How to Make a Motte and Bailey Castle
Motte and baileys are an early form of castle that originated after the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century and quickly spread through Europe.The main features of these types of castles are a keep built on top of a small hill or earth mound (the motte) and a lower ring-shaped, walled-in courtyard (the bailey). Once you understand the basic design of a motte and bailey, building your own is just a simple matter of finding the right materials and putting them together!
Making a Model Motte and Bailey
Making Your Landscape
Find a wide, flat base.Historically, motte and bailey castles were usually either built next to a small hill or the hill was created artificially.For our model, we'll use the "artificial" approach. Start by grabbing a flat, square piece of material at least a foot or so on each side. Ideally, this material should be something that glue will stick to. It should also begreento replicate the grassy European countryside. Ideas include:
- Green construction paper
- Butcher paper painted or drawn green
- Green felt
- Green cloth
- Styrofoam squares (e.g., cooler lid) painted or drawn green
- Plywood painted green
Trace two overlapping circles on your base.The construction plans for motte and bailey castles almost always always involved two large circles — one for the outer courtyard wall and one for the raised mound that the keep is built on. The two circles should overlap slightly in the middle as if you were drawing a snowman. The circle for the mound should be smaller than the one for the courtyard.
- A good way to do this is to find two bowls of different sizes, lay them face-down on your base one at a time, and trace a circle around each with a pencil or marker. If you can, use a paper bowl for your smaller circle so that you can use it for the motte itself as well.
- If you can, try to leave at least an inch or so around the edges of your circles so that you have room to add details outside the wall later.
Glue or tape a bowl in place for your motte.Take the bowl that you used to trace your motte (the smaller one) and secure it inside the circle you traced to create your motte.
- If you don't have a bowl handy to use for your motte, you can use any round or cone-shaped object that's the right size. Some ideas include:
- Traffic/safety cones (with top two-thirds cut off)
- Paper or plastic cups (with top one-third cut off)
- Rounded styrofoam pieces.
- Flower pots
- Papier Mâché (you'll need to form it into a hill-like shape and allow it to dry before proceeding)
If your bowl isn't already green or brown, re-color it.Historically, mottes were made from built-up dirt that grass and plants would eventually grow on over time. Thus, if you're shooting for a realistic-looking castle, you'll probably want to make your motte one of these colors. There are several things you may want to use for this — pick the one that's most convenient for you (keeping in mind that paint, ink, etc. is permanent):
- Painted newspaper
- Construction paper
Building Your Structures
Make the palisade wall from popsicle sticks.Most motte and bailey castles had a circular wall made from sturdy tree trunks called a palisade. The easiest way to replicate this is to stick together rows of small wooden sticks (like popsicle sticks, coffee stirrers, or even dry twigs from outdoors). Tape or glue each piece of the wall in place carefully. When finished, the wall should extend around the edge of the large circle, up the sides of the motte, and around the back of the flat upper part of the motte so that no invaders can get in easily.
- Popsicle sticks can usually be bought in bulk at craft stores for quite cheap. The best thing about using actual wood pieces like popsicle sticks is that you don't need to color them — they already look like wood. If you want to go the extra mile, you can stain your wood to give it a more realistic feel.
- Another good detail to add for realism is to put a single horizontal ring of sticks stretching around the entire inside portion of the wall. Real-life palisade walls were often reinforced this way.
Make the keep and put it at the top of the motte.One of the distinguishing features of the motte and bailey castle is the keep — the small defensive structure (sort of like a mini-castle) at the top of the motte that served as the stronghold for defenders. In real life, the keep could be made out of wood or stone, so there are many different ways you can make your model keep. Below are just a few ideas:
- Building toys (i.e., Legos, etc.)
- Small cardboard boxes
- Cardboard milk cartons
- Popsicle sticks (just like the wall)
- Whichever method you choose, it's a good idea to add realism by drawing or cutting small, thin windows in the sides of the keep. You can also put a square zig-zag pattern at the top of the keep to give it a "castle" look.
Add several buildings inside the courtyard.The keep wasn't usually the only building in a motte and bailey fortification. Inside the lower bailey, there were almost always buildings to support the soldiers who defended the castle — barracks for them to live in, stables for their horses, storehouses where they kept their gear, places for them to eat, and so on. You can use any of the building methods recommended above for the keep to make these buildings, but if you're going for realism, keep the following points in mind:
- These buildings typically weren't as sturdy as the keep, since they weren't where the soldiers would be during an invasion. Thus, they were usually made from wood or a wood-and-plaster construction.
- These buildings usually used a simple square construction with pointed roofs — again, they were meant to be functional, not fancy.
- One good way to imitate this is to glue popsicle sticks together to make a box, then use white paper for the walls.
