By indexer
2 years ago

Castles in England

There are so many castles in England that it is impossible to give anything like a complete guide in a short article. Perhaps it would be more useful, therefore, to indicate the different types of castle that can be encountered and mention a few examples of each.

A castle can be defined as a building with defence as its main purpose. The inhabitants would have a degree of safety by staying within its walls, and they could use it as a base from which to attack their enemies. A castle is therefore typified as having high thick walls, turrets and ramparts from which to observe the surrounding countryside, battlements and narrow slit windows through which to fire arrows or guns at attackers, and perhaps other defensive devices such as a moat with a drawbridge and “murder holes” (for pouring hot oil on to the heads of attackers).

The visitor can see many castles in England that fit this pattern, but there are plenty of variations on the theme, from massively impressive fortifications such as at Kenilworth, to royal palaces such as Windsor and far more modest fortified country houses such as Stokesay.

By visiting a variety of castles, the tourist can learn a huge amount about the history of England from Roman times almost to the present day. Many castles have been owned by the same families for hundreds of years and adapted as times and conditions have changed. For example, the Percy family first occupied Alnwick Castle in Northumberland in 1309, when England under Edward II was at war with Scotland under Robert the Bruce. Over the centuries, the need for a defensive stronghold has been superseded by the desire for aristocratic comfort, so the visitor can see the 18th century gothic interior designed by Robert Adam and the 19th century Italianate decoration preferred by the Victorian inhabitants. In the castle grounds is a magnificent cascade designed by the current Duchess of Northumberland.

Leaving aside the hill forts of Iron Age man, such as Maiden Castle near Dorchester in Dorset, the first castles of note in England were built by the Romans, with Portchester near Portsmouth being the best surviving example. Built in the 3rd century AD, the Roman walls still stand more than 20 feet high. The castle was much extended and altered by succeeding generations and is still in an excellent state of repair.

Any English place name with “Chester” incorporated in it (such as Colchester and Manchester) or derivates such as Gloucester, Leicester or Lancaster, denotes a Roman foundation based on a castle, although many of these are hard to find today at the heart of what can be large and important cities. For example, Leicester still has its “Castle Park” but only the outline of a castle motte. However, several nearby buildings were once part of the medieval castle, such as Castle Hall, John of Gaunt’s Cellar and the Magazine Gateway.

The Norman invasion of 1066 led to a rash of castle building as the conquering knights were assigned large swathes of English land which they had to protect as best they could. The typical pattern was the “motte and bailey” castle comprising an artificial circular mound on which the central keep would be built, and an enclosure within with there would be supporting buildings such as workshops and stables. The bailey would offer quarters for the soldiers who comprised the lord’s retinue and could also be a place of refuge for local people during times of crisis. There was sometimes an inner and outer bailey, or baileys on either side of the keep. The original buildings and ramparts would have been built of wood, but most were later rebuilt in stone, and the remains of some of these can be visited today, such as at Totnes in Devon. At other sites only the outline of the motte and bailey can be seen, or the bailey has shaped the street pattern of the surrounding town, such as the market place at Richmond in Yorkshire.

The medieval period, from around 1200 to 1600, was the greatest period of English castle building, with many of the greatest castles dating from these times. A whole series of civil wars and local conflicts led to the need for strong defence, and the result was massive fortresses such as Kenilworth in Warwickshire, Dunstanburgh in Northumberland and Carlisle in Cumbria.

The stone castles of this era were designed to withstand long sieges, maintain a private army, intimidate the locals, and provide as gracious a style of living as possible for a powerful warlord and his family. They therefore contained facilities that marked them out as communities in their own right, typical features being a great hall (often used as a courtroom as well as a place for feasting), a chapel, large kitchens, wine cellars, armouries, dungeons for prisoners and private quarters for the family. Towers provided accommodation for troops as well as good vantage points. Gatehouses with portcullises and drawbridge machinery guarded the entrance, which was often a vulnerable point in the castle’s defence.

At Dunstanburgh, for example, a castle on the rugged coast of Northumberland, a massive gatehouse guarded an enclosure that was large enough for a whole army to assemble and to provide protection for the population for miles around.

