Top 10 Castles in the United Kingdom
Current researchers debate what the term "castle" covers, but generally consider it "a fortified place of residence." For hundreds of years, England had relied on timber castles, until 1066 when the Normans would bring back the grandeur of Roman techniques with stone. When gunpowder was introduced to Europe in the 14th century, it significantly affected the construction of castles in the 15th century and when artillery became powerful enough to destroy their stone walls they stopped being built in the 16th century. They have now changed from being military buildings to monuments and tourist attractions but for almost 1000 years these castles helped shape the UK.
Caernarfon Castle (Cadw)
Construction began on Caernarfon castle in 1283 and reached its current state in 1323. Even though it was never completed, it's still one of the most impressive medieval buildings in the UK. It was built to be part of a chain of castles by King Edward I to conquer Wales and bring the country under the rule of England. The castle was designed to be impenetrable and on 1408 a Welsh rebellion with the support of the French put that to the test. They used siege engines and battering rams but the reinforced gate was built to resist battering rams and the high walls were unscalable. Just 28 soldiers managed to repel the siege.
Cardiff Castle (Cardiff Council)
In the 11th Century, William the Conqueror built the foundations for Cardiff Castle on top of an ancient fort constructed 1000 years earlier by the Romans. In fact, sections of the wall still contain stones used by the Romans. Over the years the castle's defenses expanded but the original motte-and-bailey style of the Normans is still there today. In 1403 the Welsh uprising of Owain Glyndwr besieged Cardiff castle, after running out of food the defenders surrendered. Centuries later in 1766 Cardiff castle was transformed into a Georgian Mansion which demolished the massive bailey wall and removed historic buildings for a garden.
Warwick Castle (Blackstone Group)
Built on a natural cliff overlooking the River Avon, Warwick Castle is at a vital strategic location to maintain control of the Midlands, which is why William the Conqueror established a motte-and-bailey castle in Warwick in 1068 and why the future Kings of England entrusted the castle to the Earl of Warrick and some of England's most powerful barons as a country house and to use it as a military garrison. During the Hundred Years' War, the facade facing the city was refortified, giving rise to one of the best-known examples of military architecture of the fourteenth century. Decades later the castle's defenses were put to the test in 1642 when it was besieged by royalist forces, they opened fire on the castle, but did little damage before retreating.
Carrickfergus Castle (Northern Ireland Environment Agency)
Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle in Northern Ireland. Overlooking the Irish Sea and surrounded by water on three sides, it was built in an ideal location for defending, and it needed to be. The castle has been besieged by the Irish, the English, the French, and the Scotts when in 1314 forces of Sir Robert the Bruce besieged the castle. The siege lasted one year before the defenders ran out of supplies and surrendered. It was a short-lived victory because within two years England recaptured the castle. It was a symbol of English occupation and for 750 years the castle was under continues military occupation.
York Castle (English Heritage)
York castle was the center of royal power in northern England. William the Conqueror built a motte-and-bailey style wooden keep in 1068 and in1244 King Henry III ordered it to be completely rebuilt in stone, the tower was shaped an unusual but clever four overlapped circles like a four leaf clover. By the 16th century, the fortifications had been extended beyond the castle to include a high stone wall which reached two miles long and totally encircled the medieval city. In 1642 the city of York and its castle became the refuge for King Charles I and in 1644 york was besieged by Roundhead forces. The siege lasted for more than two months before Charles surrounded. By the 19th century, most of the once great fortress had been demolished. All that's left today is the outer city walls and what is known as Clifford's tower.
Stirling Castle (Historic Environment Scotland)
Surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, Stirling castle played an important role in the history of Scotland due to its strategic location on the River Forth. Like all castles, the one at Stirling was built to be impenetrable and in 1296 it was put to the test for the first time during the battle of Stirling Bridge. The Scots lead by William Wallice defeated the English army that fled and left Wallice the Castle. In 1303 King Edward I wanted revenge, he commanded his army to surround the castle while they built 17 trebuchets. They took three months to complete, during which time the defenders wanted to surrender but Edward refused. He used a trebuchet to destroy the gatehouse and retake the castle. It was later recaptured by Robert the Bruce who destroyed the castle so his enemies couldn't use it. 20 years later it was rebuilt by the Stuart family.
Dover Castle (English Heritage)
From a Roman lighthouse to Norman fortress, to Military fortress built by King Henry II, Dover castle is one of the most impressive castles ever built. And it's defenses were tested under the rule of King John, when French forces sieged the castle. The French soon realized that their siege weapons had little effect on the stone walls so decided to tunnel under the foundations to make them collapse, this tactic is known as undermining, and they succeeded but the defenses inside the bailey managed to repel the attack. The castle engineers expanded Dover's underground tunnels to counter any future attempt of undermining. Centuries later in preparation for the Napoleonic wars, gun placements, and cannon platforms were added. Though fully prepared, these defenses were never put to the test.
Tower of London (The Crown)
No top 10 list of British castles would be complete without the tower of London. The oldest standing stone castle in England was founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror in a prime location next to the deepest inland port on the river Thames. As the center for British monarchs in historic London, the Tower is intimately linked to British history and has been a royal palace, military garrison, a prison, a mint, and even a zoo when the royal menagerie was made accessible to the public. This iconic castle named the white tower due to its whitewashed stones went through several stages of expansion, especially during the reign of Richard the Lionhearted, Henry III who added a curtain wall and later Edward I adding a further curtain wall and a moat filled with water. Million's of tourists now visit the site each year.
Edinburgh Castle (Scottish Government)
Edinburgh castle is another iconic British landmark located in the center of Edinburgh on Castle Rock. The origins of the site are so old and unknown that it is difficult to establish the true date without speculation but Edinburgh Castle has been one of the most fought over castles in the UK. King Edward I managed to capture the castle when he used a trebuchet he named Warwolf, which is the largest trebuchet ever made. They sieged the castle for 3 days before the defenders surrendered. The castle remained under English rule for almost 20 years, it was only in 1314 that the castle was recaptured by Sir Thomas Randolph, the nephew of Robert the Bruce.
Windsor Castle (The Crown)
Like many of the castles in this list, Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror. At that time the motte-and-bailey style castle was made of wood and gradually reinforced with stone walls. It was part of a ring of defensive castles to ensure Norman dominance on the outskirts of London and control a strategic portion of the Thames. The site was chosen partly for its defendable position. It is now one of the largest castles in the world. Since the time of Henry I of England it has been inhabited by numerous British monarchs and has the longest record for continual use of any castle in the world.