Medieval Monday: Motte-and-bailey

For this week’s Medieval Monday, we’ll be taking a look at the motte-and-bailey. “Holy Batman”, you may be saying, “I haven’t a damned clue what a motte-and-bailey is. Is it drinkable, Rachel?” No, no it is not. Though I do mightily enjoy a sip of Bailey’s Irish Creme here and now. We’re getting sidetracked though.

In the simplest definition, a motte-and-bailey was a highly important medieval fortification made up of two structures. A motte was an earthen mound, which was sometimes artificial, that was topped with a wooden or stone keep. A bailey was a type of enclosed courtyard that was built next to the motte.

Mottes were raised earthworks that were flattened on top, and these had a tendency to vary considerably in size (mostly depending on how much wealth and forced labor the lord had at hand). The motte had very steep sides, and usually had a protective ditch dug around it from the process of digging up earth to create the mound. On top of the motte would be built the keep, and if the medieval folks decided to go the extra mile they would even build a wall around the keep on top of this ridiculously steep miniature mountain. As you can imagine, this was not an easy structure to lay siege to. The keep served as a look-out point, an elevated and well-defended fighting point, as well as the home for the lord of the town. The keep itself could sometimes be as tall as three stories. The ground or first floor would consist of the kitchens and storeroom, the second floor would sometimes serve as the great hall, and the third would then be the lord’s apartments.

The bailey was an enclosure overlooked by the motte, and was surrounded by a palisade and maybe even another ditch which would connect to the ditch around the motte to sometimes create a figure-eight. Oftentimes the bailey was built upon a much shorter raised mound, and the only entrance was through a wooden gate that generally had guardhouses built to either side of the gate itself. The bailey was the center of the town’s activity, and would often contain many of the more important inner workings such as a chapel, barracks, forges, stables, and buildings for storing food, weapons and equipment.

The motte-and-bailey were linked to each other either by use of a wooden flying bridge that would stretch between the two, or by steps being cut into the side of the motte that would lead down into the bailey. If a motte-and-bailey were built near a water source it would be diverted to fill the ditches that surrounded both the motte and the bailey, thus creating a water-filled moat. Many motte-and-bailey castles were covered in white plaster to further fortify them, as well as give the appearance of being made of stone. Just so you know, stone structures -aside from being difficult to assail and damage – were also a very important symbol of wealth and high-standing.

Thus wraps up this week’s Medieval Monday. Below are a few pictures of the variations that came in the motte-and-bailey design.

Motte-and-bailey with steps.
Motte-and-bailey with a flying bridge.
Motte-and-bailey with multiple baileys.