Enchanting journey through feudal England in the wake of Norman castle building.
Before William the Conquerer arrived in 1066, why did the English lack castles while the French had them in abundance? A historian specializing in the Middle Ages, Morris (King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta, 2015, etc.) imparts some fascinating information in this accessible study for readers, leading us from one noted English castle to the next without an overabundance of technical construction detail. As the author defines them, castles were fortresses as well as residences. Indeed, in England, after the Viking invasions of the ninth century, the king did not permit private fortifications; rather, he was in favor of the communal burh, or borough, where everyone lived within a walled community. On the other hand, after the Viking invasions in France, specifically in Normandy, the French experienced political fragmentation, and powerful men took “the matter of defense into their own hands.” The Normans brought their motte-and-bailey style to England; before the use of stone, castles were constructed with high earthen walls, ditches, and wooden buildings, as illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. Soon the countryside was dotted by such motte-and-bailey castles, built by William’s supporters; the author estimates that around 500 castles were built by the Normans in England during his reign. William’s Tower of London was the prototypical “keep,” made of stone and more expensive to build but able to expand bigger, stronger, and taller. Other fine examples of keeps are the Rochester, Harlech, and Bodiam castles, appearing here in helpful photos. Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century prompted the construction of some massive, showy buildings, “tools of conquest,” such as the castles of Caernarfon and Beaumaris. Morris also depicts the “castle’s last stand” during the English civil war, when the doomed King Charles took refuge in the stately Raglan Castle in Wales.
An engaging work that will no doubt prompt enthusiastic visits to castles around Britain.