What is a Motte and Bailey Castle?
A motte and bailey castle often spelt as motte-and-bailey, is old type of castle and one of the first castles to be built in England. The castle is made up of two parts:
- The motte is a raised mound of earth which has a wooden or stone building on it, often referred to as a keep.
- The bailey is an enclosed courtyard that is surrounded by walls and a ditch and palisade — which is a wooden stake fence.
Diagram of a Motte-and-Bailey Castle
Motte and Bailey Castle Facts
- Motte and bailey castles were first used by the Normans as far back as 1020 AD. They used motte-and-bailey castles after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to keep their settlements safe and secure.
- The castle is named after Norman words. Motte means a mound of “clod of earth” and bailey means an enclosure.
- The last motte-and-bailey castle was built in 1200. In the mid-medieval period, the motte and bailey style castle became less popular and the last one built in England was in 1170, although they were built in Wales for another 30 years.
- The motte-and-bailey style was popular in Europe. They were most popular in northern Europe, including Normandy, England, Scotland, and Wales. Other countries that used the design for castles were Denmark, Germany, Southern Italy, Anjou, Ireland and the Netherlands.
- Motte and bailey is a modern term for the castles. Strangely, the castles were not called motte-and-bailey in the 10th and 11th centuries — it’s a modern term we use now to describe the castle design.
- Mottes used for the castles were sometimes naturally made. The keeps could then built on top of an existing mound. Other times the mottes were built specifically for the keep.
- The top of the motte was flat and they could be very tall. They could range in height from 25 feet (8 metres) to over 80 feet (24 metres) in height.
- Mottes had very steep sides. It would have been almost impossible to climb the side of the motte, which is why they were so useful for defence. A ditch was also dug around the motte for extra protection.
- A keep and a wall were built at the top of the motte. Often the keep was made out of wood, but it could also be made from stone and the size varied from castle to castle.
- For wooden keeps, they were covered in animal skin for protection. Attackers could burn a wooden keep much more easily, so they were covered in animal hide to protect them from attack by fire.
- The bailey was located at the bottom of the motte. This walled area could be quite large — one to three acres usually — and was often shaped like a kidney.
- The bailey had a palisade and ditch surrounding it. The strong wooden fence (palisade) was an excellent defence against attack and the ditch (also known as a fosse) surrounded the bailey for added protection.
- The bailey is where followers of the lord of the castle lived. Many building would be built inside the bailey for stables, kitchens, houses, soldiers quarters, bakeries, and storehouses.
- The bailey was designed to be defended by archers. The design of the bailey made it so that any point on its outer edge would be within bowshot range of the tower.
- Ditches surrounding motte-and-bailey castles could be combined. These would form a number eight shape around the castle and it could be filled with water as well to create a moat.
- Many modern castles started out as a motte-and-bailey design. Over time they evolved and were developed and renovated into new designs.
- Almost no motte and bailey castles are used today, but many still exist. The most famous example of a motte and bailey castle that is still in use is Windsor Castle, home to the Queen of England.
- They were an easy type of castle to build. With a large number of workers, it was possible to build a motte and bailey castle in just a few weeks.
- Four out of every five castles built by the Normans were motte-and-bailey castles. They really did love the design of this type of castle!
Cite this article as: "Motte and Bailey Castle: Facts & Information for Kids," in History for Kids, March 27, 2023, https://historyforkids.org/motte-and-bailey-castle-facts-and-information/.