When William, Duke of Normandy landed on the East Sussex coast on 28th September 1066 with a fleet of 700 ships containing an army, he changed the course of English history forever.
Going on to win the Battle of Hastings against King Harold just days later, William the Conqueror, as he became known, built a series of motte and bailey castles across England to establish his rule over the Anglo-Saxon people.
From hastily erected earthen mounds topped with wooden palisades to more permanent stone structures, the term motte and bailey derive from the Old French language, motte meaning ‘turfy’ and bailey meaning low yard, in other words, a mound with enclosed land.
The layout of both the earlier and later types of the castle remained much the same, the wooden enclosed courtyard being replaced by stone walls and the motte being replaced by the stone keep.
It is thought that the Normans built 500 motte and bailey castles followed by the motte and keep castles in the first 20 years after the Battle of Hastings… and 90 of these historic Norman Castles still exist in England today!
The best 24 Norman Castles to visit in England
1. Pevensey castle
Located in East Sussex on a peninsula that existed at that time, Pevensey Castle was the first one in England that William the Conqueror erected after his arrival onto English soil on the 28th September 1066. Initially built as a temporary castle to shelter his troops, the hasty construction made use of an older Roman fortification with a ditch separating the castle from the mainland.
It is thought that William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert Curthose late gave Pevensey Castle its permanent defences making this a full-scale Saxon Shore Fort with the Roman perimeter wall refortified and two baileys created within. Two-thirds of the towered Normal walls of this impressive castle ruin still standing today.
Where: Pevensey, East Sussex
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10 am April-October and Weekends from 10 am November-March.
2. Dover Castle
The second castle built by William the Conqueror, Dover Castle was the first motte and bailey castle erected immediately after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 on the site of a former Iron Age hill settlement.
Little of the original ringwork defensive wall exists today, Dover Castle having been adapted and rebuilt first by King Henry II in the 1180’s and later by King John and Henry III.
However, visitors to Dover Castle can get a taste of Norman heritage thanks to the interior of the great stone keep which was built for Henry II recreated to look like the interior of an authentic Norman castle.
Where: Dover, Kent
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10 am April-October and weekends only from 10 am November-March.
3. Rochester Castle
Despite standing in ruin, this is one of the most impressive Norman castles to be seen in England today with its Norman perimeter walls remaining intact along with the later addition of the iconic 113 feet tall Norman tower-keep.
The building of Rochester Castle was started in 1087 by Gundolf, Bishop of Rochester, one of William the Conqueror’s finest architects who went on to design the Tower of London.
Strategically located beside London Road, this castle controlled an important crossing point on the River Medway, rebuilt twice it remained a viable castle right through until the 16th century.
Where: Rochester, Kent
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am-6 pm April-September and 10 am-4 pm October-March.
4. Colchester Castle
One of William the Conqueror’s original three Royal castles, the building of Colchester Castle was started in 1076 under the supervision of Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester.
Built upon the ruins of the Roman Temple of Claudius (Colchester being the first Roman capital of Britain), William the Conqueror ordered a stone castle to be built at this strategic location between East Anglia and London but there was a lack of local stone of high enough quality so the builders plundered Roman Colchester in order to build the great keep, the largest in England.
Today the castle, with its mostly intact Keep contains a museum with interactive displays and many exhibits.
Where: Colchester, Essex
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm and Sunday 11 am-5 pm
5. Alnwick Castle
This castle, the second largest inhabited castle in England, was founded as a motte and bailey style castle by Yves de Vescy in 1096 following the Norman conquest as a way to protect the border whilst symbolising the power of the new Norman barons.
Built with 2 baileys, a 7 metres deep moat, and 2 metre thick walls it was attacked by William the Lion, King of Scotland, in 1173 and 1174 but was not captured. Rebuilt and renovated a number of times, Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percy Dukes of Northumberland since the 11th century, this noble family having arrived from France with William the Conqueror, their ancestors still owning the castle today.
Where: Alnwick, Northumberland
Opening Hours: Open daily 10 am – 5.30 pm
6. Durham Castle
Built under the orders of William the Conqueror in 1072, soon after the Normans entered the North of England, Durham Castle was vital in its defence against the Scots and Danes and its control of the English rebellions. It is unclear whether Durham Castle was first built using wood or stone but it is thought to have been built upon an older Anglo-Saxon fort.
Initially, the building of this great castle was undertaken by Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland but he rebelled against William the Conqueror so was executed in 1076, the castle then falling under the control of Walcher who purchased the earldom becoming the first Prince-Bishop of Durham.
Durham Castle was rebuilt and extended multiple times by the Bishops of Durham but substantial elements of the Norman architecture still survive today with the chapel, undercroft of the great hall, 2 Norman arches, and the Norman range found on the north side of the courtyard.
Where: Durham, Northumberland
Opening Hours: Term time daily tours at 1.15 pm, 2.15 pm, 3.15 pm and 4.15 pm. Outside of term time, tours take place at 10.15 am, 11.15 am and 12.15 pm.
