Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland

By K. J. Stringer | Go to book overview

9
THE SCOTTISH MEDIEVAL CASTLE: FORM, FUNCTION
AND 'EVOLUTION'

Geoffrey Stell

The1 numerous castles and towers in the Scottish landscape prompt a variety of aesthetic, academic and practical responses. They can be appreciated in many different ways, but it is possible to distinguish three main underlying attitudes towards them.

Firstly, for over two centuries the Romantic viewpoint has evoked the medieval castle's dramatic, mysterious and legendary qualities, its grand and rugged features often making a perfect match with the magnificence of its original surroundings and the highly charged events in Scottish history with which it has been truly or allegedly associated.2 The castle's majestic appearance and setting (see plate 4) provided much of the inspiration for the castellated mansion-building fashions of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and have continued to inspire and reward even the most arduous works of restoration. Eilean Donan Castle (Ross and Cromarty), the late medieval stronghold of the MacKenzies of Kintail and their MacRae constables, is to many the archetypal Romantic castle, not only by reason of its picturesque situation, but also because of the destruction that it suffered as a Jacobite outpost in 1719, coupled with the devoted efforts that lay behind its twentieth-century reconstruction.3

Secondly, given that the castle at its simplest definition was a strongpoint for the securing and exercise of feudal lordship, the study of castellated architecture has long had a specialist military bias. The more warlike aspects of castle history and function have been emphasised, and a close correlation has been postulated between castle-design, weaponry,4 siege-warfare and private armies. These views have undoubtedly been influenced by interpretations of medieval technology and warfare embodied, for example, in the works of Viollet-le-Duc (plate 5); at different periods in modern times, they have also been conditioned by contemporary military thinking.5 The seminal studies on castles in Britain that were published in and around the two World Wars earlier this century were not immune from these influences,6 but they continue to provide the foundations on which the modern study of Scottish castles and fortified houses is constructed. By the nature of their approach, military and architectural historians alike have created a trend towards the classification and subdivision of the castle 'genus', hence the appearance of 'species' such as 'enclosure-castles', 'courtyard-castles', 'shell-keeps', 'keepgatehouses', 'tower-houses' and 'hall-houses'7 when medieval man appears to have referred only to castles, towers, fortalices and manor-places.

Everyone is aware that medieval kings, nobles and lairds did not spend their

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