Norman Castles in Britain

Norman England

The castles that existed in England at the time of the Norman Conquest seem to have offered little resistance to William the Conqueror. Immediately after the Conquest, William, wishing to guard against invasions from without as well as to awe his newly-acquired subjects, began to erect castles all over the kingdom, and to repair and improve the old ones.[1] Moreover, William had parceled out the lands of the English among his followers, who built strongholds and castles on their estates. These castles multiplied so rapidly that in 1150 during the troubled reign of King Stephen of Blois they were said by Robert of Torigny to have amounted to 1115.

William was both an experienced soldier and administrator and he arrived in conquered Saxon England with a good understanding of the need to control land and to limit the construction of castles, lest his barons become too powerful. Under Norman rule, noble men could not build castles without the monarchs's permission. To do so would invite royal displeasure, and leave the impression that the nobleman might be a threat to the crown.

It was, therefore, the settled policy of the crown to strengthen the royal castles and increase their number, while jealously keeping in check those of the barons. But in the struggle between Stephen and the Empress Matilda for the crown, which became a war of sieges, the royal power was relaxed and there was an outburst of castle-building, without permission, by the barons. The barons in many documented cases acted as petty kings.

Feudal custom limited the extent and strength of private fortification, and by the 12th century the crenellation or battlementing distinguished a castle from a manor house. A structure would be forfeited to the monarchy if not authorized. Formal permission was granted by a "license to crenellate." A license to build a castle might then sometimes have been granted by someone other than the king, such as a bishop. The date of the license is not necessarily the actual date of the castle building.[2]

There are 1,637 castles identified in England alone, an additional 655 in Wales, and about 2,000 in Scotland for a total of c4,500. I will only attempt to identify a few significant castles built by the Normans.[3]

Significant Norman Castles in Britain

Name Detail Year
Acre This motte-and-bailey castle was founded by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey, as his most important estate in Norfolk. The settlement is strategically placed where the ancient trackway known as the Peddar’s Way crossed the River Nar. To the west of the castle was a planned town; the whole settlement was fortified. c1071

The castle was founded by Ranulf le Meschin in c1125. In c1170 the square stone donjon was added. William I, King of Scots invaded the area and captured Appleby in 1174. In 1203 the castle was granted to Richard de Vipont by King John. In 1269 it was owned by Roger de Clifford and it remained in the Clifford family for c400 years. In the mid 17th century, Lady Anne Clifford restored the castle. The upper parts of the tower were altered in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Arundel An early Norman construction was Arundel Castle, built in 1068 during the reign of William the Conqueror as a fortification for the River Arun and a defensive position for the surrounding land. The original structure was a motte-and-bailey castle before undergoing an extensive renovation during the reign of William the Conqueror which enlarged the motte and improved the defences. Roger de Montgomery is believed to have been declared the first Earl of Arundel as the King granted him the property as part of a much larger package of hundreds of manors. (For other reasons, the generally accepted first creation of the title Earl of Arundel lies in the year 1138 with William d'Aubigny, confirmed in 1155). After Roger de Montgomery died, the castle reverted to the crown under Henry I. The King, in his will, left Arundel Castle and the attached land to his second wife Adeliza de Louvain. In 1138, three years after Henry's death, she married William, d'Albani (aka d'Aubigny, the first Earl, of the d'Aubigny family of Saint-Martin-d'Aubigny in Normandy). William was responsible for creating the stone shell on the motte, thus increasing the defence and status of the castle. Arundel castle has an enceinte wall, which encircles both the castle and bailey. The bastion towers increase the wall's strength by providing access and protection for defenders. The crenellated battlements also protected defenders on the wall. 1068
Bamburgh Built on a basalt outcrop, the castle was known to the native Britons as Din Guardi from c420-547, when it was captured by the Anglo-Saxon Ida Eoppasson, King of Bernicia. The Normans built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. William II unsuccessfully besieged it in 1095 during a revolt supported by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland. Bamburgh then became the property of the reigning English monarch. Henry II probably built the keep. As an important English outpost, the castle was the target of raids from Scotland. In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, it became the first English castle defeated by artillery by Richard Neville, XVI Earl of Warwick. c1075
Barnard Stone castle built by Guy de Baliol on the site of an earlier fort. In 1216 it was attacked by Alexander II, King of Scotland. It was still held by the Baliol family although that was disputed by the Bishops of Durham. When John Balliol was deposed as King of Scotland in 1296 the castle was passed to the Bishop of Durham. Around 1300 Edward I granted it to Guy de Beauchamp, X Earl of Warwick. In the 15th century the castle passed by marriage to the Neville family. In 1477 during the Wars of the Roses, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) took possession of the castle. Over the next two centuries the Nevilles enlarged and improved the estate and built an impressive castle. 1225

