The Motte-and-Bailey Castle: The Castle Precursor to the Rectangular Keep

The story of the castle in England actually began with castle design originating on the European continent in the ninth century (Gies 12). During this time period, “landownership was a matter of armed dispute” on the European continent (Hindley para. 5). It was largely a power struggle where the winners were determined by those who had the power to hold down the property they claimed (Hindley para. 5).  As a result of these instabilities, “there was a general revival of fortification” (Lepage 28). The majority of Europe’s earliest castles were built to provide “protection against invading marauders” (Hindley para. 7). These fortifications were called castella, and they evolved into what we call castles, which were used to maintain control over the surrounding area (Morris 46). The earliest castle was the motte-and-bailey (Lepage 29).

This castle, as the name implied, consisted of a motte-and-bailey. The motte was a pile of earth “varying from 10 ft. to 100 ft. in height and from 100 ft. to 300 ft. in diameter” (Toy 52). There were three types of mounds based on the nature of the mound’s construction: “natural hillocks, partly natural and partly artificial, or wholly artificial” (Toy 52). The bailey “was an enclosed area usually in the form of a half-moon, D- or U-shaped,” and it was usually “situated at the foot of the mound” (Lepage 34). “The bailey formed a kind of small village” for the castle’s other inhabitants (Lepage 34).  A aerial diagram of the earthy shapes of a motte-and-bailey can be seen below. The star-like formation is the motte and the backwards D formation is the bailey with the shaded areas indicating raised height.

topcliffe_castle_plan

Armitage, Ella. “Plan of Topcliffe Castle in England: an Archetypal Motte-and-Bailey Design.” 1912. Wikimedia Commons, 14 April 2011, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Topcliffe_Castle_plan.jpg. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.

This structure was “enclosed by a ditch, an earth wall, and a stockade” and further “defended by a small gatetower and a primitive drawbridge over the ditch” (Lepage 34). Due to the nature of the time period, these early castles were usually “constructed of earth and wood” (Gies 12).  Though the wooden castles have largely rotted away, it is still possible to see the earthy formations (Morris 00: 6:19-00:7:14). One example can be seen below in the remains of Brinklow Castle’s motte.

800px-brinklow_castle_mound

“Brinklow Castle Mound.” Wikimedia Commons, 07 Aug. 2006, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brinklow_castle_mound.jpg. Accessed 02 Dec. 2016.

The motte-and-bailey castles “were highly effective earth-and-timber fortifications of complex construction although generally thought to be primitive” (DeVries & Smith 211). Nevertheless, they were effective, often “provid[ing] protection for its inhabitants by the rampart, the size of the bailey, the depth and width of its ditches, and the height of the mound” (DeVries & Smith 211). The motte-and-bailey castles “were the defensive response to the [French’s] preferred method of attack: cavalry” (Morris 00:9:55-00:10:09).

“William the Conqueror, as duke of Normandy and later count of Maine, knew the value of the motte-and-bailey castle” building many in his various territories (DeVires & Smith 214). In fact, four of his constructed castles are represented in the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events of his invasion of England (DeVries & Smith 214). These embroidered pictures indicate that motte-and-bailey castles were indeed constructed in England by William (Morris 00:07:12-00:8:35) along with giving an insight into “how motte-and-bailey castles were designed and built” (DeVries & Smith 217).

800px-tapisserie_motte_dinan

Unknown Weaver. “Tapisserie Motte Dinan.” Bayeux Tapestry. 11th Century. Museum of Reading. Picture Uploaded by Urban, Feb. 2005. Wikimedia Commons,  commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tapisserie_motte_dinan.jpg. Accessed 24, Nov. 2016.

It was by combining the tapestry (and other evidence like it) with archaeological evidence that we were able to understand what the motte-and-bailey castle looked like (Morris 00:8:18-00:8:50). The motte-and-bailey castle was the first castle design that the English experienced when William the Conqueror brought it with him during his conquest of England, and it proved to be a crucial instrument of William’s conquest (Morris 00: 1:30-00:1:47).

 Works Cited

Armitage, Ella. “Plan of Topcliffe Castle in England: an Archetypal Motte-and-Bailey Design.” 1912. Wikimedia Commons, 14 April 2011. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Topcliffe_Castle_plan.jpg. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.

“Brinklow Castle Mound.” Wikimedia Commons, 07 Aug. 2006, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brinklow_castle_mound.jpg. Accessed 02 Dec. 2016.

DeVries, Kelly, and Robert Douglas Smith. “Chapter Eight: Motte-and-Bailey Castles.” Medieval Military Technology, 2nd ed., University of Toronto Press, 2002. pp. 211-222.

Gies, Joseph, and Frances Gies. “Chapter One: The Castle Comes to England.” Life in a Medieval Castle. Perennial Library, 1974. pp. 8-31.

Hindley, Geoffrey. “Chapter Two: Strong Points in a Landscape.” Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft. NewYork: Skyhorse Publishing, 2009. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?nobk=y&sid=a1f019df-6781-4b9a-9888-dfa51b59e708@sessionmgr4008&vid=44&hid=4204&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==#AN=648279&db=nlebk. Accessed 02 Nov 2016.

Lepage, Jean-Denis, G. G. “Chapter 2: The Revival of Military Architecture from the 10th to the 12th Centuries.” Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2002. pp. 28-106.

Morris, Marc. “Castle Episode 1: Tower of London & Dover Castle.” Discovery Channel, Youtube, uploaded by HistoriaandHistory, 2003, www.youtube.com/watch?v=slLf1Nq8o2Q. Accessed 06 Dec. 2016.

—. “Chapter 13: Insurrection.” The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. Pegasus Books, 2012, pp. 205-231.

Toy, Sidney. “Chapter VI: Fortifications of Western Europe from the Fifth Century to the Eleventh Century.” Castles: Their Construction and History. 1939. Dover Publications, Inc., 1985. pp 50-65.

Unknown Weaver. “Tapisserie Motte Dinan.” Bayeux Tapestry. 11th Century. Museum of Reading. Picture Uploaded by Urban, Feb. 2005. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tapisserie_motte_dinan.jpg.  Accessed 24, Nov. 2016.

 

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