Check out the best castles to visit in Durham.
7. Lincoln Castle
In 1067 William the Conqueror passed through Lincoln on his way North. He noted the strategically placed old Roman fortress located atop a hill overlooking the River Witham as well as the city (which had the old Roman road between London and York running through it) and ordered a new castle to be built on the strategically important site a year later, the building of the castle destroying 166 plots of land which was initially used to garrison William’s army.
Unusual in its design as it features two mottes instead of one, Lincoln Castle went on to be the focal point of 2 battles which changed the course of English history forever.
Where: Lincoln, Lincolnshire, East Midlands
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am
8. Oxford Castle
Founded in 1071 by Norman Baron Robert D’Oilly who fought alongside William the Conqueror in 1066, the site for Oxford Castle was chosen for its strategic position near the river whilst making use of the already existing Saxon town defences. Originally built as an earth and timber motte and bailey castle with moat.
Oxford Castle was later rebuilt from stone and expanded over the ages. Visitors can still see the 20 metres tall Norman Motte aka the mound, the Norman chapel crypt, as well as climb to the top of the Norman St George’s Tower.
Where: Oxford, Oxfordshire
Opening Times: Castle tours take place daily between 10 am-4.20 pm.
9. Totnes Castle
One of the best and least altered traditional motte and bailey castles in England, Totnes Castle was founded by Norman Knight Judhael of Brittany shortly after the 1066 conquest.
Judhael had been granted estates around Devon by William the Conqueror due to his support and Totnes Castle was initially built as an earth and timber motte and bailey castle, the mound rising 17.5 metres high with a circumference of 56 metres – an impressive site meant to instil Norman authority across the prestigious Anglo-Saxon market town after a revolt against Norman rule.
The castle was later rebuilt out of stone when Henry I took to the throne though what we see today mostly dates from the reign of Edward II.
Where: Totnes, Devon
Opening Times: Open daily April-November from 10 am. Weekends only December-March.
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10. Ludlow Castle
One of the first stone motte and bailey castles to be built in England after the Norman conquest, Ludlow Castle was a Welsh Border stronghold thought to have been founded by Walter de Lacy sometime around 1085 though an earlier wooden castle may have been built by Norman Joce de Dinham.
Though the castle was extensively remodelled during the Middle Ages and today stands in ruin, visitors can still see the remains of the Norman chapel that stands within the inner bailey, the West door with chevron mouldings and circular nave the best remaining pieces of the chapel from Norman times.
Where: Ludlow, Shropshire
Opening Times: Open daily10am-4pm
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11. Canterbury Castle
Two castles were built in Canterbury by the Normans who made use of the fortified Roman town walls. The first, in 1066, was a temporary earth and timber motte and bailey castle on the site of an older fortification at Dane John, the mound still visible today within Dane John Gardens.
The later stone castle was constructed between 1070-1086 at a new site opposite Worth Gate, with a large stone keep finished in the reign of King Henry I which became 1 of 3 Royal Castles in Kent. The stone castle stands in ruin today with only the outer walls visible.
Where: Canterbury, Kent
Opening Times: Open 24/7
12. Launceston Castle
Thought to have been built in 1068, following the capture of Exeter in the same year, Launceston Castle was initially built as an earth and timber castle by William the Conqueror’s half brother Robert, Count of Mortain.
Built to control the area between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, as well as access into Cornwall over the Polson ford, Launceston Castle was later rebuilt in stone by Richard, Earl of Cornwall at which point the motte was enlarged with outer gatehouses and a central round tower.
Where: Launceston, Cornwall
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am May-October. Closed November-April
13. Restormel Castle
Thought to have been founded around 1100 by the Norman nobleman Robert, Count of Mortain who was the 2nd Earl of Cornwall and half-brother of William the Conqueror, this spectacular stone ringwork and bailey castle (which originally would have been an earth and timber motte and bailey castle) is 1 of 4 chief Norman castles in Cornwall.
Built to control the main crossing point over the River Fowey, and to suppress people in the South West following the Norman invasion, little is known about the castles earliest history prior to its rebuild from stone in the late 13th century.
Where: Lostwithiel, Cornwall
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am May-October
14. Pontefract Castle
A temporary wooden fortification was built here around 1070, later rebuilt as an earth and timber motte and bailey castle by Ilbert de Lacy in the 1080s on the site of an Anglo-Saxon manor and burial ground.
Built to control the Anglo-Saxon population and becoming ‘the key to the North’ due to its location, Pontefract Castle went on to become the most formidable Royal castle in the North of England.
Where: Pontefract, West Yorkshire
Opening Times: Open daily 10 am-4 pm
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15. Lydford Castle
William the Conqueror ordered a small earth and timber castle to be built at this prosperous Anglo-Saxon town soon after the siege and capture of Exeter in 1068.