The castle was built 1117-1153 as a shell keep. This unusual design built a stone keep around a central motte rather than on it. In 1215, the castle was the assembly for for the rebellious West Country barons en route to confront King John at Runnymede to force the signing of the Magna Carta. King Edward II of England was held there for 18 months, before being murdered in 1327

Bungay Hugh Bigod built this Norman castle, which was confiscated by Henry II in 1157 but restored to the Bigods around 1164. The castle was rebuilt by Hugh Bigod in 1165. It was again confiscated following the 1174 revolt by Henry's sons and the great tower was pulled down. However it was restored again and was extended in 1294 with curtain walls and twin towers for the gate house to protect the town by Roger Bigod, II Earl of Norfolk. 1165
Carlisle Carlisle was the site of a sequence of Roman forts dating from the I-IV Centuries AD. William II ordered a Norman style motte- and-bailey castle in Carlisle, with construction beginning in 1093. In 1122, Henry I ordered a stone castle built and added a keep and the city walls. Carlisle and the castle changed hands many times for the next 700 years as the Scots and English struggled.. c1100
Hedlingham A Norman Keep, built by Aubrey de Vere in 1140. 1140
Rising Built by William d'Aubigny with a square keep, surrounded by a defensive banked earth-works, which create the inner bailey. An early Norman Church was built in the inner bailey c1100. 1138
Colchester Colchester is still largely complete and was built in the same style as the White Tower of London, although Colchester is larger. It is built on a Roman temple of Claudius (built c44 AD). Begun in 1069 it was completed in 1076. In 1215, the castle was besieged and eventually captured by King John following a confrontation with rebellious nobles that led to the Magna Carta. 1076

The present castle keep was built by Hamelin Plantagenet de Warenne on the site of an earlier Norman motte-and-bailey castle built by William de Warenne. The remains of the 12th century castle are dominated by the 100 ft high circular keep, which is supported by six buttresses. Hamelin seems to have ordered construction of the massive cylindrical keep, built to his own design, the closest parallel is at Mortemer, near Dieppe, France, a castle also held by the Warenne family. Hamelin presumably built both keeps. It is probable that the construction of the stone curtain walls of Conisbrough followed not long after the keep, but the layout and the planning of the stone buildings within the bailey may not have been begun until the thirteenth century and may be the work of Hamelin’s son William.

c1170 &

The oldest surviving structure on the castle site dates to the eleventh century, although evidence exists of some form of stronghold predating the Norman Conquest. King Edward the Martyr was assassinated at Corfe on March 18, 978. Construction of a stone hall and inner bailey wall were built in the 11th century and extensive construction of other towers, halls and walls occurred during the reigns of Henry I, John and Henry III. By the thirteenth century the castle was being used as a royal treasure storehouse and prison. The castle remained a royal fortress until sold by Elizabeth I in the 16th century to her Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton. The keep was refurbished by Sir Christopher Hatton, in the mid-sixteenth century and remains of Tudor windows and fireplaces survive. The entire castle was largely demolished after the Civil War. The fortified enclosure's curtain walls are marked by the remnant semi-circular towers. The outer gatehouse at the south end is approached by a four-arch stone bridge over a dry moat. The main hall's lower walls survive, with some herringbone masonry and arched openings. The three-storey square keep is near the centre of the complex.


