motte © 1995-2011 by Lise Hull
There are motte and bailey castles in every county of Wales, England, and Scotland. So exactly how were they built? By digging a deep circular ditch, and piling up the earth taken from the ditch into the centre. That became the motte. Sometimes, the motte began as a natural hill, which was shaped into a usable mound and surrounded by a ditch.

Heights of mottes varied from 10 feet to 100 feet and their basal diameters from 100 to 300 feet. When workers had completed building the mound, they then covered its slopes with an outer layer of clay or sometimes the sides of the mound were strengthened with timber supports or some stone to prevent uneven settlement and slippage, which is probably why so many have survived. Motte shapes could be round, oval, or angular.

motte and bailey castle

Generally, mottes were crowned with a wooden tower which was basically a look-out and an elevated fighting point. Often times, the tower provided accommodation for the lord of the castle. Later, some of these wooden towers were replaced by stone keeps.

Sometimes, motte and bailey castles evolved into very large and impressive stone fortresses, when walls, gatehouses, towers, and other structures replaced the timber defenses. But, mostly what you see today is just a tree covered mound.

Baileys are associated with motte castles. They were large areas of additional space adjacent to the motte which were enclosed with a circular earthwork, a mound lower than the motte. The bailey was built in much the same manner as the motte, only was much larger around but lower in height. Most of the domestic buildings for the castle would be placed in the bailey, including the stable, hall, kitchen, chapel and workshop. Even weapons were stored here for safe keeping. Some larger castles had an inner and outer bailey, and most baileys were either circular, oval or square in shape. Bailey shapes could be circular, oval, triangular, quadrilateral, lobed, or polygonal.

distribution of motte and bailey castles

Motte and bailey castles could be built very quickly, some being raised in only eight days. The largest motte and bailey castle in Britain is thought to be Old Sarum, located in Wiltshire, England. Although William the Conqueror is credited with the introduction of the Norman castle in Britain, it is believed that there were three pre-conquest castles. Ewias Harold, Hereford and Richard's. Motte castles continued to be built up until the 13th century.

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