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The Construction Of Castles During The Middle Ages - Absolute History

He sets out to recreate the medieval understanding of castles as symbolically fortified places of all kinds, from ancient walled post-Roman towns and prestigious religious enclaves to transitory campaign forts. Going back to the original sources, Dr Coulson proposes a new and more subtle understanding of the function and symbolism of castles as well as vivid insights into the lives of the people who inhabited them. Fortresses were only occasionally caught up in war, but constantly were central to the ordinary life of all classes: of the nobility and gentry, of widows and heiresses, of prelates and clergy, of peasantry and townspeople alike.

Castles in Medieval Society presents and explores this broad social panorama. Much of what Coulson proposed was ground-breaking for the time, and the effect is to be seen in the work of the current generation of castle scholars This is a book not to be missed Gill Dowdall-Brown, Casemate There can be no doubt that this is an important, agenda-setting work Convert currency. Add to Basket.

Castles in medieval society : fortresses in England, France, and Ireland in the central Middle Ages

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Castles in Medieval Society: Fortresses in England, France, and Ireland in the Central Middle Ages

He sets out to recreate the medieval understanding of castles as symbolically fortified places of all kinds, from ancient walled post-Roman townsand prestigious religious enclaves to transitory campaign forts. Castles in Medieval Society presents and exploresthis broad social panorama. Seller Inventory AAV More information about this seller Contact this seller. This item is printed on demand. He demolishes the traditional belief that castles were overwhelmingly military in their function, showing how this was simply one aspect of a more complicated whole. He sets out to recreate the medieval understanding of castles as symbolically fortified places of all kinds, from ancient walled post-Roman townsand prestigious religious enclaves to transitory campaign forts.

Going back to the original sources, Dr Coulson proposes a new and more subtle understanding of the function and symbolism of castles as well as vivid insights into the lives of the people who inhabited them. Fortresses were only occasionally caught up in war, but constantly were central to the ordinary life of all classes: of the nobility and gentry, of widows and heiresses, of prelates and clergy, of peasantry and townspeople alike. This led to the proliferation of towers, with an emphasis on flanking fire.

These changes in defence have been attributed to a mixture of castle technology from the Crusades , such as concentric fortification , and inspiration from earlier defences, such as Roman forts. Not all the elements of castle architecture were military in nature, so that devices such as moats evolved from their original purpose of defence into symbols of power. Some grand castles had long winding approaches intended to impress and dominate their landscape. As a result, true castles went into decline and were replaced by artillery forts with no role in civil administration, and country houses that were indefensible.


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The word castle is derived from the Latin word castellum , which is a diminutive of the word castrum , meaning "fortified place". In its simplest terms, the definition of a castle accepted amongst academics is "a private fortified residence". During the First Crusade — , the Frankish armies encountered walled settlements and forts that they indiscriminately referred to as castles, but which would not be considered as such under the modern definition. Castles served a range of purposes, the most important of which were military, administrative, and domestic.

As well as defensive structures, castles were also offensive tools which could be used as a base of operations in enemy territory. Castles were established by Norman invaders of England for both defensive purposes and to pacify the country's inhabitants. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, castles tended to lose their military significance due to the advent of powerful cannons and permanent artillery fortifications; [9] as a result, castles became more important as residences and statements of power.

Comfortable homes were often fashioned within their fortified walls.

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Although castles still provided protection from low levels of violence in later periods, eventually they were succeeded by country houses as high status residences. Castle is sometimes used as a catch-all term for all kinds of fortifications and, as a result, has been misapplied in the technical sense. An example of this is Maiden Castle which, despite the name, is an Iron Age hill fort which had a very different origin and purpose. This coherent group shared a common origin, dealt with a particular mode of warfare, and exchanged influences. In different areas of the world, analogous structures shared features of fortification and other defining characteristics associated with the concept of a castle, though they originated in different periods and circumstances and experienced differing evolutions and influences.

For example, shiro in Japan, described as castles by historian Stephen Turnbull , underwent "a completely different developmental history, were built in a completely different way and were designed to withstand attacks of a completely different nature". By the 16th century, when Japanese and European cultures met, fortification in Europe had moved beyond castles and relied on innovations such as the Italian trace italienne and star forts.

