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The Norman's castles
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The Norman's castlesAlthough William may not have been wanted by the English, they had little choice but to put up with him. He treated the country as dangerous occupied territory, subdued and held by a chain of forts. A line of castles soon stretched from Warwick to York, dominating the Midlands, with another in eastern England passing through Lincoln, Huntingdon and Cambridge. English resistance in the north and east received Danish support, as Sweyn Esthrithsson of Denmark nursed ambitions for a still shaky throne. William’s counterstrokes were savage. The north was ‘harried’; peasants were slaughtered, crops burned, tools and ploughs destroyed. Monasteries too were plundered. The Conqueror’s castles dominated the countryside, a stark reminder of William’s brooding power.

Norman castles were of the ‘motte and bailey’ type. An area of land (the bailey) was surrounded by a ditch and bank, topped by a palisade. Within the bailey, or beside it, was a steep-sided mound (the motte), on top of which stood a wooden tower or donjon, the residence of the castle owner. Such castles could be built in about a week, using forced labour. From such a stronghold, a small group of men could control the surrounding country.

About 200 castles were built in the 35 years following the Norman Conquest. Early wooden buildings were soon replaced by massive castles of stone, among them the Tower of London, for under the Normans London became the undisputed capital of England. Foundations for the White Tower, stronghold of the Tower of London, were laid about 1078 under the direction of Gundulf, a monk from Normandy who later became Bishop of Rochester. Still unfinished when William 1 died in 1087, it was completed about 1097 by William II.

‘The Normans, when under the rule of a kind but firm master, are a most valiant people.’
Ordericus Vitalis, Norman historian

Normans annoy dover
Dover was an early target for the Normans after Hastings. According to William of Poitiers’ account of the Norman Conquest, ‘[Dover was] situated on a rock adjoining the sea ... it stands like a straight wall as high as an arrow’s flight, our men, greedy for booty, set fire to the castle while the inhabitants were preparing to surrender’. William offered compensation - then set about rebuilding the walls.

Memorial to the Norman Conquest
The White Tower, which dominates the Tower of London, is England’s largest and oldest keep. It stands 27 metres (90 feet) high and its walls are 4.6 metres (15 feet) thick at the base.

The Norman's castles

Clerical abseiler makes daring gataway
Under William M’s brother, Henry I, the Tower gained a new use - as a prison. The first dignitary to be locked up there was Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, arrested by Henry in 1100. Unlike most of the unfortunates who were to follow him, Ranulf made a successful escape with the help of a smuggled-in rope.

The Norman's castles

A coastal guardian
Henry II built the square keep of Dover Castle, guarding the sea approach to southern England. Begun in 1181 and completed in 1189, Dover’s was among the last of the great square keeps.

The Norman's castles

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