Lordship and Feudalism

The English Baronial Castle

Scolland's Hall, Richmond Castle (North Yorkshire).The impact of the Norman Conquest in England is, perhaps, most strikingly revealed by the large number of castles which were built at the time. They served as fortified strong points and residences for the new Norman lords from which they set out to conquer and then administer their new domain. Castles were usually located at strategic points on routes of communication and at centres of population, including towns, such as Norwich and York, where many buildings were swept away before construction began.

Early Norman castles were often of the motte and bailey type. The motte was an earthen mound composed of material thrown up from the ditch around its base. On top of the motte there was a timber tower, or keep, which served as a refuge when the castle was attacked. Access to the motte was gained by means of a bridge from the bailey. This was a fortified enclosure in which the lord, his family and closest retainers resided, supplies were kept, and animals were housed. Of particular importance were the horses which allowed the lord to reach all parts of his territory quickly and enforce his will.

The keep at Richmond  Castle (North Yorkshire).Siege of a Norman castle from the Bury St Edmund's  bibleAlthough some early castle buildings, such as the Tower of London, were stone structures, it was not until the 12th century that stone was extensively used, principally for the outer walls, gate house and keep. This was partly because sieges had become an important part of warfare and stone walls were proof against fire and missiles, usually large stone balls, hurled by simple siege engines such as the trebuchet. In addition, stone keeps, which were often built on a grand scale, afforded more space and a greater degree of comfort to the lord and his followers than they had enjoyed hitherto. The principal reception and living room was the great hall, usually on the first floor, but there were also separate rooms for sleeping and even privies.

previous page  The Anglo-Norman Territories  next page