Did the Anglo-Saxons build stone castles?

The simple answer to this question is no. The Anglo-Saxons did not build stone castles in the same way that the Normans did from the 11th century onwards.

In fact, there is very little evidence to suggest that the Anglo-Saxons used stone to build any secular buildings at all. Apart from their stone churches, the Anglo-Saxons typically built with timber.

Historian Michael Shapland believes this might have been due to an unwritten cultural rule of Anglo-Saxon society. Stone (solid and likely to remain intact beyond the lives of the builders) was reserved for Christian buildings, whereas timber, a much less permanent material, was used for other buildings and dwellings. Houses made from wood were likely to age alongside those who constructed them and lived within them, unlike the stone religious buildings that would seemingly last forever, just like the Christian faith and a Christian soul.

However, there are a couple of examples where it could be argued that Anglo-Saxons did use stone for buildings that played a part in defending their kingdoms. They definitely weren’t the elaborate Norman castles like the Tower of London, Durham Castle or Chepstow Castle, but they are certainly worth looking at in more detail.

Anglo-Saxon Burhs

Constructed during the 9th century in response to Viking invasions and raids, burhs were fortified settlements. Alfred the Great developed a network of burhs in strategic locations, and although some were built from scratch, others were built on the sites of old Iron Age hillforts or Roman forts or settlements.

The Anglo-Saxons repaired the Roman stone wall defences in Winchester, Exeter, Dover and Porchester, and there is evidence that stone was used to face the bank of the ditch encircling the burh at Tamworth.

Anglo-Saxon Towers of Lordship

From the late 9th century up to the 11th century, many Anglo-Saxon lords built tall timber towers. These were often located close to their halls and were part of their manorial complexes along with gatehouses and chapels. Not only were these towers a symbol of aristocratic status, but they were also probably used as watchtowers.

Evidence of such towers has been unearthed at sites in Bishopgate in Sussex, West Cotton in Northamptionshire, Ketton in Rutland and Thwing in Yorkshire.

Dr Michael Shapland believes that some of these timber towers evolved into the ‘nave-towers’ identified at more than twenty sites across England, including Caistor in Lincolnshire and Potterne in Wiltshire.

Constructed during the first half of the 11th century, these nave-towers were essentially a tower containing the whole body of a church. They had limited capacity, were located at manorial sites, and often had elaborate and ostentatious stonework features. Shapland argues that this might have been a way to get around the Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition of not building secular buildings out of stone. If an Anglo-Saxon wanted to convert his timber tower into stone, he could simply place a chapel inside it, thereby justifying his choice of building material.

Shapland suggests that nave-towers might have been used as watchtowers and in the case of the tower in Wickham in Berkshire there is evidence that it was used as a beacon.

Shapland goes onto argue that these tower-naves can be seen as the forerunners of the simple and modest examples of the early Norman stone keeps.

If he is correct, there might have been more continuity between late Anglo-Saxon residences and early Norman castles than was previously acknowledged. And some Anglo-Saxon tower-naves were incorporated into Norman castles, as is the case in Earls Barton, Hastings, Porchester, Oxford and Caistor.

Many tower-naves were extended in the 12th century by attaching a new nave to the existing tower.

Discover more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.


Anglo-Saxon Towers of Lordship and the Earliest English Castles – Dr Michael Shapland

Fortifications in Wessex c. 800–1066 – Lavelle

Castle Rising: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Castle Rising.

  • Castle Rising is located in the village of Castle Rising, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk.

  • The castle was constructed by William d’Aubigny II, Earl of Arundel in 1138
  • It was designed to be fortress combined with a hunting lodge. It’s location was not of massive strategic importance, but the site did allow for a large hunting park to be established.
  • In the 12th century, Castle Rising would probably have been mainly accessed by boat via Babingley River.
  • Castle Rising had three baileys and a stone keep. A Norman chapel, already on the site, was protected by the castle’s defences.
  • Castle Rising was the residence of Queen Isabella of France from the early 1330s to her death in 1358.
  • In the 15th and 16th centuries, Castle Rising was owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and became popular as hunting location. Mary Tudor visited the castle during this period.
  • By the early to mid-16th century, Castle Rising was becoming a ruin. The roof had collapsed and floors of the great hall were in disrepair.

