Motte and Bailey Castle Facts

Here are some of the key facts about motte-and-bailey castles.

What is a motte and bailey castle?

A motte and bailey castle is, as the name suggests, made up of two parts: the motte and the bailey.

The motte is a raised mound or earthwork with a stone or wooden keep (a fortified tower) on top. The bailey is a courtyard enclosed and protected by a ditch and a palisade (a wall made from lare wooden stakes).

Diagram of a motte-and-bailey castle. (Credit)
Diagram of a motte-and-bailey castle. (Credit)

Check out this video about motte and bailey castles. It contains lots of good images and information, although I’m not sure the music suits the subject matter!

  • Motte and bailey castles were first used in England by the Normans. They used these castles to make their settlement of England more secure following William the Conqueror’s victory in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
  • New motte and bailey castles stopped being built by the late 1200s.
  • Motte and bailey castles were used all over Europe. They could be found in: England, Wales, Normandy, Anjou, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark.
  • The term ‘motte and bailey’ would not have been used when the castles were being built. It is a more modern phrase.
  • Mottes could be either man-made or natural. Sometimes an existing mound would be added to. Mottes were flat on top and they varied quite a bit in terms of height and diameter. In some places, the motte could be 30 metres high, but this wasn’t normal. Most mottes were between 5 and 10 metres in height.
  • There was usually a keep and wall on top of the motte. Wood was often used to construct the keep, but they were also constructed from stone. Just as with the motte, the size of the keep varied from castle to castle.
  • Wooden keeps were often covered with animal hides to make them less easy for attackers to set on fire.
  • Baileys were often shaped like kidneys. Sometimes the shape of the bailey was dictated by the surrounding terrain. They were protected by a palisade fence and ditch.
  • The bailey contained many different types of building, including: kitchens, chapels, barracks, stables, workshops, forges, stores, halls.
  • The motte and bailey were linked by a bridge or by steps on the side of the motte.
Model of a motte-and-bailey castle. (Credit)
Model of a motte-and-bailey castle. (Credit)
  • The ditches of the motte and bailey would often combine. If you were looking at this from above, it would look like the number 8. Often water was diverted into the ditch, creating a moat.
  • The basic motte and bailey design was adapted and altered quite often. Some castles had more than one motte, some had several defensive ditches, some had square mottes, and some had two baileys.
  • Castles also evolved over time and they often underwent frequent stages of development and modernisation. Many of today’s castles started out as motte and bailey designs, but don’t look like this today as they have grown and changed over time. Almost no motte and bailey castles are still used today – Windsor Castle is the exception, but many still stand.
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle – a motte with several baileys
  • It did not take a great deal of skill to construct the simplest, wooden motte and bailey castles. If a big enough labour force was available, they could be completed in a matter of weeks.
  • About four fifths of the castles constructed by the Normans in England used the motte and bailey design.

Click here to see some diagrams of motte and bailey castles and also some links to other related resource and activities.

Here is a page all about making a model of a motte and bailey castle.

Check out the Primary Facts castle resources page.