Featured image of Motte and Bailey Castle

Motte and Bailey Castle

When you are asked to visualize an old castle, it’s always the one we see in movies or fairytales- long towers, grand gardens, majestic iron gates. But, not all castles that were built back in the day looked like that.

Castles were built as strong-walled fortifications that protected the population against major attacks. One of such castles was the Motte and Bailey castle model.

The motte-and-bailey castle is a great example of European architectural innovation in the medieval era. The castle was comprised of a wooden keep constructed on a raised earthwork called a motte that would face an encased patio called the bailey. Initially, these were built from wood and earth alone; they were modest and simple to fabricate and didn’t need any exceptional plan.

The Motte

Arundel Castle - motte and quadrangle, England
Arundel Castle – motte and quadrangle, England”, by 98octane, is licensed under CC BY 2.5

The motte was an enormous earthen hill with a trench encompassing its base.

A keep and a defensive divider would, for the most part, be constructed on top of the motte. A few walls would be sufficiently huge to have a wall-walk around them. And the external dividers of the motte and the divider walk could be fortified by filling in the hole between the wooden dividers with earth and stones, permitting it to have more weight; this was known as a garillum. More modest mottes could hold basic towers with space for a couple of soldiers, while bigger mottes could contain larger buildings. Numerous wooden keeps were planned with bretèches, or brattices, little galleries that projected from the upper floors of the structure, permitting soldiers to cover the foundation of the castle wall.

The motte was flattened on the top to create some space for the wooden keep. The high dyke on the motte was known as a Scarp.

The Bailey

Inner bailey, Dover Castle from East
Inner bailey, Dover Castle from East”, by Nilfanion, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The term bailey alludes to a yard shaped by smoothing a region close to the motte. A wooden fence surrounded the yard called a palisade and a trench. The bailey was the focal point of life inside the palace and could contain various structures, including corridors, kitchens, stores, a house of prayer, a sleeping shelter, and studios.

The bailey was connected to the motte either by a flying scaffold extending between the two or by steps cut into the motte. In some cases, the trenches were loaded up with water by damming or redirecting close by streams, creating water-filled channels (moats).

By and by, there was a wide number of varieties to this normal plan. A castle could have more than one bailey: at Warkworth Castle, a few baileys could flank the motte, as at Windsor Castle. Some baileys had two mottes, like those at Lincoln. Some mottes could be square rather than round, for example, at Cabal Tump (Herefordshire). Location and the expectation of the developer delivered numerous special plans.

History of Motte and Bailey Castle

Castle Acre Castle aerial image
Castle Acre Castle aerial image”, by John Fielding, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Motte and bailey castles were born when the Normans won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In the wake of winning, they utilised motte-and-bailey castles to keep the areas they annexed free from any harm.

The castle is named after Norman words- Motte implies a hill of “lump of the earth”, and bailey implies an enclosure.

Castles arose when the feudal system came into existence where a local ruler and his soldiers managed an area of land cultivated by labourers. Castles offered a safe place of refuge and were a visual representation of the ruler’s influence. They were generally constructed at frontier destinations to forestall attacks. Different areas of vital significance included stream intersections, passes, waterfront regions, important settlements, and old yet in-use Roman streets. As they were easy and quick to build, these motte and bailey castles were often constructed by force by waging an attack against the grander castles.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Motte and Bailey Castle


  • Motte and bailey castles are made using wood and earthworks, and thus they require only a few weeks or a month, a certain benefit in hostile regions recently occupied by a new ruler.
  • Moreover, this kind of fortress didn’t need an especially gifted work or stones to be quarried and moved, which significantly decreased their development expense.


  • As they were generally made of wood, motte and bailey castles were vulnerable to fire during an assault.
  • Motte and bailey castles weren’t weather-resistant either.

Motte and bailey castles were historically significant structures. Even though they were deserted as fortification homes, they stayed relevant for quite a long time later are still around today in numerous nations. Most of them have survived the ravages of time and stand proudly today as emblems of the glorious past. Some popular castles with motte and bailey structures are Bungay Castle and Berkhamsted Castle.

Nitesh Kuchhal, an IIM Calcutta graduate, is more than an educator—he's a mentor. With a passion for leadership and entrepreneurship, and travel. He has explored over 20 countries. Beyond teaching, he dives into psychology and discusses social issues. Though he is not a history expert, he enjoys learning about it through books, adding a historical touch to his many interests.

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