Castle Rising

  • In 1544, Henry VIII gave the castle to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.
  • By 1570, huge rabbit warrens had damaged the castle’s earthworks, and, in time most of the buildings were removed, leaving only the ruined stone keep.
  • In 1822, restoration work was carried out on the stonework of the keep and the ground of the inner keep was stripped to its original level.
  • During the 1970s, archaeological work was carried out on the site.
  • In 1983 English Heritage took over the site. It has been classified as an Ancient Monument under UK law.
  • Castle Rising’s earthworks covered an area of 12 acres.
  • The Norman chapel, located on the north side of the inner bailey. Its roof was made from Roman tiles from local villas.
  • Castle Rising’s stone keep is similar in appearance to the Norman keep of Norwich Castle.
  • There are several carvings of cats throughout Castle Rising. It is thought that this shows a connection to Felix, the First Bishop of East Anglia.

What next? Learn more facts about castles.

Norwich Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Norwich Castle.

Norwich Castle

  • In 1549, Robert Kett was hanged at Norwich Castle for his key role in the Norfolk Rebellion (Kett’s Rebellion).
  • A 1970s archaeological excavation revealed that the Norman castle had been built on the site of a Saxon cemetery.
  • Norwich Castle was the only major royal castle in east Anglia until the Orford Castle was built in the 12th century.
  • In the 1173-1174 revolt against King Henry II, Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, captured Norwich Castle.
  • From 1220, Norwich Castle was used as a gaol. It was used for this purpose until 1887.
  • The original inner and outer bailey buildings survive today. The original keep still remains, but it has been substantially repaired and refaced.
  • Today Norwich Castle is a museum and art gallery. The building is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
  • More than 100,000 people visit the museum every year.
  • The museum is home to a collection of more than 3000 ceramic teapots.

What next? Discover some more facts about castles.

Castle Stalker: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Castle Stalker.

  • Castle Stalker is located on a tidal island on Loch Laich, north-east of Port Appin, Argyll, Scotland.
  • The castle is a keep with 4 floors.

  • The islet upon which the castle sits is known as the Rock of the Cormorants.
  • The castle can only be reached by boat.
  • In the 14th century a small fort stood where Castle Stalker stands today. It was built by Clan MacDougall.
  • In the mid-15th centurty, the Stewarts constructed the castle as it looks today.
  • During the Jacobite Rising in 1745 Castle Stalker was used as a troop garrison.

Stalker Castle

  • The castle was abandoned in around 1840, ownership having passed backwards and forwards between the Stewart clan and the Campbell clan.
  • In 1908 basic reconstruction work was carried out by Charles Stewart. In 1965 Lt. Col. D.R. Stewart Allward fully restored the building.
  • Castle Stalker has appeared in several films, including, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Highlander: Endgame.
  • James IV of Scotland often visited Castle Stalker when he was on hunting trips to Argyll.
  • In Gaelic, Stalker means ‘hunter’ or ‘falconer’.
  • The castle is currently privately owned. The public can tour the building between the months of March and October. Check out the official website.

What next? Discover more castle facts by visiting our castle resources page.

Kensington Palace: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Kensington Palace.

  • Kensington Palace is a Royal residence in Kensington Gardens in London, England.
  • It has been owned by the Royal Family since the 17th century.

  • The palace was built in 1605 by Sir George Coppin.
  • In 1619 the building was purchased by the first Earl of Nottingham and called Nottingham House.
  • In 1689 Nottingham House was bought by King William III and Queen Mary II.
  • William and Mary had the famous architect, Christopher Wren, extend the mansion, and Queen Anne had him make additional changes during her reign.

Kensington Palace

  • During the Blitz in World War 2, Kensington Palace was badly damaged.
  • Prince William and Prince Harry were raised in Kensington Palace, and it remained the official residence of Princess Diana until her death in 1997.
  • Following Lady Diana’s death, more than 1 million bouquets of flowers were placed by the public outside the gates of Kensington Palace.
  • At the time of writing, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have apartments in the palace.
  • Approximately half of Kensington Palace has been divided into apartments for members of the Royal Family. the other sections of the building are open to the public as a tourist attraction.

