Castles in Twelfth Century Scotland

The Castle

    When we think of castles in the Middle Ages, most people think of large stone fortresses, but those castles didn’t emerge until the late Middle Ages. In the twelfth century, most noblemen in Britain lived in a collection of wooden buildings surrounded by a palisade wall made of logs. This kind of castle was called  “motte and bailey.” The bailey was all the land enclosed by the wall. The motte was a hill, sometimes natural, sometimes man-made, that held a fortified building called “a keep.” The keep often had no windows or doors on the first floor and could only be entered by a ladder leading to the upper storeys. The keep was the most defensible part of the bailey. When under attack, the household would take refuge in the keep to make a defensive stand. Gradually, the keep was made out of stone rather than wood, to make it more likely to survive attack. The stone castles of the late medieval period evolved from these keeps.

The first stone castles were built near the end of the 12th century. Long before and even after, the motte and bailey was more typical. In outlying areas, such as the border between England and Wales, the motte and bailey castle was a true fortress, designed to survive attack.In more peaceful areas, such as Teviotdale where An Earthly Knight is set, the bailey was more of a family home than a fortress.

To find out more about the motte and bailey castle, visit the motte and bailey web page which is about castles in Wales.

Because the English and the Welsh were not at peace, these motte and bailey castles were more like fortresses than the ones described in An Earthly Knight.

How were the buildings laid out?

The Avenel bailey, as I imagined it, would have been typical for a minor noble with limited funds. Because times were peaceful, it did not have a motte or a keep. Inside the surrounding wooden palisade was a great hall, a stable, the mews which housed the birds of prey, a kitchen shed, a small family building called “the bower,” a chapel for daily worship, kennels where the hunting dogs were kept and a blacksmith’s forge. There were also probably some sheds for storing food near the kitchen and perhaps a dairy where milk could be processed into cream and cheese. There was also plenty of room for kitchen gardens and open grassy space. Outside the bailey were other buildings belonging to the lord, a mill to grind grain into wheat, a large barn where grain was stored for the winter, and ale house for brewing ale.

The main building was the great hall, where meals and most social interaction took place. I have provided the family with the bower for their private quarters but this arrangement would have been uncommon at the time. Modern ideas about privacy had not yet developed, and most people lived, ate and slept among others as a matter of course. In many households, everyone,  from the lowest kitchen helper to the lord’s family, bedded down on the floor of the great hall every night. Gradually, the idea of a private room at the back of the hall (or in the upper storeys in grander buildings) developed. This room was often called “a solar.” I assumed there would be a solar at Marchmont castle, which was a much finer dwelling.

It may be hard to imagine the fireplace as an invention, but fireplaces with chimneys were not developed until centuries after this time. The great hall would be heated by a fire made on the floor below a smoke hole in the roof. This arrangement would not have cleared the smoke out of the building in any reliable way.  The kitchen was always a separate building because it was likely to burn down. It was probably not a very sturdy structure, and much of the food may have been stored in other buildings to prevent serious loss of supplies if a fire were to burn it down.

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