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The motte-and-bailey, a Norman proto-castle


The motte-and-bailey was a key form of strategic infrastructure in the Normans' conquest of England and, a century later, in the Anglo-Norman partial-conquest of Ireland.

The motte-and-bailey was a type of proto-castle, built as an advance position in an offensive military campaign. The motte was a conical mound of earth topped by a wooden or stone military tower, the "keep." The bailey was a small living space encircling or adjacent to the motte.

The bailey, often separated from the motte by a removable bridge across a trench, was itself generally surrounded by a similar trench, and a mound of soil. A wooden-stake fence would stand atop the ring-mound.

The tower (or keep) upon the motte, of course, would serve as the last refuge during attack, and as a vantage from which to fight.

The tactic of building the motte-and-bailey was an important asset for the Normans in their invasion of England. They built the first one at Hastings, upon arrival. They built many — William The Conqueror having declared himself king of all England with an army of 10,000 in a nation of a million or more.

It was after a territory had become suitably conquered that the Normans (and Anglo/Cambro/Flemish-Normans) began making the stone castles for which they are famous, which themselves served only a relatively brief military role.


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