Ever pondered about ‘how long did it take to build castles’ especially the majestic ones that pepper the European landscape?
This article delves into the architectural intricacies and the many variables that determined the construction period of these magnificent structures back in the Middle Ages.
Contrary to popular belief building a castle was not a meager feat that a few could manifest at will.
It was a colossal undertaking often stretching years and sometimes even decades determining not just the craftsmanship and skill of the era but also the wealth power and strategic importance of the lords who constructed them.
Are you intrigued about the contrasting construction times between Dover Castle and Edinburgh Castle?
Or curious to find out about the state of the art technology incorporated by the 13th-century master builder Master James of St. George?
Stay tuned to delve more into the construction era of these ancient wonders.
Table of Contents
Building Time: 2-10 Years
Building a castle in the Middle Ages generally took two to ten years. The exact duration depended on various factors including the type of castle the availability of skilled labourers and the resources at hand.
However this time frame was merely a guideline; some castles took longer than a decade to complete due to their complexity or delays often times caused by weather or lack of finances.
Castles were a massive investment. Therefore they were mostly affordable to kings noble lords or wealthy individuals who had sufficient income to handle such a project.
The construction process demanded the skills of cutters carpenters layers quarrymen and smiths and a master builder to oversee the project. Stone-keep castles in particular could take up to ten years reflecting the labor and resources needed.
Wooden Motte-And-Bailey: Several Months To 8 Days
The earliest form of castles during the Middle Ages Motte-and-Bailey castles were among the simpler and quicker to construct. Typically they could take several months to erect although some were up remarkably in just eight days.
The construction of these castles introduced by the Normans sometimes involved prefabricated wooden castles enabling quick assembly in times of great need.
William the Conqueror for instance was known to have built over 700 such castles in England. The construction period was significantly shorter than stone-keep or concentric castles.
The materials used for these wooden fortification were abundant and easy to work with contributing to their shorter construction time. However Early Motte and Bailey wooden castles had to be built between April and September as construction would be halted during the colder months.
William The Conqueror’s Castles: Over 700
The Normans under William the Conqueror constructed upwards of 700 castles across England. For the Normans these castles were both strategic bases and symbols of their authority.
Motte-and-bailey designs dominated the initial phase being this style of castle notably cheaper and quicker to build.
The use of Motte-and-Bailey castles
These early motte and bailey wooden castles would typically take between twenty days to three months to construct. Crafted from naturally abundant wood and earth the execution was simple enough that large groups of workers could readily construct them without specialist training.
Transition from temporary to permanent castles
Initially these fortifications served a primarily strategic purpose. It was not uncommon for them to be demounted and re-erected at will depending on the pressing needs of the conquered towns and battlefields.
However as the Normans consolidated their conquest a drive to build more permanent stone ones began.
Stone-Keep Construction Time: 5+ Years
Stone-keep castles a favored type during the Middle Ages demanded significant resources both in terms of time and materials. On average they took around 5 years to complete but complex designs could stretch this into decades.
The cost and resources required
The construction of these robust fortresses required an array of skilled labourers – from cutters carpenters and layers to quarrymen and smiths. These projects were inherently expensive to both build and maintain.
The challenge of weather conditions and location
The construction timetable was also often at the mercy of the seasons with work having to halt between October and April due to cold freezing conditions. Furthermore location played a vital role with sites picked for their defensive potential and natural elevation.
The longer timeline of stone castles
Unsurprisingly due to both the cost and the level of skilled work required the evolution from wooden to stone structures took time. Even small stone castles took at least two years to complete while large-scale fortifications could occupy construction teams for up to ten years or more.
Skilled Laborers For Stone-Keep: Cutters Carpenters Layers Quarrymen Smiths
In the Middle Ages building a stone-keep castle was a complex task.
It required skilled laborers: cutters carpenters layers quarrymen and smiths. These specialists played a crucial role in medieval castle building techniques.
Cutters carefully split stones using shock waves from striking the rock face – a state of the art technology for the time.
Quarrymen extracted raw stone from quarries supplying materials for the massive undertaking.
Carpenters leveraged the strength of oak trees nearby to build scaffolding and support structures. Their skills also extended to constructing the wooden elements of castles including doors windows and roofs.
Smiths or blacksmiths fashioned the iron fixtures like hinges latches and tools.
Layers or masons assembled the cut stones into walls towers and keeps. They used mortar made on-site from lime soil and water to bind the stones together.
The construction process was managed by a master mason who was comparable to a modern-day architect and project manager. They would map out plans delegate tasks and ensure the quality and progress of the extensive project.
Castle Affordability: Kings And Noblemen
Building a stone-keep castle was an expensive undertaking affordable only by kings or noblemen. This was due to the high cost of raw materials skilled labor and the length of time required for construction.
King Edward I for example spent an enormous sum of 100000 pounds on his Welsh castles a significant amount considering the era.
The royal treasuries funded such projects providing payment for the skilled craftsmen workers and costly materials employed on castle construction.
Apart from kings noble lords with significant income could also afford to build their own castles.
However there were instances where the construction process took longer than anticipated due to lack of finances such as the building of Malbork castle which had to be extended over several years due to financial constraints.
Despite the high cost the investment in castle construction was deemed necessary in the medieval times for both protection and demonstration of power and wealth.