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Like shiro , the Indian forts, durga or durg in Sanskrit , shared features with castles in Europe such as acting as a domicile for a lord as well as being fortifications. They too developed differently from the structures known as castles that had their origins in Europe. A motte was an earthen mound with a flat top. It was often artificial, although sometimes it incorporated a pre-existing feature of the landscape. The excavation of earth to make the mound left a ditch around the motte, called a moat which could be either wet or dry.

Although the motte is commonly associated with the bailey to form a motte-and-bailey castle, this was not always the case and there are instances where a motte existed on its own. A bailey, also called a ward, was a fortified enclosure. It was a common feature of castles, and most had at least one. The keep on top of the motte was the domicile of the lord in charge of the castle and a bastion of last defence, while the bailey was the home of the rest of the lord's household and gave them protection.

The barracks for the garrison, stables, workshops, and storage facilities were often found in the bailey. Water was supplied by a well or cistern. These simple fortifications were called ringworks. A castle could have several baileys but only one enceinte. A keep was a great tower and usually the most strongly defended point of a castle before the introduction of concentric defence.

In motte-and-bailey castles, the keep was on top of the motte.

Castles in Medieval Society : Charles Coulson : : Blackwell's

At first this was usual only in England, when after the Norman Conquest of the "conquerors lived for a long time in a constant state of alert"; [30] elsewhere the lord's wife presided over a separate residence domus , aula or mansio in Latin close to the keep, and the donjon was a barracks and headquarters. Gradually, the two functions merged into the same building, and the highest residential storeys had large windows; as a result for many structures, it is difficult to find an appropriate term.

Even in some large castles the great hall was separated only by a partition from the lord's "chamber", his bedroom and to some extent his office. Curtain walls were defensive walls enclosing a bailey. To protect them from undermining , curtain walls were sometimes given a stone skirt around their bases. Walkways along the tops of the curtain walls allowed defenders to rain missiles on enemies below, and battlements gave them further protection.

Curtain walls were studded with towers to allow enfilading fire along the wall. The entrance was often the weakest part in a circuit of defences. To overcome this, the gatehouse was developed, allowing those inside the castle to control the flow of traffic. In earth and timber castles, the gateway was usually the first feature to be rebuilt in stone. The front of the gateway was a blind spot and to overcome this, projecting towers were added on each side of the gate in a style similar to that developed by the Romans. The passage through the gatehouse was lengthened to increase the amount of time an assailant had to spend under fire in a confined space and unable to retaliate.

During the 13th and 14th centuries the barbican was developed. The purpose of a barbican was not just to provide another line of defence but also to dictate the only approach to the gate. A moat was a defensive ditch with steep sides, and could be either dry or filled with water. Its purpose was twofold; to stop devices such as siege towers from reaching the curtain wall and to prevent the walls from being undermined.

Water moats were found in low-lying areas and were usually crossed by a drawbridge , although these were often replaced by stone bridges. Fortified islands could be added to the moat, adding another layer of defence. Water defences, such as moats or natural lakes, had the benefit of dictating the enemy's approach to the castle. Battlements were most often found surmounting curtain walls and the tops of gatehouses, and comprised several elements: crenellations , hoardings , machicolations , and loopholes.

Crenellation is the collective name for alternating crenels and merlons : gaps and solid blocks on top of a wall. Hoardings were wooden constructs that projected beyond the wall, allowing defenders to shoot at, or drop objects on, attackers at the base of the wall without having to lean perilously over the crenellations, thereby exposing themselves to retaliatory fire.

Machicolations were stone projections on top of a wall with openings that allowed objects to be dropped on an enemy at the base of the wall in a similar fashion to hoardings. Arrowslits , also commonly called loopholes, were narrow vertical openings in defensive walls which allowed arrows or crossbow bolts to be fired on attackers. The narrow slits were intended to protect the defender by providing a very small target, but the size of the opening could also impede the defender if it was too small.

