The Normans were great builders of castles and fully appreciated the great advantages that a castle would give to a fighting force. Stone Castles took too long to build so Duke William laid plans to build Norman Timber Castles when he mounted his invasion.
Pre-built Norman castles were loaded on to the Norman invasion fleet. The first pre-built Norman Wooden Castle was erected at Pevensey Bay in 1066. The temporary wooden Motte and Bailey castles were quickly replaced by the permanent stone Norman castles which were dominated by their tower Keeps. The Tower of London is strongly associated with William the Conqueror who invaded England in 1066. William the Conqueror initially built a wooden Motte and Bailey castle and the famous, fortified, stone White Tower, which replaced the original Motte and Bailey castle, was completed in 1097.
Why were the Norman Medieval Castles built?
The objectives for building the Norman Medieval Castles were as follows:
- The Norman Castles provide a base where men, provisions and horses could be housed
- The Norman Castles were built to overawe and frighten the indigenous population
- The Norman Castles provided a site from which the Normans could govern the surrounding district
- The Norman Castles acted as a fortified post to house cavalry
Where were the Norman Medieval Castles built?
The Normans aimed was to build as many of these small castles as possible. A Motte and Bailey castle could be erected quickly - some only took a couple of weeks. It is believed that as many as 1000 Motte and Bailey castles were built in England by the Normans in Medieval Times. Norman Nobles and Officials covered England to find strategic sites to build the first wooden Motte and Bailey Castles. The sites of the castles would be established by following the following criteria:
- Norman Medieval Castles were built on the highest ground in the area
- Norman Medieval Castles often adjoined Rivers
- Norman Medieval Castles often overlooked Towns and harbours
- Norman Medieval Castles made use of existing sites of Roman or Saxon forts and Burhs
The Development of Norman Medieval Castles
The Development of Norman Medieval Castles went through a highly logical process:
- Pre-built Norman Castles were built in timber and transported to England with the Normans invasion fleet - these offered speed and efficiency
- The style of the Norman castles was a Motte and Bailey design
- Norman Medieval Castles were then erected in the conventional fashion utilising local materials and English labour
- The timber Norman Medieval Castles were then converted to stone castles
- Norman Stone castles were then erected - strong and built to last
- The Norman shell castle keep was then developed. The motte (mound) on which the castle was to be built could not bear the weight of a solid stone tower, so a light shell tower was constructed
1066 and the first Norman Medieval Castles
Until 1066 there were no castles. William the conqueror (King William I of England) introduced Norman castles to England when he defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. These Norman castles gave the Normans of 1066 power bases from which they could subjugate the English population. The building of Norman castles was an important part of the conquest strategy. William's success at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was partly due to bringing pre-built castles with his invasion fleet when attacking England. These wooden Motte and Bailey castles were fast to erect and afforded an immediate power base and shelter for his soldiers, horses and livestock. Had the English and King Harold built a Castle system based on the Norman model or maintained the Alfred the Great Burhs then the outcome of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 might have been very different - Duke William of Normandy would have been forced to enter into Siege warfare costing time, money and heavy casualties. His army would have disintegrated and would inevitably been forced to return to Normandy. The strategy of building Norman castles in 1066 changed English history and changed the face of England forever.