Norman Castles

Normans built a large number of castles in the areas they eventually settled in.

They first practiced their hands at building timber castles in regions of Normandy.

These were the early form of the later motte-and-bailey castles.

Later when the Normans, under William The Conqueror, conquered England in the 11th century, they rapidly imitated the same motte-and-bailey structure throughout the country in order to secure their grip.

Once the conquest had been consolidated, William The Conqueror started having stone castles built in the place of earlier motte-and-bailey structures.

Many of these stones castles dating back to the Norman times exist to this day.

Norman Castles in Normandy

Normandy, in West Francia, was the region where Vikings settled down in the 10th century and over time, gave birth to the Norman culture.

As Norman individuals grew influential in the region, they began building their earliest timber castles which were usually built on top of mounds.

Later, these structures gave way to motte-and-bailey castles which were somewhat stronger than the timber structures.

When the Normans arrived in England, they came equipped with adequate knowledge of the construction of such castles and utilizing this knowledge, they were able to rapidly cement their hold over entire England.


Norman Castles in England

William The Conqueror led a large Norman force to invade England in 1066.

The conquest effectively resulted in the replacement of the Anglo-Saxon nobility by the Norman nobility.

To cement the Norman success, William rapidly had castles built all over England.

These castles, at one hand, served to display the might of the Norman conquerors and keep the local populace submissive.

At the other hand, they were used as the residence of the new Norman lords and as their garrison, thereby acting as major points of defense.

King William The Conqueror Portrait

King William The Conqueror Portrait

Norman Motte-and-Bailey Castles

As William’s forces took control of English territories, they built motte-and-bailey castles on strategic locations all over the country.

A typical motte-and-bailey castle comprised of two parts.

  1. The motte, a French word for mound, and the part where the castle’s keep was located.
  2. The bailey which was usually sized between one and three acres.

The keep was located on top of a mound which was steep enough to ward off any attackers. The highest mottes were located atop mounds rising to heights of 80 feet.

The bailey contained the kitchens, soldiers, stables, storehouses and other structures apart from the lord’s residence.

All around the castle, a wooden fence was erected.

The motte-and-bailey castles were used for both residential and defensive purposes by the Normans.

But being built entirely of wood, they ran the risk of catching fire and were easily damaged. So they were soon replaced by stone castles built by the Normans.

Early Stone and Wood Motte Bailey Castle

The motte-and-bailey castles were used for both residential and defensive purposes by the Normans.

Norman Stone Castles

Once the Normans were securely entrenched in England, they start constructing more durable stone structures.

Many previously motte-and-bailey castles were replaced by stone castles.

Among the earliest stone castles built by the Normans was the Tower of London, the construction of which began in 1070.

It was built with a stone keep and high stone curtain walls all around it.

Another notable example of Norman stone keeps is the Rochester Castle in Kent.

The White Tower of London

Medieval Castles Tower of London White tower london has a history of Be-headings

Norman Stone Castle Features

The stone castles built by Normans were some of the most durable architectural structures in England.

The earliest of such structures had square stone keeps, with Norman lords considering such architecture to be more secure.

It was during this period that the use of large stone curtain walls also began.

The wall at which was built was Normans is as thick as ten feet at places!

Later, Normans started building keeps with more concentric towers and rounded features.

Such concentric castles were particularly built during Edward I’s reign who erected many such structures in Wales to cement Norman hold on the region.

Medieval Castle Keep Rochester Castle Castle Keep

Norman Castles in Wales

Immediately following the conquest of England after 1066, Normans built motte-and-bailey castles along the border with Wales in order to secure their frontier.

Many of these castles were replaced by stone castles along the Welsh Marches by the Norman lords in the subsequent years.

The high time of Norman castles in Wales came King Edward I decided to subdue North Wales and launched a long campaign in the region.

As he advanced, he cemented his hold with the construction of massive stone castles, often using concentric towers and other concentric elements.

Notable examples of these Edwardian castles are the castles of Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech.

Since Normans had to exert significant efforts in order to subdue the region of Wales, they built a huge number of castles in total in order to firmly control it.

Some sources put this number in the hundreds.

Conwy Castle in Wales

Conwy Castle was constructed in 1283 at the behest of King Edward I.

Norman Castles in Ireland

The Norman arrived in Ireland in 1169 and repeated the same pattern of contest as that in England.

They first secured their hold over the Irish territories and cemented this hold by building earthen mottes.

By the end of the 12th century, Normans had began rapidly replacing these motte castles with huge stone structures.

Norman castles in Ireland usually comprised of multi-storeyed towers, large curtain walls and draw-bridges.

13th century Norman castles in Ireland used stronger rounded towers, often incorporating many of them.

Norman Castles Summary

Normans settled down in Normandy by the 10th century and took many architectural influences from the Franks.

When they conquered England in the 11th century, they rapidly cemented their hold by building motte-and-bailey castles all over the country.

These castles were later replaced by stronger stone structures, many of which exist to this day.

The Normans repeated the same pattern in Wales and Ireland during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Since the northern princes of Wales were hostile to Norman conquests, hundreds of Norman castles were concentrated in Wales to cement their hold.

Given their exposure to many cultures, Norman castles were considered a cross of different architectural styles, resulting structures which were very durable and at the same time, carried imposing outlook.

Among the most well-known Norman castles is the Tower of London which was built soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066.