Castles are a type of fortified structure – usually a private residence owned by the Crown, lord or noble.
|Portchester Castle, Hampshire was built within a Roman
fort. Despite adaptation as a medieval castle, it is
the best preserved Roman fort north of the Alps
This is distinct from a palace, which was not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence .... though there are similarities among these types of construction.
Usage of the term ‘castle’ has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as ancient hill forts to more ‘recent’ country houses.
Positioning early on would be on high ground (natural or man-made) for defence of the local area; access to water would be essential – both as a drinking supply, as well as for transport (easier than dirt tracks).
|The burh wall at Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Earth and timber forts had their defences strengthened by stone. The Romans (AD 43 – AD 410) brought us new ways of building, found new sites and made permanent settlements.
A Burh is on Old English name for a fortified town or defended site, sometimes centred on a hill fort; the boundaries of ancient burhs can often still be traced to modern urban borough limits.
Most of these Burhs were founded by Alfred the Great, who reigned 871 – 899, in a consciously planned policy that was continued under his Mercian heirs. You will recognise some of these boroughs today – Chester, Winchester and Stafford.
|Reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon
royal palace at Cheddar, Somerset,
around 1,000 AD
There had been regular attacks from overseas invaders – the Angles and Saxons, then the Vikings – after the Romans had retreated back into Europe.
Skirmishes continued against the local tribes - the Celts, the Welsh, the Scots and the Picts.
|Viking long house - reconstruction -
from the ring castle at Fyrkat, near
In the meantime the original Vikings were still ravaging the English coasts and sending in invading parties.
The Normans were descended from their Norse Viking conquerors. Their identity emerged in the first half of the 10th century, gradually evolving over succeeding centuries.
|The Norman "White Tower", the Keep of the Tower of
London, exemplifies all uses of a Castle (as we would
expect in a capital city) including city defence, place of
residence, place of refuge in times of crisis, a prison
The Normans with their quick adaptability expressed in their willingness to take on local men of talent, to marry the high-born local women; ...
... and being confident enough to use the literate clerks of the church for their own purposes were able to consolidate their holdings, both in France and England.
King Ethelred II of England had married Emma, sister of Duke Richard II of Normandy; they fled to Normandy – thereafter the Norman-educated mind influenced the future of England.
The Normans in the 10th century began building mainly timber castles in France; the Saxon lords in England began building fortified houses in the 10th and 11th centuries.
|Warwick Castle and the River Avon: built by
William the Conqueror in 1068, within or adjacent to
the Anglo-Saxon burh - authorised by Ethelfleda,
daughter of Alfred the Great. Strategically an important
site on the Fosse Way
King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) authorised the Normans to build a motte and bailey castle at Ludlow in about 1050 – so the Normans were used to living and working in England.
In 1066, William the Conqueror invaded, conquered and used stone to build strong, defensive castles. We know from the Domesday Book that they populated the bulk of England and Wales.
England’s feudal kingdom under Edward I (1272 – 1307) expands the castle growth into north Wales and Scotland to subjugate those peoples. Edward’s strategic castle building project was one of the biggest in all of Europe.
|Edward I's Harlech Castle, Wales design
was influenced by Edward's experiences
in the Crusades (built 1280)
Forays overseas, including the Crusades, opened Royal minds to new building techniques – for instance strong towers, which are later called ‘keeps’.
Fortification changes seen in the Holy Land, northern and western Europe influenced castle builders in England.
‘Modernisation’ takes place – concentric castles appear in the early 1200s. By the mid 1300s cannon was on the scene, so gun-ports were added to castle walls.
Once armies were able to go to sea then coastal defences became a necessity.
During this time the role of the King, the nobles, the church and their peoples were influencing the location of castles as medieval society adapted. High status features, such as fish ponds, were a statement of power and control of resources.
|Leeds Castle - built for show (status) rather than defence.
The landscape has been managed since the 13th century.
The castle overlooks artificial fish ponds and lakes and is
within a medieval deer park.
Also found near a castle, sometimes even within its defences was the parish church. This signified a close relationship between feudal lords and the Church, one of the most important institutions of medieval society.
During the next couple of hundred years the building of castles was consolidated, with Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) reinforcing the eastern, southern and western English coastal castle defences.
|Deal Castle, Kent built 1539/40 - one of Henry VIII
artillery (coastal) fortifications or device forts
By the 1600s the great age of castle building draws to a close; with many of them being abandoned by the 1800s.
This was due to insufficient investment for maintenance and the Crown was increasingly selective about which royal castles it maintained, while others were left to decay.
Windsor, Leeds (Kent), Rockingham and Moor End (both in Northamptonshire) were kept up as comfortable accommodation residences; Nottingham and York formed the backbone for royal authority in the north, while Chester, Gloucester and Bristol forming the equivalents in the west.
|Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire - after its
redesign at the beginning of the 17th C
Even major fortifications such as the castles of North Wales and the northern border castles of Carlisle, Bamburgh and Newcastle-upon-Tyne saw funding and maintenance reduced.
Many royal castles continued to have a role as the county gaol, with the gatehouse frequently being used as the principal place of residence (facility), when the Crown was not in town.
There are a few hundred castles listed (including fortified manor houses, halls etc), with many more castles of which only earthworks, fragments or nothing actually remains (albeit they are known about) in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
|Kenilworth Castle - the recently restored
Elizabethan Knot Garden, designed to
reproduce the appearance of the
gardens in 1575
Today as I have tried to show you through the A - W postings a variety of Castles - there are many to tempt you to visit and many I have not shown.
Fortunately our heritage through these castles as residences today, ruins, ongoing restoration and/or refurbishment is available to showcase our rich history.
That is X for Castles – a potted history of Castles through the ages – part of the ABC series Aspects of British Castles.
Bob Scotney and I both featured Warkworth Castle for our W post – Bob’s link is here.
Added in 2016 to my post on St Nicolas Church, Pevensey ... via Mel of A Heron's View ... re sweat rooms in castles - he sent me off to look for sweat rooms ... but I found this article instead:
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories