Converting wooden castles to stone castles!
Many of the initial wooden constructions of the Motte and Bailey Castles were strongly fortified by converting them to stone castles. The first development and fortification was to raise the timber buildings on stone walls and once this was complete to entirely re-build the Castle Keep (tower) in stone. Thus emerged the first Stone Castles of the Medieval Era - including, of course, the famous Tower of London. William the Conqueror's chief stone castle architect and builder was called Robert, Lord of Belleme.
Types of Stone used to build the Castles
The stone used for building medieval castles was generally mined in quarries. However, the Romans had been great builders in Britain and local Roman structures would be pillaged for old Roman bricks to be used when building the new stone castles. Different types of other materials were used in the building and development of stone castles:
- Hard Chalk
Mortar used in Stone Castles
Mortar consists of bonding materials which are used in masonry, surfacing, and plastering that hardens in place and is used to bind together bricks or stones. The mortar used to bind together the stones when constructing medieval castles was made of water, sand, and lime mixed together.
The Number of Norman Stone Castles built in the Medieval period
Between the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Invasion in 1066 and the date that William the Conqueror died in 1087 a total of 86 stone castles had been built! Eighty-six castles in just 21 years! It is believed that as many as 1000 wooden Medieval Motte and Bailey castles were built in England.
The Purpose and sites of the Norman Stone Castles
The purpose and suitable sites of the Norman Stone Castles were as follows:
- To act as a fortified post
- To provide a base where men, provisions and horses could be housed
- To overawe and frighten the indigenous population
- To provide a site from which the Normans could govern the surrounding district
- To provide a place from which the Normans could dispense justice
- They were built on the highest ground in the area
- They often adjoined Rivers
- They often overlooked Towns
- They made use of existing sites of Roman or Anglo Saxon forts
The Norman Stone Castle
The Norman Stone Castles were often extensions of, or built around. the existing Keeps
- The Norman Stone Castles were often extensions of, or built around. the existing Keeps
- Ditches and banks continued to be a feature
- Moats were introduced as an added defence feature
- The stone for the castles were transported wherever possible via rivers
- The stone came from quarries such as Caen and Maidstone
- Roman bricks were also used
- Limestone was used for the walls ( giving a cream-coloured finish )
- The Norman Castle Keep (tower) was built as the most protected part of the castle
- Massive stone Gateways were introduced
- Medieval towers and cranes were used when building castles
- A Barbican ( a tower or other fortification on the approach to a castle) was erected at the gate
- Additional features were added to improve defence
- The Portcullis
- Arrow loops
- Murder Holes ( Meutrieres )
- The Machicolations were a projecting gallery at the top of a castle wall, supported by a row of corbeled arches and having openings in the floor through which stones and boiling liquids could be dropped on attackers
- The Norman Stone Castles had a rampart - an embankment built around a space for defensive purposes
- The wooden Palisades used in the Baileys were replaced with stone walls
- On the top of the Palisades were stone 'Crenellations' form which the soldiers fired arrows
- The stone Crenellations composed of:
- 'Crenels' ( An open space or notch between two Merlons in a battlement or crenelated wall
- 'Merlons' (A solid portion between two Crenels in a battlement)
- Some stone castles had a parapet - a low wall along the top of the rampart
- As time went by the size of the windows increased, making life in the Medieval Norman Stone Castles
- Elaborate external ornaments were added to the stone castles
- Within their interior, protected by the defences, the Baileys of the stone castles contained:
- Other buildings
- The Baileys were eventually replaced by the castle yard and more buildings built in stone
Attacking Norman Stone Castles - Weapons, Siege Engines and Mining!
During the early Middle Ages, double-edged swords, axes, spears, short bows and the battle-axe were the weapons generally used. The crossbow was then introduced. The crossbow was lethal - it could pierce armour and 3 bolts could be released in a minute! But attacking a Norman Stone Castle also required siege warfare. Huge siege engines had to be used when attacking stone built castles. These massive siege engines pounded the thick masonry walls with stone missiles or huge arrows. There were different types of siege engines which included the ballista, the mangonel, and the trebuchet which were used when attacking stone castles. Other weapons such as the battering ram were also used to bring down the stone castles. Attacking Norman stone Castles also required mining! Tunnels were mined leading to a weak part of the stone castle (usually the corners of a building - which led to the development of round stone castles and keeps ). The tunnels were propped with timber props. The tunnels were then packed with brushwood. A torch was put to the brushwood and the fire would cause the corner of the stone castle to collapse! It now becomes clear that Moats were introduced to hamper the work of the miners!
The attackers would have to negotiate the following defences of the soldiers in the stone castles:
- Constant attack from projectiles - arrows, stones, crossbow bolts together with attack from fire and boiling liquids
- Greek fire was used - a generic name for any burning liquid made from molten metal or oil
- Negotiate the outer ditch and embankment
- Climb the Moat embankment
- Storm the gate
- The Portcullis
- Fire from the Arrow loops
- Stones and boiling liquids from the Machicolations
- Stones and boiling liquids from the Murder Holes ( Meutrieres )
- Storm and capture the Keep (Tower)
Defending Norman Norman Stone Castles
The Norman Stone Castles were built well with high towers and strong building materials. The architecture included such defensive features as the loop holes, murder holes, portcullis, crenellations and machicolations. Whether the Norman Stone Castles could withstand a siege depended on whether there was there enough food and a good supply of fresh water.
Life in the Norman Stone Castles
The Normans were the victors - the invaders of the English Anglo Saxons. Life for the Normans was good. Their successful invasion of England meant wealth for the Norman invaders. Lands were divided between Norman Lords and they built the Norman Stone Castles . Life in the Norman Medieval Castles depended on the rank of the people who inhabited the castle. The Lord of the Castle and possibly his family would live in the most protected part of the castle - the stone Tower or the Keep. Servants would be expected to provide food for the Nobles and soldiers. Other occupations within the castle were the blacksmiths - to keep a supply of arrowheads and bolts, the Stable hands to help with the horses and the kitchen staff.
The Norman Churches - fortified structures
Many Norman churches were built at the same time as the great stone castles. The rectangular or square style of the keeps were mirrored in the design of the rectangular Church tower. Many of these churches served a dual purpose. The church was used as a safe haven against attack in the absence of a local stone castle - they were the strongest buildings in every area. The doors of the churches were fortified. Villagers from surrounding areas would retreat to the huge stone church whenever their community was threatened.
The Norman Stone Castles
The Norman Stone Castles survive today. The architecture of the Norman Stone Castles and Churches still dominate much of the British landscape. But time moved on, weapons changed and castle building improved to meet the requirements of new weapon technology. The Norman era moved on to the English history of the Plantagenets especially the stone Welsh Medieval Castles and the Concentric Stone Castles built by the ambitious Plantagenet - King Edward I.