey to the Rectangular Keep (Donjon)
  5. The Rectangular Keep’s Usual Design
  6. The Siege Practicality of the Rectangular Keep
  7. White Tower: the Early “Prototype”
  8. Dover Keep: One of the Last British Keeps
  9. The Transition Away From the Keep

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