Motte and Bailey Castles

The motte and bailey is recognized as the first castle style to emerge in Europe. The castle’s name comes from two Norman French words – motte, meaning raised mound or clot of earth, and bailey, meaning enclosed land.

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The motte and bailey is recognized as the first castle style to emerge in Europe. The castle’s name comes from two Norman French words – motte, meaning raised mound or clot of earth, and bailey, meaning enclosed land.

  • Romanesque Medieval Castle Architecture – 1066 to 1200 – Norman or  Romanesque architecture
  • Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture – 1200 to 1300 – Early English Gothic Architecture ( also called Lancet )
  • Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture – 1300 to 1400 – Decorated style of Gothic Architecture
  • Perpendicular Gothic Medieval Castle Architecture – 1400 to 1500 – Perpendicular style of Gothic Architecture  

Motte and bailey castles were typical in Northern Europe during the 10th century. They were widespread across France and the Holy Roman Empire. The castle design was introduced into England by the Normans when they invaded England following the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Architects quickly adopted the style, and it spread throughout the region thanks to the strength and simplicity of the structure.

Motte and bailey castles didn’t require significant skill to construct and used materials like wood and stone, which could be easily sourced from the surrounding lands. The motte was artificially created from a pile of earth and flattened at the top. It had a height ranging from 10 to 100 feet and a diameter of 100 to 300 feet. A ditch was dug around the motte as a protective measure. Built on top of the motte and enclosed by a wall would be the tower keep, which housed the castle’s living quarters in its upper stories. In early motte and bailey castles, both the keep and walls were constructed from wood. To make it harder for them to be set on fire during an attack, they were sometimes covered with skins and hides.

The circular bailey would be situated outside the walls of the keep and below the motte. It would contain buildings like the hall, kitchen, stables, and workshops. The bailey also had a ditch dug around it, which joined up with the smaller motte ditch, creating a settlement shaped in figure eight.

Motte and Bailey represents the Norman or Romanesque style of medieval castle architecture. The Norman castles styled in Romanesque architecture had design faults which led to many problems in terms of defence. when someone attacks their argumentative “bailey”, they retreat to a “motte” of strict terms and/or rigorous reasoning. They can’t be attacked at the motte because even their opponent would agree with their definitions and reasoning. The wooden Motte and Bailey castles were at risk of fire and their towers were quickly replaced by the Stone Keeps, which also had their own problems. The corners of the Square Keeps featured in the Medieval Romanesque architecture were weak and at risk of collapse due to mining techniques employed by the enemy. Romanesque castles had only one defensive wall. Romanesque Castles were extremely uncomfortable – dark, dank and cold.

By the 12th century, the popularity of motte and bailey castles started to wane.