Hogwarts castle was not built by the founders, nor was it originally built to house a school. Castle building technology did not arrive in Britain until after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The founders most likely set up their “school” in a large town called Hogwarts, which had already existed in one form or another for millennia.
Hogwarts castle must have been built long after the founding for the defence of the town called Hogwarts and continued to be used for military and political purposes for many centuries afterward before it came to house the modern Hogwarts School.
- When Hogwarts was built
- How it lead to the founding of Hogsmeade
- What purpose the castle was used for before it became a school
- Why it contains something as powerful as the Room of Requirement
The Original Keep
We know that after the Norman Conquest (and the initial massacres) Britain settled down to an uneasy peace. The Viking raids became much less of a concern, everyday life was probably more settled than it had been in the 10th century.
The Normans bought with them castle building technologies, and throughout the 11-14th centuries they build hundreds of castles throughout England, which in turn influenced Scottish Kings and barons to build their own fortifications.
The foundations of Hogwarts Castle probably dates from this period. The important thing to remember is that Hogwarts Castle was never built to be a school because boarding schools, as we would understand them, did not exist at the point when it was built.
It was likely that the original hill fort settlement of Hogwarts was already in an ideal defensive location and the local baron (probably also a magical person) started building a castle to protect the economically important town. The first phase of building would have resulted in nothing more than a square stone tower (called a keep) and strengthening of existing walls. However we know from history that castles, if they were strategically important, were constantly expanded and updated. Thus Hogwarts castle probably grew in size over the next few centuries adding a great hall, towers, ramparts etc. The round towers described in the book would not have been added until the 14th century, when it was discovered that round towers were better at deflecting bombardment.
The sheer size of the modern day castle suggests that Hogwarts remained a very important centre for the whole region. I have discussed before the Hogwarts would have been a predominately magical town, which is what attracted the founders there in the first place. The hill itself is a source of ancient magic, which is what drew magical people to settle there in the beginning. Dumbledore eludes to this mysterious power when he suggests why Voldemort wanted to return to the school to explore its secrets.
The later fortifications would have given magical peoples a safe haven from persecution and protected their way of life.
What is interesting about Hogwarts castle is that it grew so large in size it swallowed the whole original settlement at Hogwarts and another settlement the neighbouring Hogsmeade appeared or perhaps simply grew larger to accommodate the displaced populace. “Meade” in Old English means meadow. Thus Hogsmeade is the meadow beneath the hill/mountain called Hogwarts.
The size of the castle suggests that even after it stopped being a primary military fortification, the castle did not immediately become a school. From the Harry Potter books, we can see that the size of the castle is disproportionate to the student population (even though the student body would have continuously expanded over the last millennia). Therefore it is likely that the later additions and extensions to the castle were not to house classrooms but for something more important.
Seat of the Wizengamot
The Ministry of Magic is most likely a post-seclusion invention and the hidden nature of its buildings supports this. Therefore before seclusion the Wizengamot must have met somewhere other than subterranean Ministry of Magic building in London. Hogwarts was an important centre for magical people and it would have been the natural place for the first Wizengamot to convene. It is likely that Hogwarts was the traditional meeting place for the Wizengamot ever since its conception in the Dark Ages, and these meetings would have bought prestige and business opportunities for the people living in the town. Thus it would have only been another attraction for the founders to set up their “school” in Hogwarts town.
After seclusion it was only natural that the business of magical government would have been run from Hogwarts Castle, which is why the castle had to be expanded to the point that it swallowed up the original town of Hogwarts.
Hogwarts being the original home of the Ministry of Magic also explains many curiosities of the castle such as the existence of the Room of Requirement. Such a powerful magical room is a very dangerous thing to allow teenagers access to and its existence makes no sense if Hogwarts was a purpose built school. However I can imagine that the Department of Mysteries would have a great many uses for the Room of Requirement, and they probably have something very similar in the London Ministry of Magic building. The reason the room was never removed is most likely because it is not possible to actually destroy the room or stop people from accessing it. After the school moved into the Castle, the teachers simply had to do their best to contain the damage it could potentially do.
I believe that it in the 18th or 19th century the Ministry of Magic decided to move out of Hogwarts and into London. There are many possible reasons why this move happened. Firstly London by the 18th century was the commercial and cultural heart of Britain, containing a significant proportion of the entire population, including magical people. Thus it made sense for the Ministry to relocate to London, if only so that it was easier for them to contain the numerous magical leaks occurring in the capital. Secondly, there may have reached a point where Hogwarts could not easily expand any further. The castle had already swallowed the whole town; there must have been very little suitable land to left to build on. Magic of course could be used on new extensions but I believe that the ancient magical source on the site of Hogwarts hill is an integral part of the castle’s protection. Extensions that are not actually on the original hill would not be protected by the ancient magic.
No matter what the reason, the Ministry did relocate to an underground complex in the centre of London. Some of the subterranean rooms in the London complex must date from long before seclusion. The Veil in the department of mysteries is most likely a well framed natural break in the fabric of “space-time” allowing us a glimpse into the “afterlife”. Other sources of ancient magic must also exist underneath London and were being exploited long before the Ministry relocated. The Ministry simply add a large scale expansion to the original warren of subterranean rooms, which is now the heart of the Department of Mysteries.
In my previous essay I explained why Hogwarts School only came into existence in the 14th/15th century. The building of classrooms and the creation of a curriculum were ideas introduced from muggle schools that started to appear in the 14th century. Before that all students were trade apprentices learning a specific trade by working on the actual business premises in the Hogwarts town.
As the school gradually moved to a more academic model of education, the Ministry probably let the students a small portion of the castle to serve as living quarters and classrooms. When the Ministry moved out in the 18th/19th century, the entire castle suddenly became vacant and the school simply expanded to fill the space even though the castle was far too large for the student body. This is why Harry and Ron spend so much of their time moving from place to place and there are many empty floors, rooms and corridors. It was expected that Hogwarts School would eventually grow into the castle, as the student numbers expanded. Currently they still have a lot of room to expand.
The Chamber of Secrets and its relationship to the Castle is discussed in Hogwarts: Chamber of Secrets.