It was at the end of the IXth century that the first castral enclosures
made of earth and wood appeared. This
first type of fortress - which
was seen in some regions up to the XIIth century - was distinguishable
from a small fortified town only by the presence inside it of the lord's
Surrounded by a palisade which was set upon a circular embankment a few metres high, the whole of the work was bordered by a fosse possibly
more than three metres deep. Spanning the fosse a footbridge, which
could probably have been withdrawn, allowed access to the gate of the
enceinte. This gateway was often a small tower. Inside the enclosure,
which might measure up to a hundred and twenty metres in diameter, there
was no real separation between the seigniorial and domestic buildings
Historical and archeological reconstruction in Saint Sylvain d'Anjou: Château à Motte (Féodale) de la Haie-Joulain (5 kilometres from Angers: Autoroute A11, sortie 14 Angers-Est).
This separation appeared about the year one thousand, with the
building of a tower separate from the other works. To enable the tower
to dominate the rest of the enclosure, a rise in the terrain was often
used. However, in most cases, on the inside or on the periphery, an
earth embankment was built: first, a deep circular ditch was dug, the
earth from this was used to build, on the innerside, a mound called
a motte (French: la motte). At its base the motte could have a diameter
of seventy metres and its height could reach fifteen metres.
At the top, a wooden tower was built protected by several palisades.
This square or rectangular tower was, as yet, just a watch tower (like
the Roman castellum) but might already house the lord's living-quarters
(including stores and chapel), forming the first primitive kind of romanesque
keep. The separation of the fortress into two parts was evident from
then on: on the one side the "feudal" motte commanding the
place and symbol of the lord's authority, on the other side, a lower
bailey where the outbuildings reserved for domestic service were found:
each to his place in the hierarchy of the castle.
Still rudimentary, the defensive system of the first fortified castles
- castral enclosures or motte and bailey castles - was an accumulation
of obstacles: watercourses, ditches, stakes, fascines (faggots), palisades
and the motte.
The fortified castles of earth and wood had the advantage of being built
in a material of which there was no lack and was not demanding either
in money or in skilled labour. They could be built and rebuilt rapidly.
Their disadvantages were also obvious - they could not resist undermine
or fire... or time. None of these works exist today, only rises in the
ground (hillocks, mounds...) and ditches are indicators of their existence
and their layout.