Castle Facts for Children and Teachers

Castles are full of history and home to lots of exciting stories, but why were castles built in England and who built them? Read on to learn lots of castle facts.

 

Who built the first castles in England?

The Normans built the first castles in England after winning the Battle of Hastings. The Normans were Vikings who were originally from Denmark, Norway and Iceland. In the 10th century, the French King, Charles the Simple, gave some land in the North of France to a Viking chief named Rollo. He did this because he hoped it would stop the Vikings from invading France. This bit of land became known as Northmannia, which was shortened to Normandy.  

 

Castle Facts - who built the first castles in England This statue is of William the Conqueror. William is riding the horse and Rollo is one of the statues surrounding the base.

 

What happened in the Battle of Hastings?

The Battle of Hastings was a battle between the Norman-French army, led by William, the Duke of Normandy and an English army led by Harold Godwinson, the Anglo-Saxon King. The Normans invaded England and met the English army near Hastings on 14th October 1066. Harold was killed and the Normans won this battle. 

 

Castle facts - the Battle of Hastings This section of the Bayeux Tapestry shows the death of King Harold during the Battle of Hastings.

 

What is the Bayeux Tapestry?

The Bayeux Tapestry is a sewn record of the Battle of Hastings. It shows the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself and who was involved. This tapestry is 70 metres long, 50 centimetres tall and is over 900 years old. It was sewn with wool yarn using a technique called embroidery.

 

Teachers: If you want to learn more about the Bayeux Tapestry, check out our castles cross-curricular art lessons.

 

Castle facts - Bayeux Tapestry detail This photo shows the stitching on the Bayeux Tapestry in detail.

 

Why were the first castles in England built?

The Normans needed to build castles to protect their soldiers. Lots of people living in England were not happy about having a new king, so there were lots of rebellions. As well as making new laws, one of the changes the Normans introduced was a new language. They mixed Anglo-Saxon English with Norman French, this new language became the English we speak today. 

 

Castle facts - building a motte and bailey Building of a Motte and bailey castle illustrated on the Bayeux Tapestry.

 

What are motte and bailey castles?

Motte and bailey castles are an enclosure (bailey) that is built on a mound (motte). A keep was built on the top of a mound with steep sides so people couldn’t run up them. At the bottom of the motte there was a wooden enclosure with buildings inside. The buildings included stables, kitchens and homes. The buildings and fences were built using wood. 

 

Why were motte and bailey castles built?

Motte and bailey castles were quick and cheap to build, and easy to defend. It took a few weeks to build one of these castles. They were the first proper castles built in England. 

 

Archaeologists have studied the number of mottes in England and think the Normans built around 500 motte and bailey castles. This would mean they built one every two weeks in the two years after 1066. 

 

Castle facts - motte and bailey castle diagram A diagram of a motte and bailey castle, showing a raised earth mound and enclosed courtyard, surrounded by water ditch.

 

What are stone keep castles?

Stone keep castles were castles built from stone. Once the English stopped rebelling against the Normans quite as much, the Normans were able to improve their castles. Lots of motte and bailey castles had their wooden structures replaced with stone to make them stronger. These castles are also called square keep castles. 

 

Why were stone keep castles built?

Stone keep castles were easy to defend. They were a sign of power and strength. Stone keep castles were bigger than motte and bailey castles so they could protect more people. 

 

Castle facts - stone castle diagram Illustration of a stone castle on mound overlooking a settlement surrounded by stone wall.

 

What are concentric castles?

Concentric castles were bigger than stone keep castles. They were circular castles that were surrounded by two or more circular stone walls. Concentric castles were mainly built in England and Wales by Edward I.

 

What are some famous UK castles?

 

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.

Castle facts - Windsor castle Windsor Castle was originally built as a motte-and-bailey castle. It has been gradually modified with stone fortifications.

The White Tower is the tower in the Tower of London. It was built to scare Londoners. What it is used for has changed lots over the years.

Castle facts - The White Tower The White Tower at the Tower of London is an example of a stone keep.

Rochester Castle was built protect England's south-east coast from invasion.

Castle facts - Rochester Castle Rochester Castle in Kent is an example of a stone keep.

Conway Castle was built by Edward I, during his conquest of Wales. It formed part of a ring of castles in Wales.

Castle facts - Conway castle Conway castle in North Wales is an example of a concentric castle.

Harlech Castle was built by Edward I. It is a World Heritage site as described by UNESCO as one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe".

Castle Facts - Harlech Castle Harlech castle is an example of a concentric castle.

 


Teachers: If you're looking for more in-depth learning and facts about castles, check out our Castles Topic lessons for KS1 or our Norman Conquest lessons for LKS2.


Catherine LynchCatherine Lynch

@planbeecath

Hi! I'm a former primary school teacher and resource creator at PlanBee. I've nearly completed my post grad training in Play Therapy and am interested in mental health and wellbeing in schools and government education policy. I enjoy creating practical lessons, especially topic lessons that have a science or English focus. Read more


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