Dover Castle sits on an earlier Roman site, which included at least one lighthouse, but probably also defensive works. William the Conqueror marched to Dover, after his battle at Hastings. His troops set fire to an existing Saxon castle, which burned and forced William to delay his march on London by a week for repairs. The castle could not then have been stone and was undoubtedly a motte-and-bailey design. A stone rectangular keep and the inner and outer baileys were added by Henry II. The keep is the largest in Britain and is entered through a forebuilding more substantial than any other built before or since. At each corner of the Keep lies a buttress turret, and mid-way along each wall is a pilaster buttress. Four storeys high, the Keep comprises a basement, first floor, and a second floor that spans two storeys, the upper level of which is a mural gallery that can be seen today at the end of the Great Armour Hall. The second storey provided the royal accommodation, and the first floor, based on a similar plan to the second, contained rooms with a much less elaborate décor. All floors were connected by staircases set in the north and south corner turrets. Henry III carried out repair work to the gatehouse, and rebuilt the eastern wall. The entrance was blocked by a third bastion, which completed the group of towers. Henry III was also responsible for the outer curtain wall, with twenty individual towers to create a large outer bailey stretching to the edge of the cliff. Henry VIII added the Moat Bulwark.


The Castle may have been founded in c610 by Raedwald, King of East Anglia. Framlingham had no keep or central stronghold, but only a strong curtain wall defended by projecting mural towers which enclosed the domestic buildings. King Edmund of East Anglia was killed there by the invading Danes in 870. Henry I licenced Roger Bigod to build a stone castle at Framlingham. Out of the castle were three passages—one a postern, with an iron gate, on the east side over a private bridge into the park, where there were arbours, pleasant walks, and trees planted for profit and delight. Mary Tudor mustered her supporters here in 1553, before being crowned Queen. Another passage was on the west side, leading to a dungeon, and forth on to the mere, now filled up with mire and weeds. But the largest passage and most used was, and is, that towards the south and town; there being formerly a portcullis over that gate, which was made in one of the strongest towers, and a drawbridge without, defended by an half-moon of stone, about a man's height, standing in the year 1657.

