‘Castles in Context’, R. Liddiard

I recently read this revisionist piece of castle history, specifically concerning the building of castles in Anglo-Norman England (and Wales) between 1066 and the 1500’s. The gist of the book goes by the way of: “The prevailing argument thus far in studies of history and English castle building is that these were structures constructed with the purpose of defense/offense and were overtly military in their functionality.”

The author, Robert Liddiard, takes the side of a newer, still developing, point of view and argues to the effect of: “The castles built in Anglo-Norman England and Wales are far too undeveloped militarily and saw too little conflict to consider it reasonable that they were built with an overtly military aspect in mind, however, there is reason to believe that social functions and lordly prominence were the main functions that these castles ever had.”

While this is simplifying the argument a bit too far, then the presentation of it is better in the book in any case. I’d suggest people, if they feel interested in the topic, to take a look into Mr Liddiard’s book just so they could familiarize themselves with the selling points of the new way of thinking. Just to summarize a few of them:

  • castles were usually built to a very bad military standard by location and design
  • they saw action in three separate incidents, with decades/centuries of peace in between these (The Anarchy, John’s civil war, and the 15th century fighting being considered the main times, I believe)
  • the military record of defensibility is rather poor
  • extensive landscaping was done to areas near castles to enhance their social prominence (and not military prominence)
  • many of the defensive features are of poor quality, but this has an interesting social aspect
  • castles were far more of a residence and a hosting place in the medieval world
  • we can see extensive symbology used in castles based on who built them, where, and by what authority

These being the general points, the author does develop on them and he also goes into far more detail, so I would suggest that anyone interested would take a look into this book.


As a final remark: One item I was interested in was that one of Mr Liddiard’s final comments would have implied that continental and Outremer castles had the same properties, which would make sense (maybe?) but they did see far more of the military side (I would guess without actually looking into it) than any such structure in Britain.

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