Adding Extra Details
Add vegetation.Now that you have the basics of your motte and bailey model in place, it's up to you to truly make your castle unique! There's no "right way" to do this, but we've recommended some things that you may want to add (and given ideas forhow to add themin parentheses.) One thing that's easy to add to your castle is plant life — see below for ideas:
- Bushes (painted or dyed cotton balls, moss, lichen, etc.)
- Trees (toys/models, painted cotton swabs, leafy twigs, etc.)
- Creeping vines on walls and buildings (painted directly on, green string, plant stems, etc.)
- Gardens (brown paint for dirt; small green paper shapes for crops)
Add people and animals.Living things truly make your motte and bailey come to life. The easiest way to add people and animals to your castle is to use small toys (like Lego figurines, Warhammer models, army men, etc.).
- Defending soldiers — see for a guide to Norman weapons and gear.
- Invaders — see for a guide to Viking warfare (Vikings were common invaders at the time of motte and bailey castles.)
- Horses/livestock — war horses, mules, cattle, pigs, chickens and so on are all appropriate.
- A lord or lady of the castle and their family — see for a guide to medieval nobles' clothing (for reference, motte and bailey castles were common in the 1000s and 1100s.)
Add minor building features.Give your structures extra flavor with these aesthetic touches:
- Flags/banners (dowel or toothpick for pole, fabric strip for flag — Norman flags were often red with a yellow cross or lion.)
- Wells (small circle of popsicle stick tips, blue paint for water)
- Chimneys (small square of popsicle sticks)
- Plaster walls (white paint or paper for walls with crisscrossing brown support beams made from popsicle sticks)
- Paths leading to buildings/keep (paint)
Add extra defensive features.Make your castle strike terror into the heart of any invader with these fearsome defensive fortifications:
- A walled-in path or staircase leading up the hill to the keep (popsicle sticks for the walls, paint for the path)
- Small defensive posts around the walls
- Defensive ditches (the easiest way to make these is to put the entire model on top of a square piece of styrofoam, then cut a narrow indentation in a circle around the outside of the bailey and at the bottom of the motte. Paint the indented portion brown (or blue if you want a moat.)
- Sharpened stakes around the outer ditches (toothpicks)
- Gate and drawbridge at the front of the courtyard (popsicle stick, strings for chains)
Making an Edible Motte and Bailey
Making the Landscape
Bake a half-sphere cake for the hill.To start making your edible motte and bailey, you'll need to find something roughly mound-shaped and edible for your cake. There's no "right" food to use, but one easy and delicious way to do this is to bake a small cake in the shape of a half-sphere. This isn't difficult even if you don't have a half-sphere baking mold, as you can use most metal bowls for this purpose. One good guide to making a half-sphere cake is available .
- If you're going for realism, you may want to bake a chocolate cake to replicate the brown color of dirt. However, your hill will eventually be covered with frosting, so it doesn't matter much which type of cake you choose.
- Make sure to butter and flower the inside of the bowl or mold you use. This will make it easier to remove the finished product once it cools — the last thing you want is a hill with a big chunk taken out of it.
Alternatively, make the hill from green jello.Another easy way to make your hill is to simply make a jello mold in a round-sided bowl. Carefully turn the bowl upside-down once the jello has completely set to form the hill. If you're having a hard time getting the jello out, it can help to tap the top of the bowl while it's upside-down.
Place the hill on a serving platter.To make room for the bailey (the lower courtyard portion of the castle), put the hill you've just created at one end of a large, clean serving platter. Once again, there's no "right" platter to use — if you happen to have a flat, rectangular platter that's suitable, feel free to use it. However, if you don't, you can improvise one from one of the following materials:
- Plastic lunch/dinner tray
- Metal baking sheet
- Whatever you're using, it's a good idea to lay down a layer of plastic wrap or wax paper on top of your platter to keep your edible ingredients clean.
Use frosting or fondant for the grass and dirt.Now that you have a hill and a surface to work on, you'll want create a grassy landscape for your castle. One easy way to do this is to simply cover the hill and the area around it with green frosting. You can buy frosting from the store or make your own (simply add green food coloring to a white frosting recipe.) You may also want to use brown frosting for dirt paths, ditches, and so on.
- See our frosting article for several different frosting recipes that can work well for this project. Fondant is a little harder to make and has a different taste than frosting, but it can still work well. See our fondant article for recipes.
- If you're working with a jello hill, you may want to simply make a flat, shallow mold of the same green jello you used for your hill instead and transfer your hill to this to make your landscape — the alternative, using frosting on jello, is a little gross.
