Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Castles in the Time of Henry II

Purpose of castles, strongholds [ferté] or keeps

A French hagiographer [of St. Gall] has given a very exact account of them. Unsympathetically he has explained that their purpose was to enable their castellans, who were constantly occupied with quarrels and massacres, to protect themselves from their enemies, to triumph over their equals, to oppress their inferiors; in short to defend themselves and dominate others.

Essentially castles were the fortified homes of the king or large land owners. Additional functions ascribable to them include the following

1. Defending the home and land of the lord and the local people
2. Status symbol of the power of a lord.
3. As a strategic fortress, for example blocking an invasion route into a land.
4. As a legal centre for the holding of trials and resolving disputes,
5. As a prison and place of execution.


During periods when the central authority of the king was weakened such as during the Anarchy during King Stephen's reign, many castles were erected illegally. Generally one required the king's permission to build a castle, "licence to crenellate".

History
There were few castles in England before the Norman Conquest. Indeed the success of William the Conqueror's invasion can partially be attributed to the rapidity with which his followers, who became his barons and  tenants-in-chief organised the construction of hundreds across the whole land following the invasion.

The first castles built in England were of a wooden construction - Motte and Bailey "castles", which were more like wooden fortresses in nature than castles of the popular imagination: they were so-called after the French words for mound and enclosure. A wooden palisade surrounded the enclosure, the Bailey. The Motte was generally a fortified tower on top of a hill or artificial mound. It too might have its own surrounding palisade, or was sometimes enveloped by a moat. The timber used in these constructions were often pre-fabricated, shaped to  size off site, and brought in a ready state to use to the site in order to ensure a speedy erection. Every castle had to have its own independent source of water, and considerable storage for food and forage for men and horses to withstand a siege. The principal and baron's own manor or caput of a barony generally had a castle. It was the home of the lord and his administrative headquarters. A barony of 20 or more knight's fees might be called an Honour. Sometimes an Honour comprised a chain of castles and forts controlling a given region..

The idea of a castle was that a small number of men at arms and mounted knights led by their baron well-protected when within their castle could rule the countryside, and control and subjugate a very much larger region of land surrounding the castle, that when they were secured within their castle it was very difficult to oust them from it, requiring possibly months of siege. Wooden construction, however, was vulnerable to fire, their main weakness. But it would still require a considerable organised force to capture a castle.

From about 1100 stone castles began to be built. The wooden defences began to be replaced by walls and towers of stone. These were typically a stone rectangular keep surrounded by a stone wall. The Tower of London, a typical example, had a high stone keep, one which Becket personally himself is known to have spent a great of money on maintaining it, when he was Chancellor, and Custodian of the Tower. Berkhamsted castle, is an example of a Motte and Bailey castle which acquired stone walls during the 12th century, possibly organised by Becket himself who was its custodian too.

Later in the 12th century castles with multiple concentric rings of stone walls were developed. Dover Castle is a prime example of one of these

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