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13 January 2007

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.


For my book LOVER'S KISS, the art department, in a moment of complete mind-meld, 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)




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5 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Great post! I was amazed to find out just how quickly a castle could be built. When the Turks took Constantinople they threw up Rumeli Hisar in a mere four months!

10:44 AM  
Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Thank you, Mary, for this post and particularly for the picture of Bodiam Castle. Isn't it magical? I visited it on a recent trip to the UK and thought then it was just the perfect child's image of a castle! The same way Millaa Millaa Falls in North Queensland in Australia always look like the perfect child's image of a waterfall - http://www.australianscenics.com/images/millaa-millaa.jpg

12:53 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

My first thought of castles is Mad Ludwig's castle in Germany on which Disney has based their castle.

In 2002, when we visited Scotland, we visited Glamis castle where Queen Elizabeth (current one) was born. They still have her nursery as is.

I love Alnwick castle the best for its sheer romance: strong, rugged, yet graceful. And the Duke of Northumberland's library... <swoon>

1:37 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wonderful, Mary. I love the look of Bodiam Castle. Way back, before I started writing, I spent a winter night in Nuremburg Castle in a cold stone room with about 50 other Girl Scouts. The accommodations were cheap and primitive but certainly atmospheric. I can still feel the chill . . . it was just like every description I've ever read about a cold and drafty 13th century castle . . . . But what fun!

3:33 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Most of my castle "studies" have been in the UK. There were a dozen I could have posted but stuck with what I think is the most picturesque. Kalen, Rumeli Hisar is amazing. Germany and France have their own claims to fame as well. Thanks for broadening my base.

8:01 PM  

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