The Medieval Review 17.02.121

Davies, John A., Angela Riley, Jean-Marie Levesque, and Charlotte Lapiche, eds. Castles and the Anglo-Norman World . Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2016. pp. xxvi, 302. £48.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-178-5700-224 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Benjamin Pohl
University of Bristol

The volume under review here contains the published proceedings of a conference that was held at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery on 17-18 May 2012 by more than two dozen members of the Norman Connections project. This project, in turn, was officially inaugurated in 2010, successfully completing its "Phase I" in 2014. Amongst the many praiseworthy results of this international and interdisciplinary network of field-leading academics, curators, museum directors and heritage specialists is an attractive website that encourages its users to discover the intriguing history of Anglo-Norman castles under the virtual guidance of internationally renowned experts ( Unlike this website, which addresses itself to the interested general public, the academic volume published in 2016 under the title Castles and the Anglo-Norman World is aimed primarily at an audience of specialists working on the history, archaeology and material study of medieval castles in England and Normandy during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries.

On its back cover, the book is confidently advertised as "a major new synthesis drawing together a series of 20 papers by 26 French and English specialists in the field of Anglo-Norman studies." Unfortunately, this quickly reveals itself as a case of mislabelling. If there is an attempt at synthesising and/or drawing together the book's individual chapters under a set of shared research questions and/or methodological guidelines, it is somewhat obscured. To begin with, the editors' co-authored introduction is confined to a single page (followed by a translation into French, xiii-xiv) that serves to introduce, in the briefest of terms, the Norman Connections project and the occasion for the conference whose proceedings are presented in the volume. Meanwhile, the reader is left wanting for a more concrete introduction to Anglo-Norman castles and to their study, in order to establish their significance in medieval culture and society and to provide a review of the history of scholarship in the field. Unfortunately, the absence of such essential prolegomena cannot even be compensated for by the more extensive Foreword written by David Bates, which discusses some of the complex realities and dynamics of "Living in the Twelfth-Century Cross-Channel Empire" (xv-xxv). Bates' arguments are clear and compelling and they paint an accurate panorama of life in the post-Conquest Norman Empire (a term that Bates emphasises here as he also does in some of his other publications, including the 2010 Ford Lectures that resulted in the publication of The Normans and Empire in 2013). This could have served as an excellent introduction for a different book, but it cannot (and should not have to) substitute a proper introduction for the volume under review here. The question remains, therefore, as to why the editors did not take it upon themselves to produce a more focussed introduction or, alternatively, to delegate a chapter covering such introductory material to one of the book's contributors.

As it stands, the book plunges its reader straight in medias res by commencing with three chapters devoted to the history and archaeology of Norwich Castle, written by Elizabeth Popescu, Brian Ayers and T. A. Heslop, respectively. Lavishly illustrated by means of numerous maps, photographs and drawings, Popescu's chapter skilfully unravels the long history of Norwich's fortification along with its socio-economic context(s). This leads neatly into Ayers' more specific discussion of the excavation of Norwich Castle Keep and its various deposits, which serves to revisit, and indeed revise, some of the arguments made in previous scholarship. Heslop's structural analysis of Norwich Castle Keep over time offers a compelling new chronology, as well as generating important insights into the meaning(s) and function(s) of medieval castle keeps more generally. Both individually and as a triad, these chapters on Norwich Castle work very well indeed. It is all the more surprising, therefore, to find almost no explicit cross-referencing between them. This is in fact true for the volume more generally. No serious attempt seems to have been made at referring the reader of a given chapter to pertinent (or even related) arguments made elsewhere in the book, which once again casts some doubt on the book's commitment to synthesis and structural coherence.

Chapters Four and Five continue with Peter Berridge's analysis of Colchester Castle and Mark Morris' study on Rochester Castle. Berridge's contribution is particularly insightful, as it offers a keen and nuanced discussion of pictorial evidence in support of the argument that Colchester had always been conceptualised as a two-storey building. Morris' chapter chooses a broader approach that sketches the rise and decline of Rochester Castle as a site of royal representation assessed against the surviving historical evidence. The three chapters that conclude the volume's Part I ("The Norman Connections Castles") turn their view across the Channel, to Normandy, beginning with Charlotte Lapiche and Benoît Panozzo's study on Falaise Castle, continuing with Jean-Marie Levesque and Pascal Leroux's chapter on the Château de Caen, and concluding with an analysis of Caen's Great Hall by Edward Impey and John McNeill. Lapiche and Panozzo offer a comprehensive and astute reappraisal of Falaise's current state of preservation after a period of one hundred and fifty years of restoration, whilst Levesque and Leroux provide a detailed survey of Caen's extended castle complex, including the ducal palace, the donjon and the sale de l'Echiquier. This leads seamlessly into Impey and McNeill's chapter, which does a thorough job of analysing the ducal hall's exterior and interior features, as well as providing useful additional context through a closing discussion of halls in Normandy during the twelfth century.