Palace of Kensington

  • The ghost of King George II is said to haunt the palace.
  • The Beatles often attended parties thrown by Princess Margaret when she was living in Kensington Palace.
  • Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace. She met her husband, Prince Albert, in the building too.
  • George II was the last ruling King or Queen to live in Kensington Palace. Following the end of his reign, monarchs made Buckingham Palace their home.
  • From 1911 to 1914, the London Museum was temporarily based in Kensington Palace.

What next? Find out more about some of the other palaces in the UK – Hampton Court Palace, Blenheim Palace, Richmond Palace.

Blenheim Palace: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Blenheim Palace.

  • Blenheim Palace is a massive English country house in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
  • It is one of the largest houses in England and was built in the early 18th century.
  • It was constructed to celebrate Britain’s victory over France in the War of the Spanish succession, and given as a gift to the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill.
  • The palace is the key residence of the Dukes of Marlborough.
  • The Column of Victory is 134 feet tall, and features a statue of the 1st Duke of Marlborough at the top.
  • In the late 18th century, Capability Brown was hired to re-landscape the park.

Blenheim Palace

  • During World War 1, Blenheim Palace was used as a convalescence hospital for wounded soldiers.
  • In 1987 Blenheim Palace was labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace.
  • Sir John Vanburgh was the architect who designed the majority of Blenheim Palace. However, due to issues with funding, and criticism of his Baroque style, the work was completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
  • Today, the palace and its grounds are open to the public. There is a maze, adventure playground, butterfly house and a mini-train, The Blenheim Park Railway.
  • The palace has been featured in many movies, including the James Bond film Spectre, Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • The palace is surrounded by more than 2000 acres of parkland.
  • One of the oak trees in the middle of Blenheim Palace’s Park has been dated at 1046 years old. This makes it one of the oldest surviving trees in Britain.
  • Blenheim Palace is the only non-Royal building in England to be titled ‘Palace’.
  • The building has more than 200 rooms and 1000 windows.
  • The Long Library in the palace has shelves containing more than 10 thousand books.
  • The land upon which Blenheim Palace was built is still owned by Crown.

Greenwich Palace: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Greenwich Palace.

  • Greenwich Palace was built during the 15th century by Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester. It was located on the south bank of the River Thames in Greenwich, about 15 km along the river from Westminster.

  • It was conveniently located close to the royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich. The dockyards were used for building ships and for repairs until they closed in 1869.
  • It was originally known as the Palace of Placentia.
  • After Humphrey’s death in 1447, King Henry VII moved in and made improvements which included adding three large courtyards.
  • Greenwich Palace was one of the most modern and luxurious buildings of its time. It boasted fine furniture and paintings, as well as tennis courts, an armory, kennels and stables.
  • Henry VIII added gardens, orchards and a large fountain. He also built a special area outdoors where knights could take part in jousting events and competitions.
  • Several English kings and queens were born there during the next 200 years, including Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
  • Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves in the palace.

Greenwich Palace

  • Elizabeth played as a child in an oak tree in Greenwich Park. The huge tree fell over during a storm in 1991 but can still be seen lying on its side.
  • Oliver Cromwell took over the palace during the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651. He used the building as a biscuit factory and a prison, after unsuccessfully trying to sell it.
  • Much of the building was demolished in the 1660s to make way for Charles II’s new palace. This later became the Royal Naval College, and today is part of the University of Greenwich.
  • The Queens House is the only part of the original Greenwich Palace still standing. It was designed by the architect Inigo Jones and was the first classical designed building in Britain.

Alnwick Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Alnwick Castle.

  • Alnwick Castle is an 11th century castle, located near the town of Alnwick in Northumberland. It is about 30 km from the border between England and Scotland, and was built to control the border.

  • In 1309, Henry Percy, the first Baron Percy bought the castle. It has been in the Percy family ever since, and they still live in part of the building.
  • Alnwick Castle played an important part in the Wars of the Roses, fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster. It was one of three castles controlled by the Lancastrians during 1461 to 1462.

