The Middle Ages Medieval Castle Design | KS3 History | History Bombs

Get access to this and many more great lessons with a full membership

Choose your plan Sign in

5.4 Medieval Castle Design


Lesson Resources

Access useful information for this lesson

Teaching Resources

Access activities, answer banks and teaching tips for this lesson

Lesson description

In this video, a castle designer is bidding for the approval of a panel of intimidating historic judges. While castles may be synonymous with the Medieval era, not all castles were alike and their owners had varying priorities – as the hapless designer is about to find out.

This lesson contains:

  • The design and dates of five key Medieval castle designs: the Motte and Bailey, Stone Keep, Concentric Castle, Moated Castle, and Manor House.
  • A look at how the changing lifestyle and priorities of Medieval society throughout the centuries affected the development of castle designs.
  • An introduction to analysing real examples of British castles, such as the Tower of London, as case studies to the wider Medieval history.

Fact Sheet

What is a Motte and Bailey Castle?

Motte-and-Bailey Castles (10th-12th centuries): These were some of the earliest medieval castles, consisting of a wooden or stone keep (the “motte”) situated on a raised earthwork mound, often surrounded by a courtyard with a wooden palisade or stone wall (the “bailey”). They were common in the early medieval period, particularly in Norman-controlled England.

Why were they built?

William the Conqueror built nearly 700 Motte and Bailey castles across England and Wales to secure his rule across the country. These castles were favourable as they were relatively quick to build. 

What is a Stone Keep Castle?

Stone Keep Castles (11th-13th centuries): As stone construction techniques improved, the motte-and-bailey castles evolved into stone keep castles. These featured a strong stone keep or tower as the central defensive structure, often with thick walls and a moat. The bailey area could also have stone walls and additional structures. Stone keep castles were prevalent in the 11th to 13th centuries.

What is a Concentric Castle?

Concentric Castles (12th-13th centuries): Concentric castles were a more advanced form of defensive architecture. They had multiple layers of walls, often with a central keep surrounded by one or more curtain walls. The concentric design made it extremely difficult for attackers to penetrate the inner sanctum. Famous examples include Dover Castle in England.

Why were they built?

Edward I built concentric castles in Wales to ensure he held his newly conquered lands. The circular walls meant that they could be easily defended, and inner and outer walls added an extra layer of protection.

What is a Manor House?

Manor House (15th century): Grand, homely structures with wide doors and staircases. Better designed for entertaining guests. Built with brick, and much more vulnerable to attacks from cannons. These structures have little defences and no surrounding walls or moats. 


Why were they built?

After the 15th century, England was the most peaceful it had been in a long time. Therefore, castles did not need to provide protection, but were rather built for prestige and appearance.


Video Transcript

VoiceoverWelcome to the Lion’s Lair. This week our three lions ask
a simple question: which is the best-designed castle of
the Middle Ages?
MasonYou said it was smart casual!
DesignerHello! Thank you for having me.
QueenWhat do you have for us?
DesignerOkay, so the year is 1066. You’ve just conquered England
and you need to stamp your authority on the land as
quickly as possible. You need... a Motte and Bailey
Now, soldiers live in this fortified, high-up motte, and
down here in the bailey you have got workshops, stables,
and a chapel for daily life. Cheap to build, and you can
easily assert your authority on the neighbourhood. You’re
never far from a Motte and Bailey!
MasonAre you having a laugh?
KnightIt’s made out of wood, man! It’d go up in flames at the
sight of a torch. You’re not scaring anyone with that!
QueenHe’s right. King William built over a hundred of these
all over England as a quick fix, but it’s basically a giant
matchbox. Next!
DesignerOkay, so, let’s fast-forward to the 12th century. Wood is
a teensy weensy bit flammable and might rot, and the
Designer...Or queen! Is having a spot of bother with the barons! It
could erupt into civil war at any moment. So how about
this? A beautiful, and strong, stone keep! No need for
repairs. It’s your ‘forever’ castle!
KnightLook at those thick walls! They could repel an attack from any local baron!
QueenSo tall! So square! Six whole storeys of magnificence!
KnightEverybody would know who’s boss with that kind of business!
MasonErr... guys...
MasonYour enemies will take one look at that and do two things.
KnightThat’s more than one your majesty.
QueenThank you.
MasonThey’ll attack vulnerable corners with the latest siege weaponry. Have you ever heard of a battering ram?
Then, they’ll tunnel beneath foundations and set fire to
the props holding up the towers. Just like King John did to Rochester Castle in 1215, burning the fat of forty pigs beneath your lovely towers. Then BAM! Flat as a pancake.
DesignerHow did you know about the wooden props?
MasonDon’t play daisy boys with me mate! This ain’t good enough.
DesignerOf course... it’s fine, I was actually hoping we would get on to the next one. It’s the late 13th century and, if you’re smart, you’ve been taking inspiration from the Crusades in the Holy Land. Behold the concentric castle!
Nice round towers, so they can’t be battered or burned down! And have a look at that gatehouse. Now that’s what I call impregnable!
KnightAnd look at those curtain walls! You’ve got two layers; inner and outer and your enemies don’t want to get trapped between those, you can fire arrows at them and pour boiling oil on them from great heights!
‘Ooo, please Sir knight let us go, we promise we won’t attack you’– ‘NO! No! I have trapped you with my massive PORTCULLIS!’ Boom!
QueenOk, it’s not like castles are always being attacked.
Sometimes it’s about how powerful they look!
I mean, I bet when Edward I built these after he invaded Wales, they didn’t know whether to kiss his boots or run for the hills!
MasonAye, no expense spared on those Welsh castles! I hear
Beaumaris in North Wales cost over £15,000.
QueenHow much?
KnightThat’s more than one your majesty.
QueenOh right... well...Perhaps we better start with a sort of
basic, cheap, old castle and then just have upgrades
as we go along, to deal with the latest weaponry. And
we don’t need this big, long wall – it seems to take a lot
of men to defend it. Perhaps we could see a different
DesignerOh, err yes... I’m really glad you said that, I wanted to
show you this next one anyway. Well, as you said your
majesty, by the 14th century it’s really more about
building castles to look powerful, yes? It’s not all boiling
oil and murder holes! So how about this moated castle?
QueenOoo it looks simply wonderful! It’s my favourite.
KnightBut your majesty, what if it gets attacked? Those arrowslits are too narrow to shoot through and the moat is
so shallow that the enemy could easily drain it and walk
right through. And those battlements are too narrow, a
hulking hunk like me could never move through them. It’s
QueenNo-one would dare attack it! It’s too strong!
MasonFrom a distance maybe. They’re better off building it on
higher ground, it’s a sitting duck there with all that water.
DesignerOkay, okay, okay! Picture this alright, really try! Picture
it in your brain, right? Right, it’s the 15th century and England is more peaceful than it has been for a long
time. Castles are built for prestige, for design, like this
manor house!
Now the real thing will be made out of brick. Brick is in,
guys. Brick!
QueenI like those wide doors and staircases. Oh, great for
entertaining guests – big banquets and dinners!
KnightWell, it would fall over if it looked at a cannonball! Has
this man heard of gunpowder?
MasonNice to relax in after a hard day’s work.
QueenYes... I’m not quite sure which one I like the most... Could
we start again?