Bodiam Castle in Sussex is probably closest to the popular image of an English castle, with symmetrical round towers at each corner and a broad moat spanned by a drawbridge.

At Kenilworth, which is one of England’s most spectacular castles, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, sought to impress Queen Elizabeth I by building a complete house for her within the castle walls. The remains of the house, and many more buildings, can be seen today.

Visitors to these castles should note how the inhabitants obtained their water supplies and disposed of their waste. In terms of the latter, there were often “garderobes” for the lord and his family, these being private toilets that dropped one’s “motions” straight down into the moat below!

One type of English castle that was distinctive from those described above is the defensive coastal castle that was typical of the reign of Henry VIII. A whole series of these stretched along the south coast to guard vulnerable points at which a seaborne invasion from France or Spain might be expected. These castles are typically low and circular, designed to house only a garrison of troops and provide platforms for mounting cannons. Because the threat of invasion continued for many years after Henry’s reign, most of the castles were kept in good repair and adapted to suit the needs of improved firepower as it developed over the centuries.

A good example is Dartmouth Castle in Devon, where visitors can see a series of fortifications that were used from the 15th century to the 20th, being manned as late as World War II. St Mawes and Pendennis Castles guard the two sides of the Fal estuary in Cornwall, and both castles can be visited.

During the English Civil War of 1642-9 many castles were pressed into service and re-fortified. Unfortunately, many suffered damage as a result with the victors giving orders that they be “slighted”, which meant that one wall of the keep was to blown up with gunpowder, thus causing the roof to fall in and the fortress to be unusable. This is what happened at Ashby in Leicestershire and Corfe in Dorset, to give just two examples.

As mentioned before, not all castles were intended to offer defence, and some were built with no greater purpose than for a rich person to show off his wealth. Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, although dating from the 13th century, was built at a time when there was relative peace and it was safe to put the emphasis on comfort. However, there are elements of both opulence and defence with a small stone keep adjoining the medieval manor house. The castle was never in danger and surrendered without a fight in 1645. Its virtual uselessness as a military structure saved it from the slighting mentioned above, which accounts for its excellent state of preservation today.

Castle building in England has continued into the 20th century, the best example being Castle Drogo in Devon. This was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to the order of a grocery magnate who discovered his Norman ancestry and wanted a castle to fit his status. The result is a country house that looks like a castle, complete with turrets and battlements, but with large windows that are more suited to viewing the spectacular scenery of the Teign Valley and Dartmoor than firing arrows at an enemy!

When visiting an English castle, the experience is often much more than simply seeing a historical edifice in a greater or lesser degree of repair. Castles often provide masses of information in terms of displays and artefacts, and sometimes double as the museum of the surrounding town or city. Splendid works of art and antique furnishings, as well as weapons and armour, are often on display, as at Warwick Castle. The castle surrounds are often maintained as beautiful gardens with the emphasis on reconstructing how they might have been in past times. Notable examples of the latter can be seen at Kenilworth and Richmond.

English castles often host events and historical reconstructions during the summer months. These are well worth planning for, as the visitor can experience a whole day of battles, military parades and demonstrations of English life and crafts from past centuries.

The visitor should bear in mind that not every building called a castle is open to the public. Some are in private hands and are lived in by the owners, who may or may not welcome visitors. Some castles are open only in part and some have very restricted opening times.

A good tip when visiting castles is to look out for those maintained by English Heritage and/or The National Trust. These organisations go out of their way to make the visit as enjoyable and informative as possible, as well as providing all the usual visitor facilities and keeping entrance fees as low as possible. An annual membership will ensure free admission to their properties and reduced charges for special exhibitions and events.

Also bear in mind that this article only scratches the surface of what can be seen in England in terms of castles. And then there is Wales, Scotland and Ireland to be visited as well!
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Justin Very interesting👍👍👍👍
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soncee Beautiful cattle great artikle
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indexer @soncee The picture is of Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, built during the reign of King Henry VIII.
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ze2000 @indexer a few more pictures would make this a wonderful article to share in other social media. You write amazing stuff, thanks!
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Shavkat That's totally awesome. I always appreciate this caste in pictures and seeing on TV.
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