Castles first came to England in 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy, won the battle of Hastings. The Normans needed castles because they had taken control of England by force and were hated by many English people. The Normans had to protect themselves from English rebellions and they needed to keep power over and show strength to the English people. William made sure that castles were built all over England in major towns. The first castles were built very quickly and were very simple, but during the reign of William and throughout the rest of the Middle Ages (1066-1500) the design of castles changed. In this essay I will talk about how much castles changed during the Middle Ages and the reasons for this.
Motte & Bailey Castles (1066 – 1078)
The first castles to be built in England by the Normans were called Motte & Bailey castles. They had: The Keep – a wooden tower used when under attack and for soldiers to keep lookout. A Motte - a large mound of earth that the Keep was built on. A Bailey – a large yard that sat next to the Motte, attached to the Motte by a wooden bridge. A Palisade – a wooden fence all around the Bailey with a ditch around the outside. Wooden gateway - the entrance to the castle with a wooden bridge over the ditch.
Norman soldiers lived in wooden buildings in the Bailey. Motte & Bailey castles were made of earth and wood, which was easy to find, and they could be built really quickly, in 7-21 days. The height of the wooden tower on top of the Motte meant that the Norman soldiers could see what was going on around the castle and see enemies coming. The castles were built near big towns so that the Norman soldiers could move quickly and stop enemies up to 30 miles away. William built over 60 Motte & Bailey castles during the early years of his reign. There are still remains of a Motte & Bailey castles in England today, for example Pleshey, in Essex.
Motte & Bailey castles had the advantages of: being quick and easy to build, showing strength to the English people, having some good defence points (the motte, palisade, ditch). The speed of building made them perfect for the early years of William’s reign to gain power quickly but they also had weaknesses: the wood rotted quickly and was easily burned down by enemies, the Bailey was difficult to defend as it was on lower ground and only protected by the wooden palisade and ditch, they were not big enough to hold large armies, it was also cramped, cold and uncomfortable to live in. Once William had got control of England he could now build better, stronger castles that did not have the weaknesses of the Motte & Bailey castles. He also wanted to show his power and strength to the English people and his barons wanted more comfortable places to live. The castles the Normans started to build were made of stone and were called Square Keep Castles.
Square Keep Castles (1078 – 1239)
Many Square Keep Castles were built after 1100 although one of the earliest (and most famous) is the White Tower (Tower of London) started in 1078. They were often built on the site of the Motte & Bailey castles, usually on the ground of the Bailey because the weight of the stone was too heavy for the Motte. The stone castles were large and provided a much better form of defence and living quarters for the Normans. The strength of the stone meant that the castle walls could be very high (the Tower of London is 90 feet high). The Normans could see for miles around and the strength and height of the stone made them more difficult to attack. They had the following: The Stone Keep was built on the first floor to make it difficult to get to and to protect Normans inside. It had thick walls (up to 6m thick) and few windows. The Keep had a removable staircase to make it difficult for the enemy to get in. A Curtain Wall which was a thick stone outer wall between 20-40 feet high and up to 20 feet thick with turrets for lookouts....
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