The Myth of the Motte and Bailey Castle in Scotland – free download

Over the last few years whilst I have been working on Fortress Scotland – and to be honest just pootling around the countryside looking at castles – something has become very clear to me.

There are a lot of sites which are labelled as motte and bailey castles in Scotland that just don’t seem to match that description. I was not born or brought up in Scotland, but in East Anglia, which is full of motte and bailey castles. They are mostly very similar in design – a large cone-shaped motte surrounded by a ditch, next to a kidney shaped bailey, also surrounded by a ditch. On the top was a wooden tower, later replaced by a stone keep.

Of course there are variations on this theme – some castles have more than one bailey, and at least two(rather bizarrely, I always thought!) has more than one motte – Lincoln and Lewes. Some are obviously bigger than others. But anywhere from Warkworth to Hastings, from Norwich to Launceston, and from Carlisle to Cardiff, you can find broadly similar castles. Not one in Scotland looks like this. I wanted to know why this was the case, and I wanted to know why they were called motte and bailey castles when to me they didn’t look much like them. Have a look – search for Berkhamsted Castle or Pickering Castle. They are both nice tidy motte and bailey castles. Berkhamsted has one bailey, Pickering has two, but you can clearly see the original layout.

So, I decided to check it all out, and find out what I could. The results were very interesting, so I put everything together in this article – “The myth of the motte and bailey castle in Scotland”. I could only find two castles that were a good match, in all of Scotland – and they are both on the main western invasion route into Scotland, in the Borders. There is clearly a lot more work to be done on this – by other people I hasten to add – but I think this is a good start to the discussion. I hope you enjoy it.

Rather than put this all up as a blog, I thought I’d put it here as a free downloadable pdf. Its a bit long otherwise…

The myth of the motte and bailey castle in Scotland