Medieval castles typically conformed to specific styles and overall designs in their construction. These designs were heavily influenced by Norman military architecture during the early medieval period. Towards the later medieval period, the designs of medieval castles took inspiration from a number of sources.
European medieval castles, in particular, often borrowed elements of construction after their exposure to other cultures during campaigns like the Crusades.
Typically, the huge range of castles built in Europe during the medieval period can be classified into two periods early medieval castles were built in Romanesque tradition such as the Norman motte-and-bailey castles, and later medieval castles built with Gothic inspiration or with other innovations such as a concentric structure.
Normans were master builders and instrumental in the advancement of Medieval Castle Design
Romanesque architecture was inspired by the Roman tradition of architecture which persisted in Western Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Normans, who came to inhabit northern France in the 9th and 10th centuries, borrowed heavily from the Romanesque style of construction.
The Normans eventually embellished it with their own ideas and devices to give birth to a uniquely Norman style of architecture. The Motte Bailey castles were the hallmark of this architecture.
Normans built castles in this style all around Normandy and then exported this style to southern Italy, Sicily and England as they conquered these regions.
The motte-and-bailey design comprised of a keep situated on top of a steep mound of earth which was then linked to a bailey situated at ground level. Such castles were usually built of wood and were fairly popular until the 12th century.
Norman motte-and-bailey castles proved effective during Norman conquests but fragile in the face of an attack due to being vulnerable to fire. This led to the development of Norman castles built of stone which were far more durable and secure.
Stone castles proved very formidable and effective in military terms but their interiors were mostly cold and often damp. To counter them, the medieval castle designs evolved further during the mid-medieval period.
In this period, an emphasis was put on constructing castles with well-lit interiors, higher ceilings, plenty of windows, and overall a castle that was secure but also pleasant to live in.
Gothic architecture pervaded much of Western Europe through the mid-medieval period. At about the same time, a revolution in castle building was taking place in England as well.
Concentric castle designs departed from the conventional outlook of the castles. Concentric castles, in contrast to the Gothic castle designs, emphasised more on improving the security and fortifications of a castle.
The design was applied on a large scale by Plantagenet monarchs in England from the 12th to 15th centuries.
Concentric castles employed multiple layers of walls and essentially shielded the main part of a castle behind multiple concentric walls and numerous towers.
Some of the excellent examples of such castle design were the castles built by English king Edward I in North Wales as he sought to secure his hold over the region.
Advancements in medieval siege weapons made the wooden castles of earlier medieval times redundant Later medieval designs used stone blocks instead of earth and wood to combat the new siege weapons, siege weapons improved further and gunpowder weapons such as cannons were invented which ended the purpose of castles as a defensive stronghold.