Key Castle Facts

For further learning- and to help with school history- here are some key facts about castles, the Normans and Medieval life & times.

Many of these facts are relevant to the British Key Stage 1, 2 & 3 (KS1, 2 & 3) school history syllabus for pupils years 1- 9.
Each key question is first followed by a short answer, and then some more information to improve understanding, and finally- in italics- a fun fact or two.

What is a Castle?

Ans. A castle is a strongly fortified residence of a lord.

The name ‘castle’ is often misused and misunderstood. All kinds of ancient fortifications are sometimes called ‘castles’, and- to complicate things further- the word chateau is still used in France for any large country house of social distinction with or without fortification. The castle proper however, is a Norman importation from France, dating (in England) from the Norman Invasion of 1066 up to the end of the Medieval era in the 15th century.

The above definition includes a few key points, so let’s look at each in turn.

All societies have fortifications or defences of some kind, and it is the dual nature of fortified residence (or residential fortress) that sets castles apart from 1) other forms of fortifications which weren’t private residences, and 2) palaces which weren’t designed for defence.

The strongly fortified nature of the castle helps distinguish the castle from the less-strongly defended manor house, which might otherwise be confused for a castle.

Castles were also exclusive to the residence of a lord, but not necessarily the king or prince. This important distinction tells us of the feudal society of the time- an institution dominated by the military & military aristocracy, with the king sat in majesty at the apex, but not unique in lordship. The private- as opposed to public or communal- nature, distinguishes the castle from the communal fortified town or city, and from the Tudor coastal forts which were not only exclusively military but also belonged to the state. 

Amongst all it’s defences, a castle’s wall height could be key- as demonstrated in 1715, when a Jacobite plot to capture Edinburgh Castle failed because the rope ladders the attackers brought with them were six feet too short.

It wasn’t all hard work in a castle- the world’s oldest football was found at Stirling Castle. The ball is made from cow’s leather and a pig’s bladder, and dates from before 1540.

Kings & Queens Timeline

  • 1066 - 1154

    The Normans

    The Normans were descendants of Vikings who had settled by force in North East France around the mouth of the Seine River. The land they occupied became known as Normandy. (The name Normandy comes from the French normand, meaning Norsemen and Normans.)

    • King William I – the Conqueror, 1066 – 1087
    • King William II- Rufus, 1087 – 1100
    • King Henry I, 1100 – 1135
    • King Stephen, 1135 – 1154
    • (Empress Matilda 1141)
  • 1154 - 1485

    The Plantagenets

    The Plantagenets were a huge powerful family not just in England but throughout Europe. The first Plantagenet was King Henry II, whose father owned vast lands in Anjou- an area as big as Normandy around the modern town of Tours. Henry’s wife, Eleanor, ruled the even larger territory to the south called Aquitaine. Plantagenet Kings were thus the richest family in Europe, and ruled England and half of France. (Their name came from planta genista, the Latin for yellow broom flower, which the Counts of Anjou wore as an emblem on their helmets.)

    This dynasty is normally subdivided into three parts.

    • 1154-1216,The first Plantagenet kings were the Angevins
    • King Henry II, 1154 – 1189
    • King Richard I – the Lionheart, 1189 – 1199
    • King John 1, 1199 – 1216
    • 1216 – 1399,The Plantagenets
    • King Henry III, 1216 – 1272
    • King Edward I, 1272 – 1307
    • King Edward II, 1307 – 1327
    • King Edward III, 1327 – 1377
    • Richard I, 1377 – 1399
    • 1399 – 1485, The Houses of Lancaster and of York. (Normally separated from main stream Plantagenets because they are considered the first truly English rather than French Kings)
    • 1399 – 1461, The House of Lancaster
    • Henry IV, 1399 – 1413
    • Henry V, 1413 – 1422
    • Henry VI, 1422 – 1461, 1470 – 1471
    • 1461 – 1485, The House of York
    • King Edward IV, 1461 -1470, 1471 – 1483
    • King Edward V, 1483 – 1483
    • King Richard III, 1483 – 1485
  • 1485 - 1603

    The Tudors

    The Tudors were Welsh. They brought peace to England after 150 years of virtually continuous warfare, and encouraged new religious ideas, overseas exploration and colonisation.

    • King Henry VII, 1485 – 1509
    • King Henry VIII, 1509 – 1547
    • King Edward VI, 1547 – 1553
    • Jane Grey, 1554
    • Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) 1553 – 1558
    • Queen Elizabeth I, 1558 – 1603

Timeline of William I- the Conqueror

William I (1028 – 1087), usually known as William the Conqueror, and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087.
A descendant of Rollo, he was Duke of Normandy (as William II) from 1035 onward. After a long struggle to establish his power, by 1060 his hold on Normandy was secure, and he launched the Norman conquest of England six years later.
The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands, and by difficulties with his eldest son.
Here are some of the major events in the life of William I and his conquest of England.

  • 1035

    Having ruled Normandy for eight years, Duke Robert I falls ill on his return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and dies at Nicaea. By prior agreement, Robert is succeeded by his illegitimate son William, the future Conqueror of England, then aged just seven or eight. A decade of violence follows as Norman nobles fight each other for control of the young duke and his duchy.

  • 1051

    Duke William visits England. His rule in Normandy now established, and newly married to Matilda of Flanders, William crosses the Channel to speak with his second cousin, King Edward the Confessor of England. The subject of their conference is unknown, but later chroniclers assert that at this time Edward promises William the English succession.

  • 1059

    Pope Nicholas II invests the Norman Robert Guiscard with the dukedoms of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. The popes had opposed the ambitions of the Normans in Italy, but defeat in battle at Civitate in southern Italy in 1053 had caused them to reconsider. In 1060 Robert and his brother Roger embark on the conquest of Sicily, and Roger subsequently rules the island as its great count.

  • 1066

    Edward the Confessor dies on 5 January, and the throne is immediately taken by his brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, the most powerful earl in England, with strong popular backing. Harold defeats his Norwegian namesake at Stamford Bridge in September. But on 14 October William’s Norman forces defeat Harold’s army at Hastings. William is crowned as England’s king on Christmas Day.

  • 1069

    The initial years of William’s reign in England are marked by almost constant English rebellion, matched by violent Norman repression. In autumn 1069 a fresh English revolt is triggered by a Danish invasion. William responds by laying waste to the country north of the Humber, destroying crops and cattle in a campaign that becomes known as the Harrying of the North, leading to widespread famine and death.

  • 1086

    Worried by the threat of Danish invasion, at Christmas 1085 William decides to survey his kingdom – partly to assess its wealth, and partly to settle arguments about landownership created by 20 years of conquest. The results, later redacted and compiled as Domesday Book, are probably brought to him in August 1086 at Old Sarum (near Salisbury), where all landowners swear an oath to him.

  • 1087

    William retaliates against a French invasion of Normandy. While attacking Mantes he is taken ill or injured – possibly damaging his intestines on the pommel of his saddle – and retires to Rouen, where he dies on 9 September. Taken to Caen for burial, his body proves too fat for its stone sarcophagus, and bursts when monks try to force it in. His eldest surviving son, Robert Curthose, becomes duke of Normandy, while England passes to his second son, William Rufus.