Motte & Bailey Castles Lesson for Kids: Facts & Information

Instructor: Angela Burke

Angela has over ten years of teaching experience in Special Education, classroom teaching and GT. She has a master's degree in Special Ed with an emphasis in Gifted.

What is a motte and a bailey? In this lesson, discover how the very first castles were made. Find out which famous castle was once a motte and bailey!

Motte and Bailey

When you think of a castle, do you imagine the ones in your favorite fairy tale or Disney movie? Most people think of castles as being very grand and fit for royalty. However, the first castles were nothing like this!

Motte and bailey castles had a tower built on a mound and an area enclosed with a wall. In fact, the word motte means mound, and the word bailey means enclosure.

Motte and bailey castles could be made quickly and cheaply. They could be built in just a couple of weeks. Wood and earth were the basic materials needed, which were easy to find.

Drawing of a motte and bailey castle
Motte and Bailey

Parts of the Castle

Motte and bailey castles all looked different, but they had three important parts in common. First, the motte was built. It could be natural or man-made. The most important part of the motte was that it had to have really steep sides so intruders couldn't climb it. A deep ditch was built around the motte for extra protection.

Remains of a motte and bailey castle in France
motte

Next, a flat area was created around the motte for the bailey. The bailey was like a small village. Everything a person needed was in the bailey, including houses, bakeries, stables and blacksmith shops. A strong wooden fence called a palisade was built around the bailey, as well as another deep ditch, called a fosse.

Finally, one of the most important parts of the castle was the keep, which was the tower built on top of the motte. If the castle was under attack, everyone would head to the keep for safety.

History

When the Normans from France invaded England, they brought the idea of motte and bailey castles with them. After the Normans won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, they began building these castles for safety. A lord, or noble, lived at the castle along with his servants and soldiers. The Normans built around 1,000 motte and bailey castles in England, Wales and Scotland; however, you can also find them in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands.

By 1200, motte and bailey castles were on their way out. They were made mostly of wood, which was cheap and available, but also the source of a big problem. What do you think that problem was?

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