Britain's Medieval Castles

Britain's Medieval Castles

Britain's Medieval Castles

Britain's Medieval Castles

Synopsis

The widespread construction of castles in Britain began as soon as Duke William of Normandy set foot on the shores of southern England in 1066. The castles that were constructed in the ensuing centuries, and whose ruins still scatter the British countryside today, provide us with an enduring record of the needs and ambitions of the times. But the essence of the medieval castle- a structure that is equal parts military, residential, and symbolic- reveals itself not only through the grandeur of such architectural masterpieces as the Tower of London, and the imposing nature of such royal residences as Windsor, but also in the aging masonry carvings, enduring battlements, and more modest earthen ramparts that have survived alongside them. Through a feature-by-feature account of the architectural elements and techniques used in constructing the medieval castle, author Lise Hull allows the multiple functions of these multifarious forms to shine through, and in so doing, lends a new vitality to the thousand faces that the medieval world assumed to discourage its enemies, inspire its friends, and control its subjects.

This compelling investigation takes a unique look at each of the medieval castle's main roles: as an offensive presentation and defensive fortification, as a residential and administrative building, and as a symbolic structure demonstrating the status of its owner. Each chapter focuses on one specific role and uses concrete architectural features to demonstrate that aspect of the medieval castle in Britain. A wealth of illustrations is also provided, as is a glossary explaining the distinct parts of the castle and their functions. This book should be of interest to students researching architecture, the Middle Ages, or military history, as well as general readers interested in castles or considering a trip to Britain to observe some of these magnificent sites themselves.

Excerpt

Those of us who live in places where castles never thrived often grow up believing that Disney's Cinderella Castle, with its palatial staircases, spires rising to the skies, and pristine bejewelled furnishings fit for Prince Charming, firmly represents the medieval castle. The proliferation of photos of Mad Ludwig's Neuschwanstein in magazines, books, and even on jigsaw puzzle boxes reinforces that notion. So does bestowing regal names on buildings that are no more than grand mansions, like Hearst Castle at San Simeon or Belcourt Castle in Newport, Rhode Island. While such buildings were certainly pleasure palaces for their owners, built to impress their guests and passersby, none is a castle in the true sense of the term. None dates any earlier than the eighteenth century, and none of the builders intended them as military strongholds. Declaring their flamboyant homes as castles, men like Mad Ludwig of Bavaria, William Randolph Hearst, and Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont intended to send an unspoken message to the world: [Look at me! I am fabulously wealthy, incredibly important, and possess what you should covet but can only hope to achieve.]

When arriving at an authentic castle, uninitiated visitors are sometimes disappointed. They expect to see an occupied, completely intact castle, like Windsor, with its State Apartments fitted for royalty, bearskin-topped guardsmen wearing scarlet jackets standing stoically at attention. Instead, they . . .

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