Lego Castle Product Lines, Part I (1960-1983)


Introduction

Long 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.[1]  The LEGO Building Idea Book was meant to inspire children with concepts for constructing models with pieces from the basic sets then available.  The castle in the drawing was blue with red rooftops, a symmetrical design with twin towers flanking a central pavilion.[2] 

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. 

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.  Notably, four of the five towers and the turret were white while the fifth tower was yellow and white.

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.

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

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);[3] 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).

Part I: LEGO Classic Castle (1978-1983)

            Initially, knights had two-piece helmets.  It consisted of two parts: a light gray astronaut helmet from the LEGOLAND® Space theme and a visor with eye slits that snapped into the dimples of the astronaut’s helmet.  The visor could realistically swing up and down.  Plumage the same color as the visor was part of the visor, unlike with helmets made from the 1990s onward that consisted of three parts: helmet, visor, and plumage. 

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.[4] 

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. These brick-built warhorses had a blocky appearance but that made them look like a warhorse wearing barding (horse armor).

In the 21st Century, for the most part, knights released by The LEGO® Group have had gray or black hands to indicate they were wearing gauntlets, but the knights in the Yellow Castle, the Knight’s Tournament, and other sets from that era had yellow hands, which means they had bare hands like the infantrymen.  If a boy were to ask his father why the knights were bare-handed, I suppose a reasonable answer would be, “They haven’t put their gauntlets on yet.”

            The LEGOLAND® Castle product line began with Set #375 from 1978, known in English as the Yellow Castle.  The Yellow Castle was one of many sets designed by the late Daniel August Krentz (1937-2016).  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, directly opposite the drawbridge. 

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. 

Figure 3 Credits: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Released in 1978, Set #375 (Yellow Castle) was the first castle set in the LEGOLAND® Castle theme.  It had four towers, a working drawbridge, a second gate under the tallest tower, and a second-floor walkway.  The Yellow Castle could open on one side, 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 infantrymen (foot soldiers or guards).  Eight of them – one knight and seven foot soldiers – seemed to compromise the Yellow Castle’s garrison.  They each had blue torsos and legs AND 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.  All the emblems on the flags, breastplates, and shields were stickers applied to those objects. 

            For the blue knight, who was logically either the king or the king’s champion, the visor and helmet alike were light gray.  With the other knights the helmets were also light gray.  The white knight had a white visor, the black knight’s visor was black, and the red knight’s visor was red.

            The emblem on the flag of the Yellow Castle was an open yellow crown over a horizontal banner on a purple field.  A variation of that emblem that consisted of an open yellow crown on a purple field appeared on the shields and breastplates of the garrison.  The emblem of the red knight and his accompanying foot soldier consisted of a trio of yellow clubs on a blue field; the emblem of the black knight and his foot soldier consisted of two green chevrons on a yellow field; and the emblem of the white knight and his foot soldier consisted of a white Maltese cross on an orange field. 

To an adult, it would be obvious that the white knight and foot soldier were crusaders.  One could readily imagine a scenario where two noblemen and their bodyguards were meeting with the master of an order of crusaders (who would also be a member of a noble family) and his bodyguard were gathering at a royal castle to meet with their king.[5]  However, to a little boy who received the Yellow Castle as a toy somewhere between let us say 1978 and 1981, it might have been obvious the blue knight was the king and the blue troops were his guards, but the other three knights and their infantrymen were simply other knights and their men.

            All four knights were armed with light gray lances and shields.  Two of the blue infantrymen and the bodyguards of the white knight, red knight, and black knight were armed with light gray swords and shields.  The remaining blue infantrymen were each armed with a light gray poleaxe.  The chargers in the Yellow Castle were comprised entirely of black bricks. 

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.

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 infantrymen or 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 triangular shield-shaped coat-of-arms emblem on his chest.  One was red-peach checkered, one was tricolored, and one was divided vertically in two between red and gray halves. The latter would become the first faction in the LEGOLAND® or LEGO® Castle theme to not include a knight or lord or discernable leader of any kind, for that matter.

            Issued in 1979, Set #677 (Knight’s Procession), called Medieval Knights in the U.K., consisted of six Minifigures™: two axe-men 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 axe-men who came with Knight’s Procession.[6]   Mr. Krentz also designed this set.        

       Also issued in 1979, Set #383 (Knight’s Tournament) consisted of two mounted knights, two axe-men, a lord and lady, a pavilion with two thrones, and a pine tree.  This was also designed by Mr. Krentz and 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. This set was reissued in 1981.

There was a common assumption on the part of many boys back then that this couple was a king and queen.  It could be fairly argued they might be a prince and princess, though, whether a royal or imperial prince and princess or the prince of a principality and his consort.  In any case, 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 they wore helmets with nose guards rather than 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 with red arms with the red-peach checkered shield emblem on his chest and shield.  The other had a blue torso with white arms with red quarters shield printed on his chest and shield.  

Unlike the Yellow Castle chargers, the Knight’s Tournament chargers had caparisons (the cloth that would be over a warhorse’s barding).  These caparisons, of course, were brick-built and consisted of alternating red-and-black slopes and bricks for the black-and-red knight and alternating blue-and-white slopes and bricks for the blue-and-white knight.

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 axe-men, a lord and lady, a pavilion with two thrones, and a pine tree. 

