Castle is one of LEGO's core themes and was introduced in 1978. Originally centered around medieval life, involving knights and castles, it also incorporated popular fantasy elements as it saw many changes over the years and is still running today. The theme is the third longest-lived in the LEGO universe (after Town and Trains).
The first LEGO castle model ever was 0 Weetabix Castle, a promotional set from Weetabix, that was available in 1970.
Initial sets (1978 - 1983) Edit
The Castle theme was started in 1978 when also the minifigures were introduced. The initial release comprised only one set, 375 Castle. The following year brought two other sets, 383 Knight's Tournament and 677 Knight's Procession. At first those sets were only available in Europe but were finally also released in the US in 1981. Until 1984, Castle consisted of only these three sets and two others which were promotional 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 Space helmets of that era and movable visor-pieces that were only available in this 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) Edit
In 1984 the Castle theme was totally renewed. Two new factions, the Crusaders and the Black Falcons, as well as a sheer flood of new pieces were introduced. Among the new pieces 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 apects 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 minifig 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 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, also featured the first female minifig 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 theme, 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 unambiguously evil faction in 1992, the Wolfpack, which was basically a band of robbers. This was also the first year in which Castle-minifiguresbwere 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, 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 minigures that were given a name. Dragon Masters also brought some new interesting pieces, 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 some 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 crazy looking 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 on their own that did not not have any connection to the ones of another subtheme.