Alnwick Castle

  • The castle became empty in the late 16th century. The designer Robert Adam carried out many renovations, and the castle was again decorated in an Italianate style during the 19th century.
  • It is the second largest inhabited English castle, after Windsor Castle.
  • It attracts over 200,000 visitors each year, making it the 10th most visited stately home in England.
  • The castle has one of Britain’s best private art collections. It also has archaeological displays, including Ancient Egyptian artifacts, and is home to the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.
  • One of the most popular areas is the ornamental garden, with its large collection of European plants. The gardens also have one of the largest tree houses in the world.
  • The barbican is part of the castle’s strong defences, with 2 metre thick walls. Other defences included two baileys (or courtyards), a 7 metre deep moat and thick oak gates.
  • A 15 metre deep medieval well can still be seen in the courtyard. 15th century cannonballs on display in the castle were found at the bottom of the well.
  • Dozens of films and television programmes have been filmed at Alnwick castle. These include Blackadder, Robin of Sherwood, Star Trek and two of the Harry Potter films.

What next? Discover more facts about castles by visiting our castle resources page.

Skipton Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Skipton Castle.

  • Skipton Castle is one of the best preserved castles anywhere in Britain. It is located in the town of Skipton, North Yorkshire, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

  • The castle was intended to help keep the Scottish tribes out of northern England. It was built in the early 12th century to replace an earlier castle made from wood and earth.
  • In 1310, King Edward II gave Skipton Castle to Robert Clifford, who became Lord Clifford of Skipton. It belonged to the Clifford family until 1676.
  • During the first few years of the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651, Skipton Castle was the only Royalist stronghold in the north of England. The Royalists surrendered after a three year siege.
  • Legend has it that during the siege, sheep fleeces were hung over the walls to minimize the impact of cannon shots. Skipton’s coat of arms has sheep fleeces on it.

Skipton Castle

  • The castle has two floors of rooms, all connected to six large defensive towers. The bedrooms, kitchen and great hall are on the first floor, while the ground floor has cellars and storage rooms.
  • The castle’s enclosed courtyard is known as the Conduit Court. It has a yew tree supposedly planted by Lady Anne in 1659, making the tree over 350 years old.
  • Medieval stonemasons often left a symbol or letter in the stone so they could get paid for their work. Masons’ marks can still be seen today in parts of the castle.
  • Throughout much of its history, the castle has relied on nearby Skipton Castle Woods for food, fuel and building materials. The woods are home to over 160 plant, tree and grass species.The castle’s chapel was often used for wedding ceremonies before being converted into stables in 1635. Today, Skipton castle is still a popular and memorable place to get married.

What next? Discover more facts about castles by visiting our castles resources page.

Carlisle Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Carlisle Castle.

  • Carlisle Castle is located in the city of the same name, in Cumbria. The castle is close to the border between England and Scotland, and the remains of the Roman Hadrian’s Wall.

  • The castle is the largest and best preserved of Cumbria’s several castles. It was built on the site of a Roman fort which was home to Roman soldiers between the 1st and 4th centuries.
  • It was built during the 11th century under the command of King William II. His plan was to defend the northern part of England against attacks from Scotland.
  • Because of its important location near the border between England and Scotland, Carlisle Castle changed hands many times during its first few hundred years.
  • During the mid-16th century, King Henry VIII used the castle to store artillery and weapons.
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, was kept prisoner there for several months in 1567.

Carlisle Castle

  • During the second Jacobite rising in 1745, Carlisle Castle was part of some important battles. But once the Jacobites were defeated, the castle was no longer needed to defend the border.
  • In the mid-18th century, the castle was abandoned and parts of it were demolished to use for building materials. The army then took over the castle, and the Territorial Army still uses it today.
  • Within the castle is the Cumbria Museum of Military Life. The museum has displays of uniforms, weapons, medals and other items from several of the area’s historic regiments.
  • The second floor of the main tower has mysterious wall carvings, dating from about 1480. They show people, faces, animals and abstract shapes and patterns.
  • Carlisle Castle is said to be haunted by several ghosts. They include a dead sentry, an old caretaker, two medieval soldiers, and King Stephen whose ghost appears next to a model of the city in a display case.

What next? Discover some more facts about castles by visiting our castles resources page.