Castles of William the Conqueror

  • Repairs to existing Roman fortifications
  • Prefabricated Castles
  • Motte and Bailey Castles

As soon as William the Conqueror arrived in England in 1066 he started building castles. At first they would have been temporary constructions designed to offer some protection for the army that he had brought with him from Normandy. William may have also brought over prefabricated castles from Normandy that could be assembled where needed.

At Pevensey, where he first landed, an existing but run-down fortification built by the Romans was quickly strengthened to provide a secure first base. At Hastings a motte and bailey castle was possibly constructed and again at Dover the existing Roman fort was refortified.

William marched around the south coast of England via Dover to Canterbury which surrendered to him. From there he attempted to enter London but was forced back. He then encircled London, taking control of the towns around it. At Wallingford, a crossing point of the Thames, he built another castle. He built another at Berkhampstead before London finally surrendered. After becoming King William marched across the south of England building castles and taking control. At Exeter he had to lay siege to the town until an agreement was reached. He then built a castle there.

Castles built in the reign of William the Conqueror

As the Normans spread out to conquer their new lands, they chose to build their motte and bailey castles in locations where they could be on hand to put down revolts. They built inside or near existing towns, usually on high ground or where there was a good water supply. In the early years the Normans heavy handedly cleared whatever was in their way to build where they wanted, knocking down housing and striping local areas of building materials. Later on when their position was more secure, land was bought or swapped for other areas.

When looking at a map of Norman castles, it can be seen that there is a concentration of sites on the Welsh borders. This probably shows that the Normans had problems controlling their Welsh neighbours and had to keep a watchful eye on them.

Records do not exist showing the exact number of castles that were built by the Normans after they invaded but there must have been hundreds.

Castles ordered by William

William the Conqueror ordered the construction of several castles himself.

ColchesterCorfeExeterHastings
HuntingdonLincolnNottinghamStafford
Tower of LondonWallingfordWarwickWindsor

Castles mentioned in the Domesday Book

The Domesday book lists around 48 or 49 castles at the time of it's compilation. The list was probably incomplete. (List taken from 'The English Castles' E.B.D'Auvergne)

ArundelBerkeleyBramberBurton
CaerleonCambridgeCanterburyCarisbrooke
ChepstowCliffordClitheroeCorfe
DudleyDunsterEwyasEye
GloucesterHastingsHuntingdonLaunceston
LewesLincolnMonmouthMontacute
MontgomeryNorwichOkehamptonOswestry
PeakPenworthamPontefractRaleigh
RhuddlanRichard's CastleRichmondRochester
RockinghamShrewsburyStaffordStamford
StantonTrematonTutburyWallingford
WarwickWigmoreWindsorYork (2 castles)

Motte and Bailey castles

The Bayeux Tapestry shows several castles. These look like motte and bailey castles with a mound and a fort on the top. One of the castles is being attacked and set alight. Fire was a major problem for castles built from wood.

The designers of these early castles built wooden towers on the top of a mound for protection. They either used an existing mound where one was available, enlarged an existing natural hill or more usually built their own mound on which they then constructed the tower or keep. At the top of the mound, around its edge, they built a wooden wall or palisade. The mound, now known as a motte, was usually surrounded by a ditch which in some cases could be filled with water. At the foot of the motte was built a normally oval-shaped enclosure known as a bailey that had a palisade and a ditch of its own. The motte was usually placed to one side of the bailey rather than in the centre. Some castles had more than one bailey. An example of this type can be seen at Windsor which has the motte at the centre of two large baileys.