18.04.13, Liddiard, Late Medieval Castles

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Charlotte A. Stanford

The Medieval Review 18.04.13

Liddiard, Robert, ed. Late Medieval Castles. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. 443. ISBN: 978-1-78327-033-0 (hardback) 978-1-78204-893-0 (ebook).

Reviewed by:
Charlotte A. Stanford
Brigham Young University

This collection of seventeen essays was coordinated as a companion to the 2003 volume Anglo-Norman Castles. Like the earlier volume, it is meant to address a series of themes in the field of castle studies, primarily that of the problematic notion of the decline of the castle. This concept, well established in the traditional literature, is based on interpreting castles as purely military constructions. In this book, however, the authors of these essays persuasively demonstrate how a greater interest in issues such as domestic functions pairs with and complements the trappings of fortification in order to display elite values and status, in a manner appreciated by contemporaries. Such an approach leads to a wide range of viewpoints, embracing the archaeological, art historical, and literary. At the same time it provides remarkable cohesion in the volume, although at the expense of geographic breadth, as the focus remains on England (with some broader discussion of the British Isles and, to a smaller extent, France). The breadth of approaches in this work, however, precludes the approach common to reviewers to consider each essay individually. This review instead will consider the thematic strands of the work as a whole, recognizing that these carefully argued and researched contributions also have much to offer on their own.

The late medieval date range considered in this volume spans ca. 1225 to ca. 1610, commencing primarily with the Edwardian structures commonly regarded as the military apogee of castle construction. The thirteenth-century period receives its primary attention here in Nicola Coldstream's examination of the genius myth of Master James of St. George ("Architects, Advisors and Design at Edward I's Castles in Wales"), and in the analysis of Caernarvon castle by Richard K. Morris ("The Architecture of Arthurian Enthusiasm: Castle Symbolism in the Reigns of Edward I and his Successors"). Later period discussion is exmplified through John Goodall's discussion of the application of castle features to an early Jacobean hunting lodge ("Lulworth Castle, Dorset"). Undeniably, one trend from the thirteenth through early seventeenth century saw the increasing privileging of residential features over purely defensive ones, to the point that traditional castle studies have seen later castle development as "degenerate." But symbolism, as Charles Coulson argues ("Fourteenth-Century Castles in Context") was a part of castle planning even during the "pragmatic" Norman period. His discussion of the late fourteenth-century structure of Bodiam castle ("Some Analysis of the Castle of Bodiam, East Sussex") makes this abundantly clear. Bodiam has been traditionally seen as one of the last truly defensive buildings of England. Yet features such as the gunloops, with their narrow splays that prohibit actual defense, demonstrate that many of the castle's details were for display in a series of "covert contradictions" that Coulson ascribes to the specific circumstances of its builder, Sir Edward Dallingridge, a parvenu anxious to make a show of strength but not overly offend his neighbors. The case study of Bodiam as an example of symbolic strength finds its complement in two more chapters by Coulson ("Structural Symbolism in Medieval Castle Architecture" and "Specimens of Freedom to Crenellate by License"). The latter essay in particular emphasizes how little utilized, or indeed understood, is the topic of licensing for crenellation, which functioned primarily to dignify the recipient. Coulson's argument that serious consideration is needed on the way licenses were granted finds expression through fifteen short case studies in this chapter.

Emphasis on the domestic arrangements of castles, always a consideration but of increased importance from the fourteenth century onward, forms a shared theme introduced also by Charles Coulson ("Fourteenth-Century Castles in Context: Apotheosis or Decline?") and elaborated by Philip Dixon and Beryl Lott ("The Courtyard and the Tower: Contexts and Symbols in the Development of Late Medieval Great Houses") as well as P. A. Faulkner ("Castle Planning in the Fourteenth Century") The emphasis on division of space, and the increased emphasis of hierarchy of rank as revealed through it, find detailed treatment through the analysis of access vs. restriction in Graham Fairclough's spatial analysis of Edlingham castle, Northumberland ("Meaningful Constructions: Spatial and Functional Analysis of Medieval Buildings").

Another aspect of status, that of theatrical display, finds particular expression in this volume with essays by Michael Prestwich ("English Castles in the Reign of Edward II") and Philip Dixon ("The Donjon of Knaresborough: The Castle as Theatre"). Thirteenth-century Knaresborough's dramatic combination of entry stair, antechamber and well-illuminated main hall forms a vivid case study of the importance of the donjon, though the theatrical aspect of castles in general attracts comments by many of the authors in this book.

The persistence of the tower house (as noted in John Goodall's "Lulworth Castle, Dorset"), forms a strong theme, especially in the non-English portion of the volume. These regions are considered in the context of "borders" to the English center. Charles McKean's essay ("A Scottish Problem with Castles") analyzes the Scottish "resistance" to the Renaissance developments of Tudor England in preference to a chivalric medieval language of display, while T. E. McNeill's contribution ("Castles of Ward and the Changing Pattern of Border Conflict in Ireland") demonstrates the effectiveness of castles in raids and short wars. Despite this added perspective (and the occasional forays into discussion on French castles, like the addendum provided in Charles Coulson's "Structural Symbolism" article), the focus of this volume remains primarily shaped by its English viewing lens.

Insights into the issues of castle setting, with contributions by Christopher Taylor ("Medieval Ornamental Landscapes") and Muriel A. Whitaker on the literary world of castle imagery ("Otherworld Castles in Middle English Arthurian Romance") help provide additional frameworks to consider the complexity of castle culture. The volume's extended reading suggestions (not, the editor cautions, to be mistaken for a comprehensive bibliography) help point the interested student to further topics beyond the scope of this compilation.

The views expressed in this volume are not in general novel; castleologists will be familiar with the trend of widening focus, in the literature, beyond that of military fortification. Nevertheless, given the persistence of the "decline of the castle" narrative, it is an emphasis that deserves examination. As Robert Liddiard's introduction makes clear, there is still much to understand about castles and the significant part they played in shaping the medieval world. This study pays tribute to the rich body of scholarship on castles while pointing the way toward such an expanded understanding.

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