Motte and Bailey Castles in Ayrshire

Prior to 1066, there were no castles in Britain. There were fortified villages and towns, but the idea of a castle - a fortified residence, was yet to appear.
Motte and bailey castles were first built in France during the 11th century.  They consist of a high mound of soil, either natural or man-made, surrounded by a flat courtyard area which is defended by a wooden fence and a ditch.  On top of the high mound a simple wooden keep would be constructed.  When Duke William of Normandy landed near Hastings in 1066 to claim the throne he believed had been promised him he immediately began building motte and bailey castles.  The first three castles were probably Pevensey, Hastings and Dover.

Motte and bailey castles were a clever new invention.  They were easy to build, in fact it was claimed by William of Poitiers who was the new King William the conqueror's chaplain, that Dover Motte and bailey castle was built in eight days.  There were also easy to defend providing a fortified residence for the Norman noble and his family and the base for his soldiers from which they could range out and control the surrounding land, returning to the safety of the castle to rest and live.  Another advantage with them was that they could easily be modified at a later stage, adding for example a stone keep in place of the wooden one.


The Anglo Saxon nobles surrendered to William at Berkhamstead Castle, possibly one of the finest Motte and bailey castles built by William.  However, there followed many rebellions throughout the country and King William dealt with these by marching into the area with his army and building a Motte and bailey castle.  In 1069, there was a major rebellion in which his castle at York was burnt to the ground.  In fury, King William destroyed large areas of northern England in what has become known as the " harrying of the North".  King William then extended his policy of castle building by giving his Norman knights large areas of land and requiring them to build a castle for security.  In total about 500 Motte and bailey castles were built by the Normans in England, about 70 of them during William's reign.

In 1124, David I of Scotland was born in Dunfermline to Malcolm Canmore.  He was raised in an English (Norman) court, and came to the Scottish throne when he was 44 years old.  He brought with him many Norman ways including the Norman feudal system as well as many other reforms to the way the country was governed.  He brought many Norman friends to Scotland to whom he gave vast areas of land in return for their military support.  Onto these lands were built Motte and bailey castles.  Over time, these Norman nobles became integrated with the local celts just as Robert the Bruce's father (Robert De Bruce) became the Earl of Carrick by marriage to a Celtic noble lady at Turnberry Castle.

Many of the Motte and bailey castles evolved into stone keeps and then into fine stone castles such as at Dundonald.  Some however, did not, but the original Motte can still be seen today such as at Tarbolton and Law Motte, just south of Stewarton.



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