The Evolution of European Fortified Residences
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For centuries children across Europe and North America have been entertained with tales of heroic knights, damsels in distress and formidable castles. Lacking medieval fortifications of their own, many North Americans do not understand how the castle, as it is seen now, came to be. The most basic definition of a castle is that it “was the fortified residence of a Lord…” (Gibson, 8), and “The most accurate definition of a castle would be a fortification of the High Middle Ages that was characterized by high walls, usually a moat, and towers, regardless of whether it was a private residence or not” (Kaufmann, 21).
Since the beginnings of settled civilizations, towns and cities have been fortified. Alfred the Great (849 -899) and his children built burhs to protect Britain from the Danes (Gibson, 36). According to the Fighting Elite by Christopher Gravett, it was not until the ninth century that castles emerged, possibly due to the collapse of the Carolingian Empire, and the invasions of the Vikings, Magyars, and Moslems. Two of the earliest surviving stone castles are the towers at Dove-la-Fontaine (circa ninth century) and Langeais (late tenth/early eleventh centuries) in northern France (4). During the medieval period castles built near a town added to its security, while those built in conquered lands reminded everyone who was in charge (Gravett 4).
With pillaging tribes and aggressive armies a near constant threat, permanent protective structures became a necessity (Gibson, 120). Castles were often placed for strategic purposes. Roads and rivers, especially junctions of two or more, often served as trade routes, and subsequently, targets for bandits and invaders (Gravett, 3). Castles on major trade routes and navigable riv...
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...ers were left subject to the wet climate. The lead and timber parts decayed, while in southern England, the spoils of the hundred years war financed castles that “were rarely formidable, with considerable concession made to domestic comfort” (Pettifer xix). Abandonment and slighting during the English civil war has left many castles in a ruined state. Organizations such as Cadw in Wales work toward conservation and restoration of these iconic symbols of a romanticized age.
Kaufmann, J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann. The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages. US: Combined, 2001. Print.
Gibson, John. Anatomy of the Castle. NY: Metro, 2001. Print.
Gravett, Christopher. Fighting Elite: Medieval Siege Warfare. Oxford: Osprey, 2002. Print.
Pettifer, Adrian. Welsh Castles. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2000. Print.