In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Castles of Britain and Ireland from the 11th to the 15th Century

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews pre-1945
  • General Overviews post-1945
  • Bibliography
  • Collected Essays
  • Castle Construction
  • Gunpowder Artillery Defenses
  • Individual Castles
  • Journals
  • Landscape and Castles: Beyond Fortification
  • Literature and Imagery
  • Siege Warfare
  • Town Defenses
  • Future Directions
  • Europe: France

Architecture Planning and Preservation Medieval Castles of Britain and Ireland from the 11th to the 15th Century
John R. Kenyon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0028


The study of this subject has a long pedigree, from the late 18th and 19th centuries, although material of this date has varying degrees of authority in the light of more recent work since the 1960s. The first castles in England appear in the 1050s, built by Norman favorites of King Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–1066) and were few in numbered and mainly in the English county of Herefordshire, on the border with Wales. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, earth-and-timber castles of both the motte and bailey and the ringwork forms were built throughout England, in towns and in the countryside, and where the Normans moved into Wales and Scotland. The first castles in Ireland appear after the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169; the matter of medieval private fortifications in pre-Norman areas is not discussed here. Some of the first castles were built in stone from the beginning, examples being the Tower of London, Chepstow in Monmouthshire and Richmond in Yorkshire. The development of the masonry castle as fortification, home, and administrative center is a feature of the history of medieval architecture. The great tower or keep is a dominant feature of the 12th- and 13th-century castle, although these towers can be found as late as the 15th century. Strong defenses through twin-towered gatehouses and mural towers along the curtain walls are hallmarks of defenses, but these towers also provided accommodation. Domestic features such as halls, private chambers, kitchens, stables, and other ancillary buildings would be found in the interiors, while gardens either inside the walls or immediately outside are known from documentary sources. The later Middle Ages, from the 14th century, witnessed few new castles built, apart from the tower houses of Ireland and Scotland, but in England in particular there was a growing sophistication in the domestic ranges built both by the monarch and the great lords of the land. While several of the major castles remain occupied as homes, many earth and timber structures had a limited life, particularly in England, with examples of longer use elsewhere, while others suffered in the British civil wars between king and parliament of the 1640s.

General Overviews pre-1945

Although much has been written on the castle from the 1980s, especially because of new research, survey and excavation, the following represent important early works about which the student of the castle should be aware. Clark 1884 is regarded as the foundation on which castle studies were built, but the work of Round 1902–1903 and Armitage 1912 corrected some of his theories. Bates 1891 and Curwen 1913 created the starting point for the study of the castles of the north of England, while Thompson 1912 became the standard textbook on castle architecture in the first half of the 20th century. Toy 1939 studied more than castles in his survey of fortification through the ages, but it remains an important book.

  • Armitage, Ella S. The Early Castles of the British Isles. London: John Murray, 1912.

    One of the most important works in castellology, albeit dated in parts, this work, based in part on her previous papers and those of John Horace Round, established once and for all the Norman origin of the earthwork and timber castle.

  • Bates, Cadwallader John. The Border Holds of Northumberland. Vol. 1. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1891.

    One of the most detailed early surveys of an area of northeast England that numbers over 130 surviving castles and towers and remains an essential work of reference for the study of castles in the north.

  • Clark, George Thomas. Mediaeval Military Architecture in England. 2 vols. London: Wyman & Sons, 1884.

    Clark is regarded as the founding father of British castellology, and this book is a compendium of papers published in a range of academic journals and covers numerous castles in England and Wales, with some sites in Scotland and France together with introductory chapters.

  • Curwen, John F. The Castles and Fortified Towers of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands. Kendal, UK: Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 1913.

    Basically, a companion to Bates’s survey in that it covers the northwest of England, an area with over a hundred surviving structures. Now augmented by Denis R. Perriam and John Robinson, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria from the same publisher, 1998.

  • Round, John Horace. “The Castles of the Conquest.” Archaeologia 58 (1902–1903): 313–340.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0261340900008973

    A key paper in the establishment of the theory that the motte and bailey castle was a structure introduced by the Normans either side of the Conquest of 1066.

  • Thompson, Alexander Hamilton. Military Architecture in England in During the Middle Ages. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1912.

    This work became the main textbook for the study of castles in the first half of the 20th century, and its analysis of the military and domestic aspects of the castle remains of value.

  • Toy, Sidney. Castles: A Short History of Fortification from 1600 B.C. to A.D. 1600. London: Heinemann, 1939.

    Although this work by an architect covers more than the medieval castle, his text as well as his own detailed drawings make this work, and Toy’s later monographs, noteworthy.

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