Consisting of nineteen articles/chapters, most written by prominent scholars, Anglo-Norman Castles constitutes a survey of Anglo-Norman castles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The major strength of the book can be credited to the editor's selection of works that represent the "cream-of-the-crop" in scholarship as well as deal with a broad range of topics within the narrow confines of two centuries (1066-1250) of castle construction and destruction in the British Isles. Bearing in mind that in the Introduction, Robert Liddiard acknowledges that the material he chose reflects his own "interests and personal bias," readers need not expect to see either comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the main subject or total objectivity (9). Nonetheless, this collection does aid readers who are interested in England's castle-history following the Norman Conquest. It offers ready access to several articles that might be difficult, if not impossible, to conveniently locate in contemporary libraries that often must resolve a budget crunch or a demand for space by archiving and storing older works or eliminating subscriptions to lesser known periodicals. For example, several articles initially appeared in Chateau-Gaillard, and some older works include S. Painter's 1934-35 investigation of the logistics of the castle-guard in forty-two English castles, an essay that was first published over sixty-five years ago; and R.A. Brown's seminal 1955 survey of royal castle-building during the reigns of Henry II, Richard I, and John, which is almost fifty years old.
Regarding time and locality, the scope of the volume stretches from the burhs (fortified places) of the tenth and eleventh centuries, as discussed by A. Williams in "A Bell-house and a Burh-geat," through the first half of the thirteenth century, the point of closure in the chapters contributed by J. Kenyon, J. Blair, and R. Eales. The geographical coverage includes castle-building not only in England but, also, in Scotland ("Charter Evidence and the Distribution of Mottes in Scotland," co-authored by G. Simpson and B. Webster); Wales ("Fluctuating Frontiers: Normanno-Welsh Castle Warfare c. 1075 to 1290" by J. Kenyon); and Ireland ("Hibernia Pacata et Castellata" by T. McNeill. Moreover, in Chapter Seventeen, C. Coulson even contrasts the unsuccessful fortress-policy of the Angevin kings of England (Richard I and John) with that of the Capetian king of France (Philip II) who eventually conquered Normandy.
As an incentive to readers, some essays reflect a bit of controversy. In Chapter Nine entitled "Castle-Guard," S. Painter criticizes both J.R. Round (1902 article entitled "Castle Guard") and F. M. Stenton (1932 book chapter entitled "Castles and Castle-Guard") for failing to consult the Hundred Rolls, thereby rendering their "results far from comprehensive." He even goes so far as to state that Round's "central thesis will not bear examination in the light of the evidence now available," and the subject of castle-guard "is far more complex and hence far more interesting than either Round or Professor Stenton realized" (203). Yet, in the succeeding chapter, a reprint of a 1989 essay, F. Suppe chides Painter for basing his 1934-35 evaluations strictly upon thirteenth-century evidence while completely ignoring earlier materials, thereby skewing his own findings. But, Suppe comes to the rescue and quickly remedies the oversight (241). R. Eales echoes the same sentiment in his 1990 study of "Royal Power and Castles in Norman England" in which he calls attention to the shortsightedness behind the opinions voiced in 1912 by Ella Armitage in her long-standing study, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. Without considering all available evidence, she claimed that the motte-bailey fortification plan used in England was "in all cases" a "Norman importation." By 1969 Armitage's conclusions had been seriously challenged and undermined by persistent archaeological excavation and scholarly research that did take into account all accessible, reliable sources. Scholars eventually confirmed that since a significant proportion of early Norman castles in England" had no mottes at all, this type of fortification may have simply "evolved in the course of the conquest" and feasibly may have antecedents in Saxon defensive ring-works (42).
Other chapters, such as those by T.A. Heslop and one co-authored by P. Dixon and P. Marshall, single out for special attention a particular castle, Orford and Hedingham, respectively. In addition, some of the non-castle-centered chapters provide just as informative and interesting reading and offer a pleasing change in emphasis. For instance, D. Renn examines all the towers and flags that can be discerned in the scenes stitched on the Bayeux Tapestry ("Burhgeat and Gonfanon"). Based on his personal participation in the excavation of the motte-and-bailey castle at Hen Domen in the Montgomery region of Powys, R. Higham offers a reassessment of timber castles and includes some of his own photographs. The most eye-catching is the photo of the north tower at Stokesay, Shropshire. J. Blair explores the nature of the hall and chamber in domestic dwellings during an era when constructing castles of stone was the main focus. His primary contention is that, based on later archaeological findings, the concept of the "first-floor hall" promulgated by Margaret Wood and Patrick Faulkner "is inappropriate to normal manorial buildings in England between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries" (308). J. Kenyon investigates the machinery of castle warfare in "Fluctuating Frontiers," and M. Chibnall introduces the eye-witness testimony of Orderic Vitalis, a monk of English descent who describes life in and around castles and knights in Normandy where he lived from the age of ten until his death.