Grossmont Grosmont Castle is a three phase fortress. It was probably founded by Guillaume FitzOsbern during his invasion of South Wales in 1070. The hall at Grosmont was most probably built c1110 and still stands two stories high. Henry II claimed the castle and manned it with royal troops on the death of the then-owner Walter Hereford in c1160. In 1266, the gatehouse and the three D-shaped towers of the castle’s enceinte wall were added. In c1270, one of the new enceinte towers was demolished and accommodation built over it. The height of the South-West tower was raised and extended to create a five-story keep. 1070
Helmsley The castle was first constructed in wood. In 1186, the castle was converted into stone with two main towers, the round corner towers and the main gateway on the south side of the castle. In c1300, William de Roos added the east tower and built the new hall and kitchen, as well as strengthening the castle. He also built a dividing wall in the castle, dividing it into north and south sides, with the southern half designated for the private use of the lord's family in the new hall and east tower, and the northern half containing the old hall to be used by the steward and other castle officials. 1120
Kenilworth An earlier Saxon fortification existed on the same site, but a Norman stone keep was built in 1125. Henry II controlled the keep during the rebellion of his sons, and Henry and Henry III both converted Kenilworth into one of the strongest in the English Midlands and a great lake was created to defend three sides of the castle. In 1364, John of Gaunt began to add living quarters to the bare fortress. Elizabeth I gave Kenilworth to Robert Dudley who added a large apartment and a residential block overlooking the lake. In 1656 after the civil war, one wall of the keep was blown up, and battlements and the great water defences were destroyed, 1125
Launceston The castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey earthwork castle raised by Robert, Comte de Mortain, half-brother of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman conquest. An inner keep with two rooms was added a century later. In c1250, Richard, Earl of Cornwall began to rebuild the castle in stone. A new great hall was constructed within the bailey and in use until the early 1600s 1067
Ludlow A Norman motte-and-bailey earthwork castle was re-constructed in stone by Roger de Lacy in c1092. Guarded by both the rivers Teme and Corve, Ludlow Castle stands prominently on high ground, able to resist attack from would be invaders from over the Welsh border. Silurian limestone was readily available, being quarried from the castle's own site, and water was obtained from a deep well in the inner bailey, down to the level of the River Teme. Ludlow castle forms a large rectangular enceinte wall, with the town and principal entry on the east side, and the west side overlooking the river. The northwest corner is enclosed by another enciente wall forming the inner ward and the heart of the castle. Ludlow Castle became Crown property in 1461. c1069
Middleham Middleham was built near the site of an earlier motte-and- bailey castle. A simple rectangle in plan, the castle consists of a massive Norman keep surrounded by a later curtain wall, to which was then added extensive, palatial residential ranges. The keep is similar to other large square keeps, but had only two stories. It is divided on both levels by an internal wall, and there are turrets at each corner and midway along each wall. The ground floor has two large, originally vaulted, chambers, and above are two grand halls surrounded by high windows. The entrance is by staircase to the first floor--as was common--and a later chapel outbuilding defends that approach. The thirteenth century curtain wall surrounds the keep concentrically, making the castle into a compact and effective defensive structure. In the 1400s the Nevilles constructed an impressive range of halls and outbuidings against these walls, turning the castle into a truly magnificent residence. Bridges at first-floor level were built to connect these to the keep, and the ceiling above the great hall was also raised, either to provide a clerestory or space for another chamber. 1190
Newcastle In c120, Romans built the Pons Aelius bridge to cross the River Tyne and then a fort on rocky outcrop to protect the bridge. The fort was situated on rocky outcrop overlooking the new bridge, on the site of the later Norman castle. Duke Robert built a motte-and-bailey castle on the former Roman fort site. Henry II built a rectangular stone keep and stone bailey in 1177. A large outer gateway was added in 1250, and in c1287 stone walls, with towers were built to enclose the town. In 1644 the Scottish army crossed the border in support of the Parliamentarians and 40,000 Scottish troops besieged Newcastle for three months until the garrison of 1,500 surrendered. 1080
Norham Built on the south bank overlooking the River Tweed for protection against the Scots, Norham castle was captured by David I, King of Scots in 1136, and again in 1138. It had been rebuilt by 1195. The castle's north side is protected by a steep slope and a deep ravine protects the east side with an artificial moat on the west and south. The castle had both inner and outer baileys. The inner bailey stood on a motte and was separated from the outer by a moat and drawbridge. The main entrance was a strongly fortified gate. The inner bailey protected by a moat and drawbridge. The hall, measured 18m by 9m. 1121
