“Lego Castle Product Lines, Part I” by S.M. O’Connor

Well before The LEGO Group sold castle sets, the company depicted a drawing of a castle in the very first LEGO Building Idea Book the company published in 1960.  The LEGO Building Idea Book was meant to inspire children with ideas for constructing models with basic sets then available.  The castle in the drawing was blue with red rooftops, a symmetrical design with twin towers flanking a central pavilion.  [As I explained in reference to Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry, this kind of building would really be a castle keep rather than a complete castle because a complete castle would have a curtain wall.]  The first LEGO® castle set one could purchase was a promotional item offered by the British cereal company Weetabix in 1970.  It had a rectangular layout with five towers and two turrets, one of which had a hip roof.  In 1978, founder Ole Kirk Christian’s grandson and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen’s son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen (who spells the surname differently), introduced a new business model called the System within the System with LEGOLAND® Town, LEGOLAND® Castle, and LEGOLAND® Space.  The product line between 1978 and 1983, before a sort of reboot in 1984, is often called Classic Castle.

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Figure 1 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: The LEGO Group depicted a drawing of a castle in the very first LEGO Building Idea Book the company published in 1960.  The castle in that drawing was blue with red rooftops, a symmetrical design with twin towers flanking a central pavilion.

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Figure 2 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: The first LEGO® castle set one could purchase was a promotional item offered by the British cereal company Weetabix in 1970.

 

 

 

Part I: LEGO Classic Castle (1978-1983)

 

What is now called Classic Castle was a subtheme of the Castle theme (1978-2014) and is generally rendered like this “Classic Castle (1978-1979, 1983)” but that does not mean Classic Castle sets disappeared from store shelves between 1980 and ’82.  The LEGO® Castle subtheme product lines are Classic Castle (1978-1979, 1983); Crusaders (1984-1992); Black Falcons (1984-1992, 2003);[1] Forestmen (1987-1990, 1996); Black Knights (1988-1996); Wolfpack Renegades (1992-1994, 2003); Dragon Masters (1993-1995, 1998); Royal Knights (1995-1997, 2003); Dark Forest (1996); Fright Knights (1997-1998); Knights’ Kingdom (2000); Knights’ Kingdom II (2004-2006); Castle (2007-2009); Kingdoms (2010-2012); and Castle (2013-2014).

Initially, knights had two-piece helmets with movable visors that had eye slits.  Starting with the Yellow Castle, most LEGO® Castle infantrymen have worn a type of helmet with nose guard that flared out at the back to protect the back and sides of the neck.  This is Part #3844.[2]  Knights and foot soldiers alike wore flat breastplate elements that slipped down the Minifigure’s neck to fit between head and torso elements.   Each knight or foot soldier had a coat-of-arms on his chest: a pair of stickers on the front and back of his breastplate.   As The LEGO Group did not yet manufacture horse elements, children had to build each charger (war horse) with LEGO® bricks as with the Yellow Castle.  A sitting knight would snap onto the back of a horse.

The LEGOLAND® Castle product line began with Set #375 from 1978, known in English as the Yellow Castle.  In some ways, this was the most realistic of all the castles The LEGO Group has produced.  It had a gatehouse with a working drawbridge and three other towers with a second gate under the tallest tower.  The four towers were connected by a chemin de ronde, a second-floor walkway where soldiers protected by battlements stood atop the wall.  Arches in the side towers easily allowed a child to maneuver the guards along the chemin de ronde to reach the gatehouse in front or the tallest tower in back.  However, the Yellow Castle lacked stairs to reach the chemin de ronde, unlike the Weetabix castle.

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Figure 3 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Released in 1978, Set #375 (Yellow Castle) was the first LEGOLAND® Castle theme castle.  It had four towers, a working drawbridge, a second gate under the tallest tower, and a second-floor walkway.  The Yellow Castle could open, as seen here.

 

 

The Yellow Castle could open, a feature many, but not all, of the castles to follow would share.  One significant difference is that it opened on its left side (from the perspective of someone looking down on it facing the front), while later castles would open at the back so one could expand them through the attachment of modular walls using Technic bricks and pins purchased with other sets.

The biggest difference between the Yellow Castle and the Weetabix castle was that the Yellow Castle came with Minifigures.  These fourteen Minifigures were divided into four factions: four knights who led ten foot soldiers.  Eight of them – one knight and seven foot soldiers – seemed to compromise the Yellow Castle’s garrison.  They each had blue torsos and legs bore the same crown symbol that was on the Yellow Castle flag on their breastplates and shields.  The other six Minifigures were comprised of three color-coded dyads in black, white, and red: a black knight and foot soldier, a white knight and foot soldier, and a red knight and foot soldier.  Each infantrymen had the same symbol as the knight he accompanied on his breastplate and shield.

