Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is one of England’s largest, containing thirteen acres within its walls. It has enjoyed favor as a royal residence from Norman times to the present and is the only royal castle to have made the transition to palace. Most monarchs have contributed in some way to its splendor and every century except the eighteenth has left its mark on the fabric. The result is a magnificent but extremely mutilated stronghold. The castle owes its position to William the Conqueror. He chose the elevated site on a chalk cliff above the Thames in 1067 and his earthworks have since dictated the layout of the castle. Although raised on the grand scale, Windsor is a typical motte and bailey fortress, …

Wallingford Castle

The historic town of Wallingford lies within an earth rampart first thrown up in the reign of Alfred the Great or Edward the Elder, as a precaution against Danish attack. Wallingford was once believed to be a Roman town because the rampart encloses a rectangular area and the streets follow a grid pattern. The rampart can still be followed on the three landward sides but there is no evidence of any man-made defenses facing the river. In the Norman period the rampart was heightened, but the town then fell into economic decline so the timber stockades that lined the summit were never replaced in stone. The northeast quarter of the town enclosure became the site of Wallingford Castle. William the …

Launceston Castle

The keep of Launceston Castle dominates the town and surrounding countryside. Most Saxon burghs had castles forced upon them within a few years of the Norman Conquest, and the castle of “Dunhevet” is recorded in the Domesday Book. At that time it was held by William the Conqueror’s half-brother Robert. Initially the castle passed through a variety of hands, and the only Norman masonry is the shell keep on the motte. In 1227 Henry III granted the Earldom of Cornwall to his brother Richard, and he must have been responsible for most of the existing masonry. Eventually, the castle fell into the common rut of being used as a courthouse and gaol for the duchy, and the defenses decayed. By …

Norwich Castle

Norwich and York were the biggest towns of medieval England after London, and Norwich was saddled with a royal castle within a year of the Norman Conquest. The site, at the heart of the old city, is a natural hillock that was scraped into a formidable motte -though a motte large enough to be regarded as an inner bailey. A car park occupies the site of the outer bailey. The strength of this earth and timber fortification is attested in 1075 during the rebellion of some disaffected barons. On the failure of this revolt, the Earl of Norfolk fled abroad, leaving his wife to hold the castle against William I’s supporters, which she commendably did for a siege lasting three …

Lyndford Castles

Now a small village on the edge of Dartmoor, Lyndford was a burgh in late Saxon times. Its situation, on a promontory overlooking the River Lyd, has steep falls on all sides except one. A rampart defends the level approach The first castle of Lyndford was the ring work at the west corner of the promontory, now known as the Norman Fort. It did not stay in use for long and the present Lyndford Castle stands nearby, the parish church occupying the space between them. At first sight the castle seems to be a motte and bailey earthwork with a square keep on top of the mound. This is an illusion, however, because the keep was built first and earth …

Lincoln Castle

Castle and cathedral have faced each other across the hilltop since Norman times. Lincoln Castle was raised over the southwest quarter of the citadel by order of William the Conqueror in 1068. The site had previously been densely occupied – Domesday Book tells us that 166 houses were destroyed to make way for the castle. Its stonewall is mentioned as early as 1115 and Henry I is regarded as the likely builder. The high curtain, still intact though frequently patched up in later centuries, preserves portions of herringbone masonry confirming its early Norman date. It stands on top of an earth rampart surrounding a large, roughly square bailey. A rare feature is the presence of not one but two mottes, …

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle is an extensive fortress situated on a hill about a mile southwest of Newport, virtually in the center of the Isle of Wight. As a fortification, it has a very long history, because the Norman castle is raised on the site of a Roman fort and is surrounded in turn by Elizabethan defenses designed to withstand artillery. The Elizabethan rampart surrounds the two baileys of the Norman castle in concentric fashion. This low, artillery-proof earthwork is encased in stone. There are arrowhead bastions at the corners and a fifth one on the west, commanding the entrance. Beyond the simple gateway through the rampart, one is confronted with the main gatehouse. It began as a thirteenth century gate tower …

Hertford Castle

Hertford was one of the burgs founded by King Edward the Elder during the English re-conquest of the Danelaw. It was no doubt soon after 1066 that William the Conqueror raised the castle beside the River Lea. In general form, Hertford Castle resembles Berkhamsted – a motte and bailey once surrounded by a double moat, with much of its flint curtain still standing. The earthworks of the castle do not compare favorable, since the motte is surprisingly small and the moats have long been filled in. Royal expenditure is recorded in 1171-74, and the curtain probably dates at least partially from that time. The octagonal tower at the south angle of the enclosure is a later medieval addition. Like Berkhamsted, …