Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500. Volume II, East Anglia, Central England and Wales

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Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500, Volume II, East Anglia, Central England and Wales, by Anthony Emery. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000. xv, 724 pp. $195.00 U.S. (cloth).

Outside of the relatively full attention which has been paid to castles and ecclesiastical buildings in later medieval England, it seems fair to say that the period has not been well examined by modern authorities on English domestic building. The absence of the late medieval volume in the Oxford History of English Art series, covering the period 1461-1553, along with the failure of many archaeologists to adopt this era as their own, no doubt account for some of this neglect. Thanks to Salzman's recently re-issued classic Building in England Down to 1540, Margaret Lloyd's equally classic but more outdated The English Medieval House, early volumes of Colvin's History of the King's Works, and the efforts of Colin Platt and others to describe the context of such building, we have at least some baselines from which to work. Yet neither the methodical documentation of surviving buildings themselves, nor the examination and systematic tracing of the major elements -- great halls, chambers and offices -- of their form, nor the systematic attention to regional variations in building patterns, had received their due. Now, at least for the northern two-thirds of England and all of Wales, they have.

In this second of a projected three volume work Anthony Emery sets out to document and describe all the primary and a goodly number of the secondary houses built by the upper ranks of medieval landed society, in Wales and Central England (the West, Central and East Midlands, and East Anglia) between 1300 and 1500. The work covers over 260 (though not the 320 houses claimed in the publisher's blurb!) such houses, with their associated buildings. Although his claim makes no clear distinction between surviving and non-surviving buildings, most of those which are included have survived -- albeit often in heavily rebuilt or ruined form -- at least into the twentieth century. Emery claims to exclude "secular cathedral closes, town houses, and vernacular dwellings," but it nevertheless remains difficult not to label many or even most of his examples as anything but vernacular.

In order to place these discussions in their appropriate contexts, Emery has provided for each of the four English regions under consideration prefatory essays on the historical background, the architectural characteristics, and special features of each region, along with a complete bibliography specific to it. For Wales, which has been even more poorly investigated than England, he follows a succinct discussion of the landscape with individual essays on particular building types. Finally, to set his subject in yet another context, he has shorter but still useful discussions of variant building types: guildhalls, monastic buildings, moated tower-houses, palace-fortresses, trophy houses, royal and baronial houses, and episcopal residences.

It must already be evident that in its comprehension and detail, Emery has provided an invaluable reference work for the vast majority of country houses built in this time and in these counties, one which surely must find a place in every serious architectural library. Each entry describes the layout, physical components, and construction of the building insofar as they can be determined from what remains or, in the case of those which have not survived, from photographs or drawings. Each describes the history and provenance of the building in question, tells us at least something of its builders and early owners, and provides copious documentation in the form both of notes and bibliography. Many entries are further augmented with a photo or drawing. (And though it may be churlish to say so about such an already full treatment, one wonders if the many manuscript volumes of the Buckler Drawings, held both at Oxford and in the British Library, could have permitted documentation of still more non-surviving buildings. …