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A smaller horizontal opening could be added to give an archer a better view for aiming. Historian Charles Coulson states that the accumulation of wealth and resources, such as food, led to the need for defensive structures. The earliest fortifications originated in the Fertile Crescent , the Indus Valley , Egypt, and China where settlements were protected by large walls. Northern Europe was slower than the East to develop defensive structures and it was not until the Bronze Age that hill forts were developed, which then proliferated across Europe in the Iron Age. These structures differed from their eastern counterparts in that they used earthworks rather than stone as a building material.

The Romans' own fortifications castra varied from simple temporary earthworks thrown up by armies on the move, to elaborate permanent stone constructions, notably the milecastles of Hadrian's Wall.

Roman forts were generally rectangular with rounded corners — a "playing-card shape". In the medieval period, castles were influenced by earlier forms of elite architecture, contributing to regional variations. Importantly, while castles had military aspects, they contained a recognisable household structure within their walls, reflecting the multi-functional use of these buildings. The subject of the emergence of castles in Europe is a complex matter which has led to considerable debate.

Discussions have typically attributed the rise of the castle to a reaction to attacks by Magyars , Muslims, and Vikings and a need for private defence. Some high concentrations of castles occur in secure places, while some border regions had relatively few castles. It is likely that the castle evolved from the practice of fortifying a lordly home. The greatest threat to a lord's home or hall was fire as it was usually a wooden structure. To protect against this, and keep other threats at bay, there were several courses of action available: create encircling earthworks to keep an enemy at a distance; build the hall in stone; or raise it up on an artificial mound, known as a motte, to present an obstacle to attackers.

A bank and ditch enclosure was a simple form of defence, and when found without an associated motte is called a ringwork; when the site was in use for a prolonged period, it was sometimes replaced by a more complex structure or enhanced by the addition of a stone curtain wall.

These features are seen in many surviving castle keeps, which were the more sophisticated version of halls. They allowed the garrison to control the surrounding area, [62] and formed a centre of administration, providing the lord with a place to hold court. Building a castle sometimes required the permission of the king or other high authority. In the King of West Francia, Charles the Bald , prohibited the construction of castella without his permission and ordered them all to be destroyed.

This is perhaps the earliest reference to castles, though military historian R. Allen Brown points out that the word castella may have applied to any fortification at the time. Switzerland is an extreme case of there being no state control over who built castles, and as a result there were 4, in the country. From onwards, references to castles in texts such as charters increased greatly.

Historians have interpreted this as evidence of a sudden increase in the number of castles in Europe around this time; this has been supported by archaeological investigation which has dated the construction of castle sites through the examination of ceramics. Despite the common period in which castles rose to prominence in Europe, their form and design varied from region to region.

The introduction of castles to Denmark was a reaction to attacks from Wendish pirates, and they were usually intended as coastal defences. Their decoration emulated Romanesque architecture , and sometimes incorporated double windows similar to those found in church bell towers. Donjons, which were the residence of the lord of the castle, evolved to become more spacious. The design emphasis of donjons changed to reflect a shift from functional to decorative requirements, imposing a symbol of lordly power upon the landscape. This sometimes led to compromising defence for the sake of display.

This has been partly attributed to the higher cost of stone-built fortifications, and the obsolescence of timber and earthwork sites, which meant it was preferable to build in more durable stone. At the same time there was a change in castle architecture.

The towers would have protruded from the walls and featured arrowslits on each level to allow archers to target anyone nearing or at the curtain wall. These later castles did not always have a keep, but this may have been because the more complex design of the castle as a whole drove up costs and the keep was sacrificed to save money. The larger towers provided space for habitation to make up for the loss of the donjon.

Where keeps did exist, they were no longer square but polygonal or cylindrical. A peculiar feature of Muslim castles in the Iberian Peninsula was the use of detached towers, called Albarrana towers , around the perimeter as can be seen at the Alcazaba of Badajoz. They were connected to the castle by removable wooden bridges, so if the towers were captured the rest of the castle was not accessible.

When seeking to explain this change in the complexity and style of castles, antiquarians found their answer in the Crusades.