Warwick Castle was a strategically defensive medieval castles built on the bend of the river Avon in Warwickshire by William the Conqueror, it was built in the motte and bailey design. Read more about the Warwick Castle >>
Windsor Castle is one of the world's most famous medieval castles that was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, It overlooks the river Thames in London. Read more about the Windsor Castle >>
Medieval castles started making an appearance in Europe during the middle ages, specifically during the period around the 10th century. The first castles appeared in England and France during the 10th and 11th century.
English Castles Origins
Some of the first well designed England during the Medieval Times were built in a design known as the Motte and Bailey. During the 10th century these types of castles were very easy to build and usually could be built quickly and could be done without many skilled workers, making them a quick and easy design.
Even though unskilled labour was used the castles proved to be of great military superiority due to their design. The design was quite simple, a wooden or rarely stone keep was situated on top of a raised earthwork which was called a motte, this was surrounded by an enclosed courtyard which was protected by a ditch with a palisade.
These early forms of Motte Bailey castles were adopted across Medieval Europe and lasted until around the 13th century when newer and better building techniques and fortifications were discovered.
Early English Medieval Castles
Early Medieval Motte Bailey Castle Design
English Medieval Castles started making an appearance in 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded England from Normandy, this sparked three different phases of castle building. During the first phase a very large percent of the castles being built used the Motte and Bailey design due to its cheap, yet sturdy design.
The earliest forms of castles were built by Royals in strategic locations in order to protect key resources, towns or roads. The castles which were built to protect the towns were named urban castles and usually required houses to be destroyed within the town in order for the palisade to be placed properly.
741 motte and bailey castles were built in England and Wales during this period.
Late Medieval Period English Castles
As time went on castles were divided by the purpose that they served and by the location they were built in. The Medieval Castles differed a lot from their earlier predecessors in their design, materials used and size etc.
Castles later became residences for feudal lords which made the owner able to rule the surrounding lands while being secure behind thick stone walls. Later in the Medieval period stone castles and walls were built in order to effectively protect towns and cities from raids, attacks and similar.
As time went on the castles had to be militarised due to the increasing threat of wall breaching machines which were able to do their job very effectively. Around the 16th century castles did not server their purpose for defense due to canons and the invention of gunpowder.
A lot of stone castles were destroyed during these times and from that point on castles were only built for residential purposes of royals and not defensive purposes.
Windsor Castle—‘the most romantic castle that is in the world’, according to the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys—is the one of the oldest royal residences still in use. For over 900 years, from its memorable hill-top site above the Thames Valley, it has been a potent symbol of the monarchy.
Famous English Castles
During the Middle Ages, a lot of castles were destroyed in raids or war. English castles were no exception. Since then there has been an effort to restore castles to their previous glory and fame and so far the percent of successfully restored castles has been high. In England there are castles which are famous due to their design, history, importance or similar factors.
Round Tower Windsor Castle
The most famous, largest and oldest official royal residence in the world Is located in England, about 20 miles west of London. This castle called Windsor Castle is more than 900 years old and over a million people visit it each year.
The Hampton Court is another famous castle located near London. A 1000 room palace which belonged to Henry the VIII and his 6 wives. Famous for its gardens and the famous maze which manages to confuse visitors for more than 300 years.
There isn’t a person that has not heard of Edinburgh Castle, a place ravaged by invasion, siege, murder, a place which managed to pass the test of time. 500 year old jewels of the Scots are kept within these walls, a scepter, crown and sword. The dungeons are open to the public and within them are wax figures which are placed to represent the real conditions back then.
Tower Of London
The Tower of London, a structure which for over a 1000 years has dominated the skyline of the city. This tower ,which has housed the royal family and their jewels, receives 2 million visitors each year, all of them eager to witness the crown jewels which are on display, the interior, art and similar. People also visit this tower due to its dark past which was filled with torture, murder and executions. Among the executed were three queens.
English Castle Designs
Over the course of time, every castle received an upgrade, and every upgrade served its purpose. From the simple design of a motte and bailey to a complex and tactical fortress, the castles had to improve on both design and materials used.
English castles were usually built on higher ground so they could effectively scout the surrounding areas which they are protecting.
First and most importantly a wall was built around the main area which needed to be protected and then at least one gate to be placed. Usually on each corner of the walls there would be a taller structure called a tower which was used to gain elevation against the enemy and for easier scouting.
As a final touch to the design a moat with a drawbridge was usually built in order to slow down the attackers as much as possible, and as time passed the walls got higher and thicker due to the advanced offensive weapons that the enemy was managing to acquire.
English Castle Defences
In order to successfully repel the attackers, certain improvement had to be made to the designs of the castles. Usually the changes started from the main entry gate because it was considered to be the weakest part of the whole castle and its walls. A barbican was created at the gate, a narrow passage in which the attackers were very exposed to arrows from above or more commonly, burning oil.
A very expensive defense which was only used on important locations was a second outer wall. This wall was smaller than the main wall and enabled free fire on all attackers who managed to jump it. Due to having no cover the attackers were open targets and were easily shot down.
The most common defence was a ditch or a moat with a drawbridge. The walls and towers had special holes which offered almost maximum protection for the archers, making it almost impossible for the attackers to kill any of the defender but making it very easy for the archers to rain down on their enemies.
English Castle Signs of Our Past
No matter their role in the Medieval Ages, the English Medieval Castles that remain will bear with them the mark which was left on them, their ruins will tell tales of great battles which hold importance, not because they were massive, bloody or who fought in them, but because they shaped the world which we live in today.