Norman Castles

The Normans built a large number of castles in the areas they were attempting to conquer and eventually settle. They first practiced building timber castles in regions of Normandy. These were early forms of the later motte and bailey castles.

The Norman eventually conquered England under the leadership of William The Conqueror in the 11th century, they rapidly imitated the same motte-and-bailey structures throughout England in order to secure their grip on the country.

Motte and Bailey Castle Viewed From the Sky

Once the conquest had been consolidated, William The Conqueror started having stone castles built in the place of earlier wooden motte-and-bailey structures. Many of the stone castles dating back to the Norman period still exist today.


Norman Castles in Normandy

Normandy, in west Francia (France), was a region where Vikings settled during the 10th century, and over time this gave birth to a new Norman culture. As Norman individuals grew influential in the region, they began building their earliest timber castles which were usually built on top of earthwork mounds.

Later, these structures gave way to motte-and-bailey castles which were somewhat stronger than the earlier structures. When the Normans began their conquest of England, they came equipped with the knowledge of this type of construction, utilizing these skills to rapidly build a network of castles across England.

Motte and Bailey Castle History


Norman Castles in England

William The Conqueror led a large Norman invasion force that defeated the Anglo-Saxons led by King Harold Godwinson in the town of Battle, East Sussex in the year 1066. This is known as the Battle of Hastings.

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

Norman-Nobility

Norman Nobility

To cement the Norman success, William rapidly had castles built all over England. These castles, on one hand, served to display the might of the Norman conquerors and keep the local populace submissive.

Image of the Windsor Castle Norman Gate house

On 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

William The Conqueror


Norman Motte & Bailey Castles

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

A typical motte-and-bailey castle is 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 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.

Portchester-Castle-Keep

Portchester Castle Keep

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


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.

Medieval Castle Keep Rochester Castle Castle Keep

Rochester Castle *Norman Castles

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

Castle Battlement Crenels

The Castle Battlement parapet (small wall) *Gaps (Crenels) Solid Parts (Merlons)

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 concentric castle parts

Concentric Castle Parts


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.

Great Examples of Norman Castles in South Wales

1. Chepstow Castle

2. Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle in Wales

Caerphilly Castle *Welsh County of Gwent Conwy Castle *Norman Stone Castle

3. Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle in Wales

Pembroke Castle was among the earliest Norman castles built in Wales.

At 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.


Norman Castles in Ireland

The Norman arrived in Ireland in 1169 and repeated the same pattern of conquest as that in England. They first secured their hold over the Irish territories and cemented this hold by building earthen mottes.

Norman Castles in Ireland

Norman Castles in Ireland

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.

Bunratty Castle in Ireland

Bunratty Castle in Ireland

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.

Motte and Bailey Castle Viewed From the Sky

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 in structures that were very durable and at the same time, carried imposing outlooks.

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



Best Preserved Norman Castles to Visit in England

Arundel Castle

See Arundel Castle


Alnwick Castle

See Alnwick Castle


Carlise Castle

Top 10 Castles in England - Carlise Castle

See Carlise Castle


Durham Castle

See Durham Castle


Hasting Castle Ruins

See Hasting Castle


Kenilworth Castle

See Kenilworth Castle


Leeds Castle

See Leeds Castle


Rochester Castle*

Medieval Castle Keep Rochester Castle Castle Keep

See Rochester Castle


Richmond Castle Ruins

See Richmond Castle


Tower of London* (Houses the Crown Jewels)

See the Tower of London


Warwick Castle*

See Warwick Castle


Windsor Castle

See Windor Castle