Norwich Norwich Castle was built in 1067, as ordered by William the Conqueror. The original structure was a timber motte-and-bailey standing on a natural rise in the land augmented by an artificial mound. In c1100 the motte was heightened, and the surrounding ditch deepened. The square keep was built on top of the motte in c1120 to serve as a royal palace. The construction is Norman Caen stone over a flint core. The keep is 30m x 28m x 22m high, with the hall entered by the first floor above ground. 1067
Oxford Oxford Castle was built by Robert D'Oyly in 1071. It was originally a motte with a later 15m wall with towers built around the structure. It was home to the Empress Matilda in 1141 when another Robert D'Oyly declared support for her. 1071
Pembroke Pembroke Castle was built as a timber motte-and-bailey in 1093 by Roger de Montgomerie. In cThe castle's location, on a ridge, surrounded on three sides by the tidal River Cleddau, made it a stronghold. The history of the site goes back at least to the Roman period, The massive round keep built by William Marshal, I Earl of Pembroke in 1200 and is 23m high: the inner bailey curtain walls are 6 metres thick at its base. Marshal was the most experienced knight of his day and he built the keep with a domed roof. The original entrance was on the first floor, approached by an external stair.The keep had four floors, connected by a spiral stair which also led to the battlements. The large square holes on the top of the outside were to hold a timber hoard, or fighting platform. When the castle was attacked, the hoard could be erected as an extra defence, outside the battlements but way above the heads of the attackers. the south-west stood the large horseshoe-shaped gate, which only survives at footings level, and to the east was a strong round tower with a basement prison. Only a thin wall was required along the cliff edge; it had a small observation turret at the point and the square stone platform on the north supported a huge mediaeval catapult for defence against attack from the sea. A new Great Hall was built in c1287 with a towering mass of walling projecting over its south-east corner to enclose the mouth of a large cavern in the rock below, which may have served as a boathouse. The fine series of round towers, the north-east bastion and the remarkable gatehouse on the south made the defences of the outer ward well-nigh impregnable. There were postern gates on either side, defended by the St Ann Bastion and Monkton Tower respectively, but the main gatehouse, with its two portcullises, stout doors, three machicolations, or murder holes, in the vaulting and its series of arrowslits, is one of the finest and earliest of its kind. The western Bygate Tower has a prison in its basement, then each gate tower has a ground and two upper floors reached by stairs spiralling in opposite directions. Doors lead from the upper rooms on to the wall walk. The gatehouse is in essence a double-towered gate, with one of the towers moved along the curtain wall to clear the oblique entrance approach; its outer part is further defended by a fine semicircular barbican. 1093
Portchester Portchester Castle is both a mediaeval castle and an extant former Roman fort occupying a commanding position at the head of Portsmouth Harbour. It is likely that the fort of Portus Adurni was the main Roman harbour for provincial Britannia and part of Rome's defences against Saxon pirates. William Mauduit built a small Norman castle in c1190 in the north-west corner of the fort, with a single storey stone keep and wooden palisade on two sides of the inner bailey. The old Roman walls became the outer bailey. In c1180, the palisade was replaced with stone walls. In 1346, Edward III assembled his 15,000 strong army there before leaving for France and his victory at the Battle of Crecy. Richard II turned the castle into a magnificent palace. 1090
Restormel A typical motte and bailey style and is a perfect example of military architecture of its period. The castle was built behind a 17 metre moat, upon slopes which were artificially steepened. The great c1250 circular shell-keep of Restormel still encloses the principal rooms of the castle in remarkably good condition. It stands on an earlier Norman mound on a high spur beside the River Fowey. 1100
Richmond Richmond Castle stands above the River Swale, and was built in 1071 in retaliation for the 1069 slaughter by English rebels of the Norman garrison at York. Alain Le Roux de Ponthievre built the castle to defend against the Scots. The original castle had a French keep, which was superseded by a 33m-high keep a century later and finished by Henry II. This latter keep was built on solid rock with 3m-thick walls, towers and a barbican. The new keep was built for military needs, as the earlier keep was used for living quarters in the south part of the castle. 1071
Rochester There has been a castle on this site on the bank of the Medway River since c43AD. The first Norman castle was a motte-and-bailey, built by Bishop Odo, a step-brother of William the Conqueror. A stone castle with a curtain wall was built in 1088 for William II. A 35m-high keep was added in c1129, but under-mined and destroyed by King John in 1215, although repaired by Edward III. c1068