Making the Structures
Use a cupcake for the keep.The most important structure in a motte and bailey is the keep (the mini-castle at the top of the hill.) An easy way to represent the keep is to put a cupcake (storebought or homemade) on top of your edible "hill." You can either leave the cupcake as-is or decorate it to make it look a little more like an actual keep — it's up to you.
- One easy way to make the cupcake "keep" a little more realistic is to leave the muffin wrapper on the bottom, then carefully paint it with brown or grey frosting to give it a "wood" or "stone" finish.
Make a keep from a "cake" ice cream cone.Another way to make a keep is to stick an ice cream cone on top of the hill. For this method, you'll specifically want a cake-style cone — these are the short, round ones, not the long, pointed ones made from a wrapped waffle. If you like, you can frost the outside with brown or grey frosting or, alternatively, decorate it with edible markers.
Make a stone keep from sugar cubes.You can also build a keep by sticking sugar cubes together. This will give the cube a boxy appearance — perfect for stone keeps. Once again, frosting or edible markers can be used to decorate the outside.
- Getting sugar cubes to stick together can be a little tricky. One good trick is to use a substance called sugar glue which is made from confectioner's sugar and egg whites or meringue powder — a good recipe is available .
Make a palisade wall from wafer cookies.To make the wall, stick wafer cookies in a large circular pattern extending outward from the hill, then up the sides of the hill and around the back of the keep. To keep the cookies in place, either plant them firmly in the frosting/fondant landscape, use toothpicks, or stick them down with the sugar glue mentioned above. Any flavor of cookie will do, but if you're going for a realistic wooden wall, chocolate cookies are often preferable for their brown color.
- Other good options include rolled wafers (e.g., pirouettes, piroulines, etc.), ladyfingers, or wafer candies like Kit Kats.
Add gingerbread/graham cracker buildings inside the walls.There are many different ways to make edible versions of the barracks, armories, and other structures in the lower bailey courtyard. For example, mini gingerbread houses look great. If you don't want to go to the trouble of making gingerbread, you can use graham crackers in more or less the same way.
Use candy for plants and vegetation.Adding edible trees and bushes is easy if you have the right sorts of candy handy. For trees, you can use small lollipops (preferably green ones), painting each one's stick with brown frosting or edible marker if desired. In addition, tufts of green cotton candy make great bushes.
- Other types of candy can make creative additions as well. For example, scattered Nerd candies or rock candy fragments can serve as rocks or pebbles.
Add inedible pieces with caution.Certain parts of the model castle described in the section above, like tiny soldiers, weapons, animals, and so on, are tricky to make from edible ingredients. If you want to populate your castle with these sorts of things, you can certainly consider using inedible pieces (e.g., Lego figures, etc.) However, if you plan on eating your castle, make sure that these pieces are clearly visible so that they aren't accidentally swallowed. It's also a good idea to have a bowl or another receptacle handy so that people eating the castle can put the pieces there.
- If you plan on serving your edible castle somewhere that young children are likely to be, do not include any non-edible pieces.
QuestionIs there a way to make a Motte and Bailey castle without using a bowl?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. You could use any object with a round (or bowl-like) shape, even if it's not a bowl specifically.Thanks!
QuestionHow many hills should I make for my Motte and Bailey castle?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerI would recommend sticking to one or two.Thanks!
QuestionWhere can you find figures for a castle and which size they should be?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey should be small enough to fit in your fingers. Any children toys would do, and can be found at toy store and general stores.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I make a Motte and Bailey castle correctly?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry following the steps above, using a kit or other websites.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I make a Gothic castle?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry using black licorice and other black candies and dyes. Also, you can weave the house from the licorice.Thanks!
How do you make the drawbridge?
What can I use instead of a dome cake
To make a motte and bailey castle, start by getting a base for your castle, like a piece of styrofoam or plywood, and drawing 2 overlapping circles on it. Then, glue or tape an upside-down bowl over one of the circles, which will be the motte that the castle sits on. Next, use popsicle sticks to build a wall around the motte and the other circle. Finally, place the castle, which you can make out of cardboard, on top of the motte and fill the bailey with buildings and vegetation.
Things You'll Need
Small bowl or similar-shaped object (disposable best)
Paint: brown, green, blue
Several Newspapers or kitchen roll
Glue or paper mache
A wooden board/construction paper/cardboard/fabric/tray for the base
Model buildings, trees, etc.
- Add the fencing last -that way it is much easier to place the houses, trees, etc. without ruining the whole thing.
- In real life, motte and bailey castles were usually built so that archers in the keep or at the top of the motte could hit any spot inside or just outside the courtyard. Thus, you won't want your lower bailey circle to be enormous compared to your motte — twice as big at most is a good general rule.
- For more ideas, try reading about the history of motte and bailey castles at sites like .
Sources and Citations
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