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The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England

The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England

Abigail Wheatley
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Medieval castles have traditionally been explained as feats of military engineering and tools of feudal control, but Abigail Wheatley takes a different approach, looking at a range of sources usually neglected in castle studies. Evidence from contemporary literature and art reveals the castle's place at the heart of medieval culture, as an architecture of ideas every bit as sophisticated as the church architecture of the period. This study offers a genuinely fresh perspective. Most castle scholars confine themselves to historical documents, but Wheatley examines literary and artistic evidence for its influence on and response to contemporary castle architecture. Sermons, seals and ivory caskets, local legends and Roman ruins all have their part to play. What emerges is a fascinating web of cultural resonances: the castle is implicated in every aspect of medieval consciousness, from private religious contemplation to the creation of national mythologies. This book makes a compelling case for a new, interdisciplinary approach to castle studies. ABIGAIL WHEATLEY studied for her PhD at York University's Centre for Medieval Studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-280-1
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The castle had a dominant presence in medieval society, both physically and ideologically. Controlled by elites, castles towered over medieval villages and towns and were sites of judgement and administrative control. However, castles were also depicted over and over again in the medieval arts as heraldic devices, as pastry or paper table decorations,¹ on seals (see Plates 1, 2 and 3) and as large-scale props in pageants.² They featured figuratively in sermons,³ theological treatises⁴ and religious lyrics⁵ and in manuscript marginalia (see Plate X), as well as in the more familiar contexts of romance and chronicle. To the modern understanding,...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The Idea of the Castle
    (pp. 19-43)

    A close correlation exists in British castle studies between theories about the origins of the castle in England and the question of the proper meaning of the termcastle. No thorough linguistic study has yet been made of the meaning and development of the word, despite its great significance for the understanding of the medieval castle. This chapter cannot provide an exhaustive survey, but it sets out a summary of the word’s origins and development in English usage in order to clarify this point.

    The passage quoted above, from the entry for 1052 in British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B.iv,...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Urban Castle
    (pp. 44-77)

    In the previous chapter I showed that the medieval understanding of castle words allowed for a wide degree of overlap between private fortifications and fortified communal and urban enclosures. I used linguistic arguments to explore this link mainly at the level of verbal usage and understanding. However, in this chapter I concentrate on the ways in which the relationship between castle and town was explored symbolically, in medieval literature and art, and in the spatial and political juxtaposition of urban castles and town defences.

    The quotation cited above, from Caxton’s preface to hisEneydos, serves as introduction to a number...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Spiritual Castle
    (pp. 78-111)

    Castles and churches are without doubt the most impressive architectural achievements of the Middle Ages, yet they have traditionally been studied from different points of view and by different scholars. This approach has inevitably emphasized the contrasts between them, especially in terms of their ideological connotations. The whole of this book is an attempt to show that defensive architecture could communicate meaning in the same ways as ecclesiastical architecture. This chapter seeks to explore in more detail some of the ideological similarities and connections between defensive and devotional buildings. Physical architectural resemblances, joint planning and patronage are implicated in these...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Imperial Castle
    (pp. 112-145)

    In June 1283 work began on Caernarfon Castle, part of Edward I’s massive castle-building campaign designed to consolidate the English position in Wales by fortifying newly acquired territory.¹ The castle at Caernarfon alone cost over £20,000, a huge amount of money in contemporary terms, and took nearly fifty years to complete.² It was built at the mouth of the River Seiont, site of the ancient Welsh centre of Gwynedd; its thirteen polygonal towers and its exterior wall surface were given decorative treatment through coloured banding in the stonework, achieved by the alternation of dark and light stone courses (see Plates...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 146-150)

    The aim of this book has been to establish the medieval castle as a meaningful architecture, involved in a sophisticated series of ideological relationships with its cultural context. I have set out to trace the architectural iconography of the castle through references in visual and textual sources, and to retrace this iconography back to the physical architecture of the medieval buildings themselves. The conclusions presented here summarize those reached in each chapter of this book, but also point to wider implications and further possibilities for research.

    Linguistic analysis shows that many modern definitions of the medieval castle do not match...

    (pp. 151-168)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 169-174)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-176)