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Building a Castle: The Bailey

The courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall


The castle bailey or ward in a fortification is a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall. In particular, an early type of European castle was known as a motte-and-bailey. Castles can have more than one bailey. Their layout depends both on the local topography and the level of fortification technology employed, ranging from simple enclosures to elaborate concentric defences.

Chepstow Castle (

Baileys can be arranged in sequence along a hill (as in a spur castle), giving an upper bailey and lower bailey. They can also be nested one inside the other, as in a concentric castle, giving an outer bailey and inner bailey. Chepstow Castle, built on a limestone ridge above the River Wye, has three baileys which were added over time along the ridge, rather than inside one another.

In general, baileys could have any shape, including irregular or elongated ones, when the walls followed the contour lines of the terrain where the castle was sited. Rectangular shapes are very common, where the terrain allows.

Okehampton Castle bailey

The most important and prestigious buildings, such as the great hall and the keep, were usually located in the inner bailey of the castle, sometimes called the central bailey or main bailey. The lower or outer bailey often held less important structures, all the buildings necessary for the working of the castle: barracks, stables, kitchens, granary, animal pens, the blacksmith’s forge, stonemason’s lodge, and tiler’s kiln.

The main hall would be on an upper floor, accessed by a sweeping set of steps, and the residential rooms either above the hall or built along one side of the inner bailey. There were rooms in the towers too: often the chapel, the prison, and guardrooms. Some castles had the kitchen below the main hall, so the hot food didn’t have to be carried so far.

If the bailey was large enough, areas would be set aside for the knights and squires to practice sword skills and even jousting. Mounted knights would aim their lances at a dummy or a ring and ride up at speed. Whole tournaments could be held inside some castles’ baileys.

Belvoir Castle Jerusalem

Outer baileys could also be largely defensive in function, without significant buildings. In the concentric castles of the military orders, such as Krak des Chevaliers or Belvoir, the inner bailey resembled a cloistered monastery, while the outer bailey was little more than a narrow passage between the concentric enceintes.

[adapted from The Medieval CastleHaynes Manual by Charles Phillips and Wikipedia]

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now.Follow her at