The Castle is built on triangular cliff on the Yorkshire coast some 91m above sea level, in a naturally defended location. The first stone fortress on the site was built in 1134-1136 by Guillaume le Gros, Comte d'Aumale. the curtain walls which were strengthened by Henry II in 1159. Henry II destroyed the original gate tower and added a more elaborate, 30m tall, 12m square keep. John improved and extended the castle walls and built a new hall in the inner bailey, a new royal chamber block, and great hall in the outer bailey. In 1243, Henry III built a new barbican in 1243 and added a double drawbridge tower.

Sherborne The old castle was built as the fortified, stone palace of Roger de Caen , Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England. The castle had a keep and a stone church in the inner bailey. c1107
Skenfrith Probably built by William FitzOsbern as a motte-and-bailey castle, Skenfrith was part of the initial defences to protect the conquest of England. The castle is on the border of Wales. In 1187, the palisade wall was replaced by a stone wall and a stone hall or keep was added. In c1203, Hubert de Burgh built a new concentric castle, with a new round keep and curtain wall with a round tower for defence at each corner. The outer moat was probably filled with water from a connection to the River Monnow. In the bailey was a a hall and water reservoir. c1068
Sween Castle Sween was built on the west coast of Argyll, Scotland. Four massive walls surround a courtyard which was originally lined with lean-to structures, probably of wood and thatch. The walls are strengthened at the angles and in the center of each side with broad buttresses in the Norman style. In the middle of the south wall, the entrance gate is an arched opening in a ten foot thick section of masonry. The Hall was built in the form of a great squat corner tower. c1131
Tintagel Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, Englandi is on the site of an earlier a Roman settlement. The stone castle was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1227-1233 on a coastal point that is virtually an island, connected to the mainland by a slim finger of land. There was no apparent military or strategic benefit in building a castle there. The inner ward on the Island, and the upper and lower wards on the mainland, with a bailey on either side of the isthmus. There is no keep. The upper ward is built around a natural crag, the main castle entrance being through the curtain wall in the lower ward. The inner ward contains the great hall built on an artificial platform with a thick retaining wall, built as a double square withf 4 massive buttresses. A secondary curtain wall was added to the north of the great hall, and also buttressed, to provide protection for the new service wing built there. The gate tower is preceded by a narrow passage overlooked by an elongated enclosure wall on a rock outcrop which defenders could safely use, protected by the wall. 1233
Tower of London In 1078 William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a huge keep at the castle in London. Under the direction of Gundulf, a castle builder from Normandy, the tower known as the White Tower or Tower of London was built. The size of the castle must have been greater than any building the citizens of London would have seen before and as William may have hoped probably struck them with awe. Although generally square in construction the White Tower has a circular turret to the north-east that has a circular staircase inside it and to the south-east there is a semicircular apse that contains a chapel. 1078
White Probably built by William FitzOsbern as a motte-and-bailey wood castle with two earthworks, White was part of the initial defences to protect the conquest of England. The castle is on the border of Wales. In 1187, the palisade wall was replaced by a curtain wall around the inner ward and a stone keep was renovated. In c1203, Hubert de Burgh built a new twin-towered gatehouse at the northern end of the inner ward. The outer moat was probably filled with water from a connection to the River Monnow. Wooden drawbridges would have controlled access from both the north and the south of the castle. Within the inner ward there would have been residences, a great hall, a chapel, kitchen, and brewhouse. The hornwork, now at the rear of the castle, was maintained as a defense for a small rear postern gate. The northern enclosure, previously defended by an earthwork, was built into a large outer bailey, with four projecting towers and a gatehouse on its eastern corner. Geophysical evidence suggests that there were small timber buildings within the walls of the outer ward, as well one large building, thought to be used as a barn. c1068

Winchester Castle, originally built in 1067 on the earlier Roman city wall, was one of the greatest strongholds of Mediaeval England and, for a century after the conquest, served as the seat of Anglo-Norman government. In c1232, Henry III added the great hall, and Edward II also made renovations. The great hall is an interesting building, built to a double cube design (the height and width are exactly half that of the width. The interior measures 110' x 55' x 55'). In 1302, the royal apartments of the castle wee destroyed by fire.

Windsor Prior to the Norman Conquest, the manor of Clewer, the site of modern Windsor, consisting of five hides, was the property of Harold Godwinsson. William the Conqueror granted the manor to one Ralph, the son of Seifride, reserving, however, one-half of a hide on which are believed to have been some ancient earthworks, and on which he built a new castle. This was styled, not Clewer Castle, but Windsor Castle, the name of Harold's royal residence nearby (now Old Windsor). Since then Windsor has been part of English history, having been used as royal palace, prison, and burial place. Windsor castle was built in 1075 when William the Conqueror first built a castle on an existing chalk mound over looking the river Thames. Early Norman castles were built of wood, but because the base of the mound was so strong, a stone castle was built at Windsor. The castle that William built consisted of a shell keep built around the motte, and two baileys, one to the east of the mound, and one to the west. Between 1173 and 1179 Henry II raised the height of the keep and rebuilt the bailey walls. Henry III repaired earlier damage. In 1340, the round tower was rebuilt. 1075


1               See Castles in the United Kingdom at,

2               Castle Learning Center: Castle License at,

3               List of castles in England and individual castle sites at, See also Castle Photo Gallery at,; The Gatehouse, The Lists of Mediaeval Fortified Sites of England and Wales at,; List of castles in Scotland at,; List of castles in France at, See also Pembroke Castle at,; and TimeRef - History Timelines at,

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