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             Castle Minifigures (Set #6002) in 1983 had two black knights with the checkered emblem and two infantrymen with the half-red, half-gray emblem.  The knights did not have chargers.   Rather strangely, the set came with three weapons (a poleaxe, a battle axe, and a sword) instead of four and only one shield.  On the box, one of the knights carried the poleaxe, the other carried the battle axe, one of the infantrymen caried the sword, and the other infantryman carried the shield.  The shield was a blank gray shield rather than printed with the half-red, half-gray emblem, as if it was meant to be one of the shields from the Yellow Castle or the Knight’s Tournament that was supposed to have a sticker applied to it and The LEGO® Group Hadn’t bothered to include a sticker.  Another notable thing about the set is that both knights have helmets that consist of black visors on red astronaut helmets.  The shade of red was the same as the sleeves on their torsos.  This may not be realistic, but it gives the knights a striking appearance. 

Between the knights having black-and-red helmets and the one infantryman having a blank gray shield, men trying to build up armies to fill up tableaux for themselves or giving them to sons, grandsons, or nephews by buying pieces as they can on Bricklink to build and arm Minifigures™ should not feel funny about using blank gray shields or blank gray breastplates.  Nor should they feel funny about mixing and matching different colored visors and astronaut helmets for knights or mixing and matching torsos and pairs or legs for knights or infantrymen.

            Also issued in 1983, Castle Minifigures (Set #15-1) had four knights and two axe-men.  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 axe-men had red torsos and legs, gray arms, the half-red, and the half-gray emblem on their chests.  They wore conical helmets and carried light gray poleaxes.  An adult might guess the axe-men were supposed to be guards, but the little boys who received Set #15-1 could have imagined all kinds of scenarios. 

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Honorary Mentions

            Released as part of LEGO® Town (later renamed LEGO® City) exclusively in the British market in 1980 and Dutch market in 1983, Town Square (Set #1592) depicted a 20th Century parade through a European town square that included a castle compatible with the Yellow Castle LEGOLAND® Castle product line’s original, released in 1978.  The small castle was like a set in a stage play or a movie sound stage.  It had three arches, only one of which had a set of doors and was also reminiscent of the entrance of a theme park or zoo.  It stood between two more substantial (as in three-dimensional) structures that in the British version of the set had signs identifying them as a take-out food stand stand and a bookshop with signs that read respectively, “FISH and CHIPS” and “BOOKS.”  In the Dutch version, the shop had a “Kiosk” sign.  The castle itself had two posters which read “LEGOLAND CARNIVAL.”  In the British version, the castle flew a British flag, and in the Dutch version, it flew the Dutch flag.  The bookshop was a two-story structure with living quarters for the bookshop owner or an apartment for rent on the second level.  This second level was half-timber.  English-speakers would identify it as representative of Tudor architecture.  An enterprising boy could thus have incorporated the bookshop structure (minus the sign) into a castle of his own design.  The late Mr. Krentz also designed this set.

            Four of the eleven Minifigures™ that came with the set were undoubtedly supposed to be re-enactors dressed as medieval infantrymen and they were compatible with LEGO® Castle Minifigures. Two of them guarded the castle edifice whilst the other two were parade participants.  They had conical helmets, poleaxes, and triangular shields.  It was unheard of in actual LEGO® Castle sets for an infantryman to wield both a poleaxe and a shield, as it would have been for real medieval infantrymen because while a guard might be seen holding such a weapon in one hand, in combat a poleaxe is a two-handed weapon.  Something else that was unusual is that the coat-of-arms on their shields were stickers, as with the Yellow Castle instead of being printed directly on their shields, which The LEGO® Group introduced in 1978 with Castle Mini Figures (Set #15) and Castle Mini-Figures (Set #0016), which were army expansion sets. By contrast, the coat-of-arms was printed directly on the chests of these re-enactors, as with the Castle Minifigures that came after the Yellow Castle.  In retrospect, the lion rampant emblem of the re-enactors seems to have been a precursor of the crowned lion rampant emblem seen on most of the knights and infantrymen of the Crusaders (also known as Lion Crest) faction introduced in 1984.  People are selling sets on ebay for over $1,000.

            Another LEGO® Town set that included yellow bricks compatible with the Yellow Castle was Main Street (Set #1589), issued in 1978.  In this case, though, it was only a short stretch of castle or city wall that ran along a street that had been converted into a take-out stand (or a castle-themed ice cream stand) with a sign that read “ICES.”  Either way, this yellow brick structure also stood next to a two-story structure where the second story was half-timber (a style of architecture familiar to Americans in the form of what are commonly called Tudor or Tudor Revival houses).  In this case, the building was a post office.  Without the ‘POST OFFICE” sign, though, it also could have been incorporated into a castle or medieval city.  Further, the bus stop shelter included yellow bricks that, too, were compatible with the Yellow Castle.  Steve’s LEGO Blog included Town Square and Main Street in an overview of the Classic Castle LEGO® sets.

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END NOTES


[1] This article is a revised and expanded version of an article I wrote for my scholarly blog In the Garden City

[2] 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 an outer wall called a curtain wall.

[3] 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.    A Black Falcon Minifigure™ has not appeared in a set since one of the tournament knights in the kit Kingdoms Joust (Set #10223), released in 2011. In that case, the Black Falcon Knight was a visitor to or outsider at the court of the Lion King, who ruled the Lion Kingdom and headed the Royal Lion Knights faction, in the Kingdoms subtheme (2010-2012) of Castle.  Two Black Falcon knights appeared in the LEGO® Ideas® Medieval Blacksmith (Set #21325), which The LEGO® Group released worldwide on Monday, February 1, A.D. 2021.  Later that year, The LEGO® Group released the 3-in-1 Creator Medieval Castle, which was the third Black Falcon castle.

[4] 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. 

[5] Historically, orders of crusaders, including the Hospitallers (the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem), now more commonly known as the Knights of Malta; the Knights Templar (the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Jerusalem); and Teutonic Knights (the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary of Jerusalem) were international organizations and the leaders called masters or grand masters reported to the pope, not to any king.

[6] Conical helmets 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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