Monday, 13 July 2015

Motte & Bailey Castle Illustration

Motte and Baileys are a kind of medieval fortification, mostly made out of a earth and timber. A Motte is the big earth mound (often artificial, though sometimes altered natural features) which is often either crowned with a hall or a tower or a wooden castle (sometimes replaced later by a stone castle) and a bailey was a fortified area at the foot of the motte. Often both were moated, which was more often a dry moat but here I showed the other possibility at times, filled with water.

These sites were most likely brought over to Ireland by the Normans but they werent exclusively Norman, they can be found as far east as Austria, Poland to Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Britain etc, though they arent found in Iberia, Sweden and Norway. They originated around the French regions of the Loire and Rhine rivers around the end of the 10th century , but were continued to be were built to the late 13th century in Europe but Ireland they are most likely to come from the time of the initial stages of the Norman colonisation of Ireland in the late 12th century onwards. Often castles are mentioned in the written sources, so it is likely the native Irish were building something similar before the coming of the Normans but there isnt alot of archaeological evidence as of yet.

There are 350 or more examples in Ireland, most are Norman but some of that number are Irish or potentially so. Most are found in Leinster and East Ulster, with the majority in the good agricultural land of county Meath. Lots of them were also built by the Anglo-Normans in East Ulster, Oriel and Meath on the borders facing the power of the Cenel Eoghan (the most powerful clan at the time). Most likely there isnt many in Munster because there wasnt the right class there to build them and maybe not enough colonists. The Native Irish clan to make the most use of this castle type was the Uí Tuirtre in Central Co. Antrim, who possessed attractive land and were surrounded on 3 sides by the English Colony but yet they were able to hold onto their lands, most likely thanks to the Mottes they built on their borders.

30% of motte castles in Ireland have Baileys attached, they are often averaging less than 1000 sq metres and are early always delimited by banks, palisades and ditches. Most were squares, rectangular, oval or triangular, with the triangular shown here. No Baileys have been excavated in Ireland unfortunately but Mottes have been and a few have been found to have a hall like house on the top, one, Lismahon in county Down also had a small tower beside the hall like above. Most likely the hall was for feasts and administration for the lord, while the tower served as a lookout.

Motte and Bailey's also had a symbolic element, the Lord and upper echelons stayed in the Motte, while the soldiers, servants etc stayed in the Bailey. Often the Baileys had a few different buildings, like stables, wells, granaries, churches, smithy's, craft-working areas, kitchens, and accommodation to name a few. The Motte and Bailey could serve as a lord residence in peaceful times while it could act as a refuge for their tenants in times of war. Their main purpose though was  militaristic and administrative, to collect taxes and to enforce a political authority, to deter external forces from attacking.


1. The Archaeology of Norman Castles in Ireland: Part 1: Mottes and Ringworks- Tadhg O'Keeffe- Archaeology Ireland,Vol. 4, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 15-17
2. Castles in Ireland- Tom McNeill
3. The Medieval Castles of Wales- John R. Kenyon
4. Medieval Castles- Marilyn Stokstad
5. Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe An Illustrated History- Jean- Denis G.G. Lepage
6. Understanding the Castle Ruins of England and Wales- Lise Hull
7. Castles- DK Eyewitness- Christopher Gravett
8. The illustrated Archaeology of Ireland- Edited by Michael Ryan

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