However, the very format of the book gives rise to vexation. Every one of the nineteen chapters has appeared in print elsewhere, some in journals/periodicals and others in individual books or a book in a series. The contribution by G. Simpson and B. Webster (Chapter Eleven) is making its third debut. Initially published in 1972, it was first reprinted in 1985, and now is enjoying a second comeback in 2003. The Introduction, written by the editor himself, is the sole source of new material. But, it offers little more than a basic explanation of the subject and a sort of brief summary of the almost current state of scholarship (incorporating a few footnoted references to works featuring a copyright date of 2000); defines a few terms such as donjon, burh, burhgeat and rendability; and provides a short introduction to each of the articles included in the book.
Not only is the entire body text comprised of reprinted materials, but some reprints are quite dated--old! While they may have been cutting-edge scholarship twenty, thirty, fifty or sixty-five years ago, they, nevertheless, have been around the scholarly circuit for a long time. Since the latest publication date of any of the articles is 1994, the newest studies that make up the body of this 2003 release predate Liddiard's most recent introductory referenced material by at least six years. No article incorporates current scholarship nor up-to-date evidence--archaeological and/or otherwise. Even allowing for a time lag attributed to printing, there is a lapse of eight to ten years between the date of the latest research in the chapters and the date of publication of the book. In contrast to the extensive span of time over which the articles were first published, the parameters of the sources of the original articles are far more limited. Of the nineteen articles, eleven derive from only five sources, two each from the same books or series, Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, Medieval Knighthood and Anglo-Norman Studies. Two are reprinted from the journal entitled Fortress and three from Chateau-Gaillard. Five works are composed by just two authors: C. Coulson receives the greatest exposure with three and R. Eales furnishes two. Readers may wonder why? I certainly do. What is the purpose, the grand plan behind a collection of such "dated" and author-restricted articles?
The only explanation I could find appears in the initial paragraph and the first footnote of the Introduction: "In the introduction to his 1992 volume Anglo-Norman Warfare, Matthew Strickland commented that 'a collection of articles on organisation and conduct of war in eleventh and twelfth-century England and Normandy needs little justification!'" Apparently, Liddiard applied the same logic as a guide when choosing articles for his own book on Anglo-Norman castles. In footnote one he informs readers that "the core of the articles reprinted here have been taken from a list originally compiled by Dr[.] Matthew Strickland" (1). Maybe following a list composed by another scholar and perhaps before 1992 may partially account for the age of the articles, but fails to account for the complete absence of new scholarship. And, while Strickland and Liddiard seemingly agree that little justification is needed, SOME is. A more specific goal or purpose would provide stricter coherence and continuity. However, there may be another vague hint of a reason on page nine. Liddiard suggests that should another collection of articles be "undertaken in ten years time the articles for inclusion would probably reflect a whole new set of questions and concerns." A sequel focusing on current evidence, updated research, and new issues, theories and conjectures would certainly increase the justification and appeal of this volume that has already gathered, for ready reference, the seminal works of the preceding decades. Such a possibility seems more likely in light of the advertisement on the back of the dust jacket. Another book is being released on the market, A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World, and a couple of Liddiard's contributors, Chibnall and Williams, furnish articles for the companion, too.
In conclusion, besides an attractive dust jacket, Anglo-Norman Castles contains articles that vary in length from eight to forty-five pages, illuminates overlooked and/or ignored evidence, and offers both general surveys and substantial field studies. The book also incorporates many tools necessary for handy reference: a list of illustrations; a five-page list of abbreviations; a two-page acknowledgment of copyright holders of the reprinted articles; an eleven-page topical bibliography (Chapter Sixteen supplies its own three-page bibliography); a list, by country, of the two hundred castles mentioned throughout the text; and an index of mostly names (castles and people). This book would be an excellent addition to the personal library of individuals who are interested in researching and/or analyzing the less publicized category of Anglo-Norman castles in the British Isles and Normandy.