Castle is one of the core themes of LEGO introduced in 1978, other core themes being Town, Space, Pirates, and so on. It centers around medieval life, involving knights and castles, but also incorporates popular fantasy elements as it saw many changes over the years and the most recent incarnation, Kingdoms, only recently being shelved to make way for the new Castle theme, Castle. The theme is the third longest-lived in LEGO history, on par with Town and Trains. The original Castle logo resembled Part 4495.
One of the earliest LEGO castle models produced was a retailer display model from a 1959-60 retailer brochure. This model was also seen in a 1961 British magazine LEGO ad. It was a white castle that fit onto two gray baseplates taking up an area of 20x20 studs. The castle, known to LEGO retailers as #0746 had four towers, with wavy LEGO flags on top of two of the towers. The word LEGO embossed on 1x1 white bricks were spelled out on the front of the castle on either side of the entrance. Examples of this model would be glued together, generally the rule among LEGO retailer models. Also coming out in 1960 was LEGO Building Idea Book #1, also known as #238. This 36 page booklet had a lot of building ideas that were made into actual LEGO display models. One picture was of a blue castle with twin towers and a red roof. It is in a northern European late Renaissance style. This Blue Castle was the first castle seen in a public distributed official LEGO product. The first LEGO castle model available for sale was 0 Weetabix Castle, a promotional set from Weetabix, that was made available in 1970.
Until 1984, Castle consisted of only these three sets and two other promotional sets, which were available from Samsonite. Many typical Castle pieces were already present, such as the halberds, the first swords, the lances, the triangular shields and the helmet with neck protector. The knights had unique helmets that consisted of the visor-less Classic Space helmets of that era, and movable visor-pieces that were only available in these three early Castle sets. The featured horses were not the later ubiquitous horse-figures, instead they were built of normal bricks. The knights of this era did not use a consistent coat of arms, but rather had many different crests.
Factions (1984 - 1997)
In 1984 the Castle theme was totally revamped. Two new factions, the Crusaders and the Black Falcons (as well as a sheer flood of new pieces), were introduced. Among the new pieces introduced in that year were the wall panels, spears, two new helmets (the helmets with chin-guard and the face-grill helmets for the knights) and feather plumes. 1984 also saw the introduction of the horse-figures, which were also featured heavily in Castle. From now on, every established faction would feature a unique coat of arms on their shields, flags or even the minifigures themselves. During the 1980s, Castle wasn't just about castles and knights but also featured some civilian minifigures, such as a peasant or a blacksmith, and also civilian buildings, like 6067 Guarded Inn, a direction that would later be lost when the theme focused more on the military aspects of the middle ages. The Guarded Inn also included the second female Castle minifigure (which did not yet feature a dress but instead a normal leg assembly). A similar minifigure appeared in the set 6060 Knight's Challenge.
A new faction was added in 1987, the Forestmen, which did not dwell in castles but rather in hideouts built into hollow trees and rocks. This was also the first time when black-colored corner wall panels were seen. Other black wall panels, which had already appeared in 1985 were brought into wider use when the Black Knights, that featured the first mainly black-colored castle, were introduced in 1988. 1990 brought some new pieces: a new elegant helmet with movable visor and an extra armour piece for knights. Another new addition was the glow-in-the-dark ghost. This year also saw the first castle built on a raised baseplate, a piece first used a year before in Pirates sets. That castle, 6081 King's Mountain Fortress,which also featured the first female minifigure with a skirt, which was formed by a 2x2x2 sloped brick. This made the princess one plate taller than the men, but her tall pointed medieval headdress helped to obscure the height difference.
After the discontinuation of the Forestmen faction, which included outlaws that could just as well be the good guys, since they largely resemble Robin Hood and his merry men, LEGO added a new faction in 1992, the Wolfpack, which was basically a band of robbers. This was also the first year in which Castleminifigures were equipped with the new diversified printed head pieces, that were first introduced in 1989 for the debut of the new Pirates line, and added more personality to the characters than the simple smiley faces..