From an editorial perspective, it comes as something of a surprise to find Chapter 6 suddenly abandon the style of in-text quotations "(author, date, page range)" practised throughout the preceding chapters, adopting endnotes instead. In fact, this is not the only chapter to diverge from the volume's initial referencing style, as others to do so include Chapters 7, 8, 9 et seqq., as well as the Foreword. Some readers, myself included, may find it rather difficult to see past such editorial inconsistencies with regard to a volume of proceedings four years in the making. On a similar note, one cannot help but wonder why the image chosen for the book's front cover shows Dover Castle, one of the few Anglo-Norman castles that is not dealt with in detail anywhere in the section on "The Norman Connection Castles," nor anywhere else in the volume. It might have made more sense to select an image of one of the many castle complexes that are discussed at length by one or more of the book's contributors, for example, Rochester, Colchester, Falaise (two chapters), Caen (three chapters) or indeed Norwich Castle (three chapters, as well as providing the venue for the conference). Whilst fairly inconsequential in its own right, this odd choice adds to the number of questionable decisions made by the makers of the volume.

Parts II-V are each significantly shorter than the selection of case studies offered in Part I, comprising of two or three chapters each. Rather than reviewing these chapters individually, I will comment primarily on their functionality with regard to the volume's general structure and line of argument. Part II ("The Castles in Context") features Pierre Bouet's excellent analysis of the depiction of castles and princely residences in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, followed by Jon Gregory and Robert Liddiard's discussion of the setting of the Anglo-Norman donjon, whose use(s) Pamela Marshall then investigates in the section's final chapter. By transgressing and enriching individual case studies, as well as offering important conceptual thoughts, this section goes a long way towards compensating for the volume's lack of a proper introduction, as discussed above. The four authors of Part II together draw their readers' attention to important methodological caveats, at the same time as identifying some of the main opportunities and limitations in current research environments. In some regards, readers planning on reading the volume in a linear way might be well advised to ignore the sequence of chapters/sections chosen by the editors and instead move from Bates' Foreword straight to Part II, thereby saving the more specific case studies of Part I for later.

Parts III and IV both focus more specifically on recent archaeological research and its legacy by investigating the field's état present from a broader perspective, at the same time as drawing upon individual sites. The more conceptual contributions here include François Fichet de Clairfontaine's pertinent arguments on the castle heritage of Lower Normandy, as well as Nicola Coulthard's well-argued discussion of questions relating to site enhancement and preservation in rural contexts. More specific, but equally insightful, is Roland B. Harris' detailed presentation of recent research on the White Tower, which is matched both by Bénédicte Guillot's discussion of the excavations at Caen in 2005-14 and the summarising review on our current state of knowledge concerning the medieval evolution of Caen's ducal castle presented by François Fichet de Clairfontaine, Joseph Mastrolorenzo and Richard Brown. These are followed by the volume's final two contributions in Part V ("Sculpture and Objects"), which move away from the archaeology of large building structures and towards a more focussed understanding of their specific architectural features and the objects left behind by their former inhabitants. John Crook discusses the evolution of capitals in early post-Conquest architecture before Steven Ashley concludes the volume with his study of Anglo-Norman elite objects such as furnishings, household equipment and items of medieval dress. Parts III-V are by default more selective than the chapters presented earlier in the volume (especially those in Part II). This is not a weakness, however, as the individual selections exhibited here together contribute to a versatile and multifaceted whole.

In sum, I find myself pleasantly intrigued and intellectually stimulated by several of the well-presented and vividly illustrated arguments gathered in this book, at the same time as being disappointed with its overall presentation and conceptualisation. As a special journal issue, a format now chosen with increasing frequency for academic conference proceedings, this collection of studies on a selection of Anglo-Norman castles probably would have worked very well; in its current format, however, the lack of clearly formulated common research objectives and methodological frameworks, the striking absence of cross-references and, not least, the manifest structural, stylistic and editorial inconsistencies discussed above mean that the collected volume unfortunately ends up much weaker and, ultimately, less convincing than the sum of its parts, many of which are truly excellent when assessed individually.

Copyright (c) 2017 Benjamin Pohl

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