History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 July 2009

Castles Defined

Quickly, without putting on your scholar's cap, what does the word CASTLE call to mind? My first image is the Disney Castle but then I was raised on Walt Disney every Sunday night. When I asked my niece what words she would use to describe the way a castle made her feel she said: safe (and beautiful but that is a another subject entirely)

Not bad for a ten-year-old. Sir Charles Oman in his book "Castles" defines it as “a fortified dwelling intended for purposes of residence and defense.” It takes four pages of fascinating reading to prove his phrase.

Timber and Earth castles were the simplest castles to bear the name. They were not much more than a raised earth mound and a small house-like structure surrounded by a wooden palisade. Usually made of oak, they could withstand attacks but were built for security and not to impress. I'd love to write a story where the bride is told she will live in a castle and arrives to find "timber and earth" and not one iota of elegance.

Scholars used to think that timber and earth castles preceded stone castles Now it is thought that both were built at the same time, the determining factor being how quickly the castle was needed and what materials were available (source: "Castles of Britain and Ireland" by Plantagenet Fry).

Dating from 1066 to1200 timber and earth castles or their stone counterparts were built for the purpose of controlling newly claimed property and the people who lived on it. There were two types of castles according to Oman: royal and baronial.

The king had a series of castles built to protect his interest. To intimidate the populace, to defend from an external enemy and those built to protect critical rivers, roads and passes. Oman estimates that before 1100 William had some thirty royal castles.

Baronial castles were spots chosen by the new Norman landholders as the best place to site their building, both for defense and convenience of travel. Not being the most trusting king in the world, William rarely bestowed a whole region on a single man. If a knight had more than one castle they were nowhere near each other, each castle protecting a separate holding. The exceptions were in the great frontier areas such as Shrewsbury.

Uusally, castles were built near population centers. There are hardly any castles dating from the Norman conquest in “the long stretch in the wooded weald of Kent and Sussex between the line of castles north of it and those near the sea.” (Osman) The same is true of the moors, fens and bare downs.

One of those classed as ‘near the sea’ by Osman is one of my all time favorite castles pictured at the right – Bodiam Castle. It was built in one complete operation in the 1380’s significantly after the Norman Conquest. It is ironic that the license permitted the knight to build the castle because of the real threat of French invasion. In his book, Fry gives a wonderful description of the interior of Bodiam, clearly built for comfort and defense.

Bodiam’s defenses were not “severely” tested until it was threatened with bombardment during the Civil War – the owner promptly surrendered.

In my book LOVER'S KISS, the art department inadvertently designed the prefect castle for the Pennistan family. When I saw the cover I knew that this was the place the Pennistans had called home for hundreds of years. The rounded part is the original building, built for defense, complete with a partial moat. After the Civil War the square section was added for comfort.

One last thought: palaces were built for lavish comfort and not for defense. The words castle and palace are not interchangeable even though some castles grew into very comfortable houses.

What comes to mind when you think of a castle? Do you have a favorite?

(This is an updated version of a subject originally discussed on January 13, 2007)


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Mary. My first trip to England in 1981, I must have seen about 15 castles over the five weeks I was there, everything from Arundel to Dover, Windsor to Edinburgh. But my favorite castles have to be Leeds and Hever. I'm also dying to see some of Ludwig's castles in Bavaria, one of which Disney used as a model for the castle at Disneyland and Disneyworld.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fabulous post, Mary! I remember learning the difference between castle and palace when I was in Scotland with my parents when I was seven. My mom and I went to Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace at either end of the Royal Mile. The contrast makes the difference very clear.

I've researched castles because often great country houses contain bits of an original castle (like my fictional Dunmykel, which has a fifteenth century tower in corporated into the building that has been added to through the the centuries). Love the castle on your book cover!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Elizabeth -- I thought of the Ludwig's castle and suspect that Oman was talking only about the castles of Great Britain. Clearly it is a subject I am going to research further.

Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace -- I will check out both of them online. Thanks Tracy.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

The castle at Neuwachstein is incredible Elizabeth. Ludwig may have been mad, but he had exquisite tastes!

My favorite castles are two from my childhood that were quite close to the village where we lived. Neither of them is spectacular when I think of them now, but when I was a child Orford Castle and Framlingham Castle were a very big deal!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Framlingham dates from 600 and was in the hands of the Danes for fifty years -- we're talking old!

And this is what the English Heritage website says about Orford:

"The unique polygonal tower keep of Orford Castle stands beside the pretty town and former port which Henry II also developed here in the 1160s. His aim was to counterbalance the power of turbulent East Anglian barons like Hugh Bigod of Framlingham, and to guard the coast against foreign mercenaries called to their aid.

An 18-sided drum with three square turrets, and a forebuilding reinforcing its entrance, the keep was built to a highly innovative design. The progress of its construction between 1165 and 1173 is extensively recorded in royal documents."

Louisa, just looking at these two makes me realize how general Oman's discussion is. The two look completely different -- built 500 years apart and still fit his dictate that a castle is "a fortified dwelling intended for purposes of residence and defense." Thanks for adding to my understanding

7:00 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Edinburgh and Holyrood are my favorite castles, too, having been the only ones I ever visited. It was so impressive looking down on the city from Edinburgh Castle. Another unexpected treat was the Royal Scots Museum - being a Waterloo junkie it was a thrill to see that exhibition!

One wonderful thing about traveling around the British Isles. You come across castle ruins here and there, a whole history just...there!

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never really liked Neuschwanstein - it's too artificial. Not surprising that Disney modeled his castles after it.... but of course tastes differ!
I love all the British castles, of course, in particular the Welsh ones which are fabulous. However, Austria and Germany has some of the finest castles in Europe. Here is Hochosterwitz, for example:
Many of them never were converted into palaces yet were made more habitable - so the situation is a bit different from the UK.

3:58 AM  

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