While the Black Knights used dragons merely as crests and ornaments, a new faction introduced in 1993, the Dragon Masters, would move Castle more into the realms of fantasy and mythology by adding actual dragons and wizards to the complement of subjects covered by this theme, thus setting a direction that would still be followed by future Castle themes. The wizard Majisto was also one of the first minifigures that were given a name. Dragon Masters also brought some interesting new pieces, such as a new helmet and a large halberd, as well as several new faces.
For the time being the fantasy elements were not further developed. In 1995, the all new Royal Knights theme introduced the first distinct king minifigure that wore an actual crown. Another notable addition was the skeleton. 1996 saw a short-lived revival of Forestmen when Dark Forest was released.
Fantasy was Back in 1997, when Fright Knights brought along witches and dragons, as well as an eerie looking villain with a bat as his symbol of choice. This theme did not only venture into more fantastic directions, It also featured some rather out-of-place flying machines.
The discontinuation of Fright Knights also marked the end of the basic concept of the Castle theme from 1984 onwards, where the different subthemes also represented several factions that coexisted in a consistent environment and would often appear together in one set. The themes of the following years were self contained subthemes with different factions of their own that did not not have any connection to those of other subthemes.
Subthemes (1998 - present)
What followed in 1998 was a rather unique interlude. With the introduction of Ninja, the Castle theme left it's traditional European setting and visited medieval Japan, featuring Samurai and Ninjas. Many new pieces were introduced as well, such as Japanese swords (Katana), ninja hoods and samurai armor and helmets. Ninja also included cannons and muskets, a novelty for Castle, and was apparently set in the 16th century.
In 2000, Castle went back to a more conventional setting with the release of the new Knights' Kingdom theme, which involved two factions that were at odds with each other, King Leo and his knights on one side, and Cedric the bull with his evil minions on the other. The minifigures were elaborately designed and featured new torso pieces, faces, helmets and armor pieces. The buildings, however, had a rather simplified design, which was also seen in other themes of that era, e.g. in Town Jr., a method of building later called "Juniorization". This theme was the first Castle theme to feature two female minifigures: Queen Leonora and Princess Storm. Knights' Kingdom was discontinued in the following year, and there would be no new Castle sets until 2004.
Knights' Kingdom II, introduced in 2004, was a radical departure from any previous Castle themes. It featured colourful knights (in red, green, purple, and light blue armour) who all had individual names and personalities, much like superhero teams such as the Power Rangers. The normal sets were also accompanied by the release of canned action figure versions of the new characters, in a style similar to BIONICLE. Knights' Kingdom II was more action-oriented, and also introduced some new helmets, swords and shields.
In 2005, LEGO released a new Vikings line which was more realistic than the contemporary Knights' Kingdom II theme, but it nevertheless featured mythological aspects by adding dragons and other creatures from Norse myths, such as the Midgard Serpent. A new technique that was used to make these creatures that is still used today is building large monsters (such as dragons) out of a combination of normal bricks and TECHNIC parts. A fairly important new piece introduced in this theme was the separate axe blade that had to be attached to a brown stick in order to form a complete battle axe. The theme was intended to be simply a short interlude before the launch of the new Castle theme, but proved popular enough that it was continued for another year.
The Castle theme was relaunched in 2007 as Castle (2007) and abandoned some of the aspects featured in Knights' Kingdom II but also reprises earlier established fantasy elements such as dragons and sorcerers, but also added some new ones, which were originally known from the Lord of the Rings novels or Warcraft computer games, such as Skeleton Warriors, Trolls and Dwarves. Another difference is the fact that it does not involve humans fighting each other. The humans are represented by one unified kingdom that has to fight against groups of non-human antagonists.
In 2009 the biggest entirely civilian Castle set ever has been released, 10193 Medieval Market Village, which also included the first cow figure as well as a rare turkey piece.