Located on the South-West tip of Lydford town, then known as Hlidan, the earthworks still remain of the original motte and bailey castle which had 5 wooden buildings contained within a moon-shaped rampart with a ditch.
A stone tower was later built beside the original castle allowing visitors to see a rare example of an early Norman earthworks castle, or what remains of its footprint.
Where: Lydford, Devon
Opening Times: Open daily dawn-dusk
16. Richmond Castle
Initially built by Alan Rufus aka Alan the Red in the 1070s, Richmond Castle is one of the most complete examples of an early Norman castle made from stone. Built to control and subdue the North of England, Richmond Castle was later expanded by Alan Rufus’ cousin, Conrad who built the castle’s Keep. Today, visitors to the castle ruins can follow the castle’s history from Norman times onwards at the permanent exhibition centre.
Where: Richmond, North Yorkshire
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am April-October and weekends November-March
17. Lewes Castle
One of the first castles to be built after the Battle of Hastings, Lewes Castle was originally an earth and timber motte and bailey castle built by William de Warenne between 1068-1070.
Then, for reasons unknown to us today, a second motte was built in 1100 directly opposite the first motte. Later rebuilt from stone by Hamelin de Plantagenet, the bailey of Lewes castle can still be seen today as can the second motte which contains the surviving castle ruins, little remaining on top of the first motte which today simply resembles a small hill.
Where: Lewes, East Sussex
Opening Times: Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am plus Bank Holiday Mondays.
18. Longtown Castle
Founded by Walter de Lacy in the 1180s on top of Roman earthworks, Longtown Castle was originally known as Ewiah Lacey Castle. Built as a classic motte and bailey castle close to the Welsh border, it was fortified during the 12th century.
Little but the 35 feet high motte and the ruined gatehouse remain of the castle today, however, take note when you drive into the Medieval town as the minor road cuts through what would have once been the outer baileys.
Where: Longtown, Herefordshire
Opening Times: Open daily dawn-dusk
19. Tamworth Castle
Founded by nobleman Robert le Dispenser, the main steward of William the Conqueror, Tamworth Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest, sometime around 1070, at the South-west corner of the prosperous Saxon town as an earth and timber motte and bailey castle.
Later inherited by Robert Marmion and built from stone using the same footprint as the earthworks castle, it remained in possession of the Lords of Marmion for the next 200 years.
Where: Tamworth, Staffordshire
Opening Times: Tuesday-Sunday 10.30 am-3 pm April-September and weekends 11 am-2.30 pm October-March
20. Dudley Castle
Founded by Ansculf de Picquigny around 1070, shortly after the Norman Conquest, Dudley Castle was originally an earth and timber motte and bailey castle, rebuilt in stone during the 12th century by the Paganel family who became Lords of Dudley. However, the castle was demolished on the orders of King Henry II, the castle ruins seen today dating from the 13th century though visitors can still see the 9 metres high Norman motte.
Where: Dudley, West Midlands
Opening Times: Now part of Dudley Zoo, open daily from 10 am
21. Conisbrough Castle
Founded by the Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne soon after the Battle of Hastings on a Saxon settlement, it is unknown whether the earth and timber structure of Conisbrough Castle took the form of a classic motte and bailey castle or a ringwork fort. However, we do know that it was part of a network of Norman fortresses built to protect Yorkshire and the North, later rebuilt in stone and becoming the property of the Dukes of York.
Where: Conisbrough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Opening Times: Daily from 10 am
William the Conqueror built Windsor Castle on the edge of a Royal Saxon hunting ground in 1070, the earth and timber castle taking 16 years to build with its double bailey and motte in between.
The Round Tower that we see today would have been the Norman Keep prior to 1170. Built to protect the Western approach to London, Windsor was the ideal location for a Royal residence, becoming a palace made from stone in the 12th century but mostly keeping its original layout due to the confines of the surrounding town.
Where: Windsor, Berkshire
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am when the Queen is not in residence
Warwick Castle was founded in 1068 by Henry de Beaumont (who would later become Henry de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick) for William the Conqueror.
He ordered an earth and timber motte and bailey castle to be built on a bend of the River Avon on the site of an Anglo-Saxon fortified town where an even older Roman Fort had once stood.
Warwick Castle was later rebuilt in stone by John de Plessis in the 12th century and went on to take centre stage in the Baron’s War and War of the Roses.
Where: Warwick, Warwickshire
Opening Times: Open daily from 10 am
24. Tower of London
Founded at the end of 1066 when William the Conqueror started construction of his symbolic White Tower soon after his coronation at Westminster Abbey, the iconic Tower of London became William’s greatest fortress.
Thought to have been built on the site of an old Roman city wall, white stone for the build was imported from Caen in Normandy with Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, under seeing the 20 – year construction. Today, visitors to the White Tower will find London’s oldest surviving Norman church, St John’s Chapel within the iconic white walls.
Where: City of London
Opening Times: Open daily 9/10am-5.30pm