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Figure 4 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Eight Minifigures bore the Yellow Castle flag’s crown on their breastplates and shields.  Later Minifigures had emblems printed directly on their chests.  Most infantrymen have a helmet that has a nose guard and flares out to protect the neck.

Some-of-the-first-LEGO-minifigures-launched-in-1978

Figure 5 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The LEGO® Group introduced Minifigures in 1978.  These five Minifgures represented three product lines: LEGOLAND® Town, LEGOLAND® Space, and LEGOLAND® Castle.  From left to right, we have a Classic Astronaut from LEGOLAND® Space, a policeman and a doctor or nurse from LEGOLAND® Town, a foot soldier from the Yellow Castle in LEGOLAND® Castle, and the Fire Chief from LEGOLAND® Town.

 

Castle Minifigures (Set #0016) in 1978 consisted of three foot soldiers who each had one sword.  These foot soldiers were the first LEGO® Castle Minifigures to have a coat-of-arms emblem printed on their torsos.  This set saw the introduction of three new factions. Each had a different shield-shaped coat-of-arms emblem on his chest.  One was red-peach checkered, one was tricolored, and one divided vertically in two between red and gray halves.

Issued in 1979, Set #677 (Knight’s Procession), called Medieval Knights in the U.K., consisted of six Minifigures™: two axemen who pulled a handcart and four swordsmen who provided additional protection.  The LEGO Group introduced conical helmets (Part #3896) for infantrymen when they appeared on the two axemen who came with Knight’s Procession.[3]

Also issued in 1979, Set #383 (Knight’s Tournament) consisted of two mounted knights, two axemen, a lord and lady, a pavilion with two thrones, and a pine tree.  This was to be the first of several tournament sets.  All of the Minifigures™ in the LEGOLAND® Castle product line were soldiers, except for the lord and lady who sat in the Knight’s Tournament.  There was a common assumption they were a king and queen.  The lord and their guards had the tri-color emblem printed on their chests.  This emblem was also on stickers that went on the two flags that flew over the pavilion.  The torso of the lord was unique and had gold trim.  The lady had white legs and white torso with gold necklace printed on the chest.  He had the standard Male Hair element and she had a Female Hair element with pigtails.  The two guards were armed with poleaxes, but wore the helmets with nose guards rather than the conical helmets.  The two knights that came with this set had emblems printed on their chests and did not have breastplates.  Their emblems were also printed on their triangular shields.  One of the knights had a black torso and arms with the red-peach checkered shield emblem on his chest and shield.  The other had a blue torso and white arms with red quarters shield printed on his chest and shield.   This set was reissued in 1981.

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Figure 6 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: The first LEGO® Castle jousting set was Knight’s Tournament (Set #383), released in 1979, consisted of two mounted knights, two brick-built chargers (warhorses), two axemen, a lord and lady, a pavilion with two thrones, and a pine tree.

 

Castle Minifigures (Set #6002) in 1983 had two black knights with the checkered emblem and two foot soldiers with the half-red, half-gray emblem.  The knights did not have chargers.   It rather strangely came with three weapons (a poleaxe, a battle axe, and a sword) instead of four and only one shield.

Also issued in 1983, Castle Minifigures (Set #15-1) had four knights and two axemen.  There were two knights with black torsos with red arms and black legs.  The red-peach checkered emblem was printed on their chests and shields.  They had gray helmets with black visors.  They were armed with brown lances (representing wooden weapons) rather than gray lances (representing metal weapons).  There were two knights with blue torsos with white arms and white legs. They had the red quarters shield printed on their chests and shields.  They had gray helmets with red visors.  They were armed with swords.  None of these knights had chargers.  The axemen, had red torsos and legs, gray arms, the half-red, and the half-gray emblem on their chests.  They wore conical helmets, and carried poleaxes.

ENDNOTES

[1] The Black Falcons seemed to have been a favorite faction amongst LEGO Group executives and master model builders.  It was manufactured the longest of any subtheme.  In 2002, The LEGO Group re-issued the Black Falcon’s Fortress as part of the LEGO® Legends product line as Set #10039.  The next year, The LEGO Group introduced a Black Falcon memo pad in the Office & School Supplies product line in 2003. Two Black Falcons shields appeared in Set #4768 (The Durmstang Ship) from the defunct LEGO® Harry Potter™ product line in 2005.  A Black Falcons foot soldier appeared in Vintage Minifigure Collection, Volume 3 (Set #852697) in 2009.

[2] Originally, all of them were light gray, but dark gray, black, and silver-colored variants have appeared over the years to match the color schemes of new factions.

[3] Conical helemts have also appeared in various colors over the years, and were later used for archers and crossbowmen.  Around the turn of the century, kettle hat-type helmets replaced conical helmets.

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