Kingdoms, is successor to Castle (2007). It returns to a more traditional and realistic medieval setting. The theme features the good knights of the Lion Kingdom defending themselves against the evil warriors of the invading Dragon Kingdom. The only fantasy elements are the Dragon wizard and his pet dragon. Kingdoms was launched in June2010, with several sets, including a large castle, and followed by four more sets in 2011. Early 2012 saw the release of 10223 Kingdoms Joust, the final Kingdoms set before The Lord of The Rings was released.
The Crusaders were the stronger of the first two factions of Castle. Their crest featured a crowned lion in a red, blue and yellow pattern. In Canada and Australia, they were initially known as the Lion Crest until the 1990s when they returned to the Crusaders name.
The Black Falcons were one of the first two Castle factions, but always had fewer/smaller sets than the Crusaders. They were never officially recognized as a faction by The LEGO Group, though at least one catalog makes mention of "Guardians of the Gray Castles". Their symbol was a bird in a black, white, and blue (though sometimes yellow) pattern. In Canada and Australia, they were known as the Eagle Crest.
The Forestmen mainly dressed in green and brown with small plumed hats and resembled traditional charicatures of Robin Hood. They made their abode in elaborate forest hideouts and most carried the bow and arrow. Their crest was a brown stag head with black antlers on a green background.
These faction consisted of some exotic-looking knights led by the wizard Majisto and used dragons as their main symbol, just as the Black Knights, but with a different color palette: red, yellow, and green. Contrary to the Black Knights, the Dragon Masters had actual dragons in their inventory.
A short-lived extension of the late-'80s Forestmen line, 1996's Dark Forest sets went as far as to recycle the stag shield crest in Forestmen. The faction featured a diverse band of tree-dwelling rogues and robbers, led by a leather-vested scoundrel imaginatively named Rob N. Hood, according to LEGO Mania Magazine.
The Fright Knights were a faction that featured some of the most nonsensical vehicles ever. They were led by an evil lord, Basil The Bat Lord (or simply "The Bat Lord") and a witch. Their symbol was a bat.
The LEGO Ninja' collection relocated the Castle theme to medieval Japan, where the graceful Oriental architecture provided the backdrop for an eternal struggle between two factions of daring and masterful martial artists. The Shogun Gai-Dan and his ally Ito, the gray ninja, defended a trove of mystical rubies from the Bandit Chief Kendo and his band of robbers, as well as Bonsai, the black ninja.
Knights' Kingdom centered on a plot line of the evil Cedric the Bull trying to overthrow King Leo and take over the Kingdom. Knights' Kingdom centered on a conflict involving the Lions, led by King Leo, and the Bulls, led by outlaw Cedric The Bull. The main castle was 6098 King Leo's Castle, while the Bulls did not have a castle. However, the Bulls have their own castle in LEGO Island 2: Revenge of the Brickster.
Knights' Kingdom II did not have much in common with its predecessor. It revolved around a struggle between a group of good knights on one side and an evil knight on the other. The conflict takes place in the fictional kingdom of Morcia.
This cross between DUPLO and Castle was initially released in 2004, and continued for four years, until 2008. This theme featured two unnamed warring factions, one coloured Blue, White, and Silver, and the other (presumably the villains of the theme), coloured Black, Red, and sometimes Yellow.
Kingdoms replaces the idea of a fantasy world filled with dwarves and trolls, and goes back to a more realistic world. In Kingdoms, this time there are two separate factions set against each other. The Lion Kingdom, which is led by the Lion King, fights the Dragon Kingdom, which is led (presumably) by the Dragon Wizard.
The new Castle theme will combine elements from Kingdoms and Castle (2007). It will offer a new story, yet the royal elements are the same as Kingdoms; Lions and Dragons. However, the colors will be blue and grey for the lion knights and red and black for the dragon knights, somewhat similar to the 2007 Castle theme.