• (Historical) A mound forming the site of a castle or camp.
  • (Especially in the Southwestern U.S.) A stand of trees; a grove.

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Example Sentences

“We climbed to the top of the motte for a better look at the castle ruins and the surrounding landscape.”

“She built her home near a small motte, which provided much-needed shade in the hot afternoons.”

“The palace sat high on top of a motte, as if to assert its dominance.”

Word Origin

French, late 19th century

Why this word?

A castle sitting on a motte may be surrounded by a moat. Although the terms refer to different topographical features, they sound similar because both come from the Old French word “mote,” meaning “mound.” The “grove of trees” usage of “motte,” however, is primarily used in the American Southwest and has Spanish influences. Motte-and-bailey castles were common in 10th-century England. These structures featured a keep (a tower) constructed from wood or stone, sitting atop an artificial hill (the motte) and accompanied by a walled courtyard (the bailey). All of this was then surrounded by a palisade (a high fence of stakes) and a protective ditch (the moat).

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