The Fall And Rise Of The British Castle

Episodes

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01Power And Control20150126

In the Fall and Rise of the British Castle, five writers reflect on the continuing power of the castles, which still dominate not only large sections of the British landscape, but also large areas of our imagination.

In this first of the series, historian Professor Jeremy Black gives an overall view of the castle as an instrument of power and control, built to withstand siege warfare - a lesson which, by the eighteenth century, had been all but forgotten. At the height of the Jacobite Rebellion one Scottish lord had cause to regret having removed the iron bars from his castle windows, and weakening the walls by adding graceful wings to his residence. Would his stone residence survive the onslaught of the rebels? As Professor Black argues, he had forgotten the primary function of a castle, namely to to maintain the rule of force and government in Britain. Castles, whether built of timber, or stone, or both, were intended to promote a powerful symbol of authority over society. That they came to be built throughout the British Isles was the result of a remarkable public-private partnership - although as later events would show, it was never wise for monarchs, or governments, to entrust too much power into private hands. Britain's fortifications would eventually be monopolised by the state, who by the eighteenth century set greater store by the Royal Navy than by stone walls.

02Castle Builders20150127

It is generally conceded that, following his triumphant conquest of Wales, Edward I ordered to be constructed some of the finest castles in Britain. But who exactly designed them? And who managed this massive construction project? In general, little is known about the lives and careers of medieval master masons - the equivalent of today's architects. However, as architectural historian Dr Nicola Coldstream argues, we are fortunate in the case of these particular castles to be able to follow the careers of two men in particular: Master James of Savoy, and Master Hugh of Chester. In recent years, much has been made of Master James' architectural genius, a man drafted in from the continent to help bring Edward's project into being. However, as Dr Coldstream argues, Master James' knowledge has been exaggerated. Instead, it appears more likely that his genius lay more in project management than in castle design. Not that that was any lesser task: overseeing various building sites, where thousands of craftsmen were deployed, was no sinecure. There is little doubt that the King valued both James' and Hugh's efforts: they were privileged to have audience with the king, and it is possible that Edward had some involvement in the design of the castles by which he would seal his conquest of the Welsh people.

03The Siege Of Kenilworth20150128

The walls of Kenilworth Castle, situated at the heart of England, might have seemed practically impregnable to the men defending them. And yet, as Dr Benjamin Wild argues in tonight's essay, the mightiest of fortresses was of little more account than a mere folly when men pursued force and fanfare at the expense of political relationships. In 1266 a somewhat humiliated Henry III laid siege to this red sandstone medieval mega-structure, determined to reassert his authority over his upstart subjects. Although the defiant rebels were few in number, they were in a position to taunt Henry. The King, in turn, had to use all the dark arts of propaganda to counter this public relations disaster. He tried to cut a dash in a fancy and highly impractical tunic, and attempted to taunt the starving rebels with the sights and smells of food - including an entire whale with which to feast his troops! Add to that the attempt to enlist the power of religion, by excommunicating the rebels, the siege undoubtedly exhibited elements of farce, as well as the latest in deadly weaponry. But when finally, after 172 days, the rebels submitted to royal authority there was one lesson to be learnt: that no wall, however.

04The British Castle: A Woman's Place20150129

Very often the visitor to a medieval castle in Britain is confronted with a mass of information and interpretation about the military activities of the men who inhabited these spaces, but very little about the women. Archaeologist Prof. Robert Gilchrist is keen to correct this imbalance, and argues that traditional interpretations of castles ignore the gendered spaces - the gardens, the apartments, the kitchens where female servants cooked, or indeed the adjoining parklands where aristocratic women occasionally hunted. There is abundant evidence that women gave birth in castles, and also had a hand in interior design, improving both plumbing and décor. Moreover, some women played a key role in the defence of medieval castles, in the absence of the lord. Archaeological research suggests women definitely did have a place in British castle history.

05Castles in Concrete20150130

05Castles in Concrete20150130

The grim, concrete forts and pillboxes of the east coast of England may seem a far cry from the romantic ruins of Britain's medieval castles. But as writer Ken Worpole argues, they have earned their place in the East Anglian landscape, and should be both preserved, and treasured as reminders of our past, just as much as ivy-clad castles and castle ruins from the high middle ages. As somebody who was born in wartime in a castle (his mother was a refugee from the East End) it was perhaps inevitable that Ken would be drawn to play as a child in the redundant forts of Essex, where his imagination could roam riot - unlike the out-of-bounds medieval castle down the road! But the link with medieval castles isn't coincidental. The architecture of many of these forts (and the architecture of the Martello towers constructed to defend the coast during the Napoleonic wars) builds on the legacy of medieval military design, and in turn would go on to influence brutalist architecture of the 1950s onwards. In France, such military structures as the Atlantic Wall, are stark reminders of an era many would prefer to forget, and there have been calls for these concrete 'monstrosities' to be removed from the landscape. But, as Worpole argues, this would the equivalent of removing medieval castles from the landscape. The power of ruins resides in their ability to set the imagination free, and at the same time grounding people in the reality of past lives, and of earlier generations' hopes and tribulations.

05Castles in Concrete20150130

The grim, concrete forts and pillboxes of the east coast of England may seem a far cry from the romantic ruins of Britain's medieval castles. But as writer Ken Worpole argues, they have earned their place in the East Anglian landscape, and should be both preserved, and treasured as reminders of our past, just as much as ivy-clad castles and castle ruins from the high middle ages. As somebody who was born in wartime in a castle (his mother was a refugee from the East End) it was perhaps inevitable that Ken would be drawn to play as a child in the redundant forts of Essex, where his imagination could roam riot - unlike the out-of-bounds medieval castle down the road! But the link with medieval castles isn't coincidental. The architecture of many of these forts (and the architecture of the Martello towers constructed to defend the coast during the Napoleonic wars) builds on the legacy of medieval military design, and in turn would go on to influence brutalist architecture of the 1950s onwards. In France, such military structures as the Atlantic Wall, are stark reminders of an era many would prefer to forget, and there have been calls for these concrete 'monstrosities' to be removed from the landscape. But, as Worpole argues, this would the equivalent of removing medieval castles from the landscape. The power of ruins resides in their ability to set the imagination free, and at the same time grounding people in the reality of past lives, and of earlier generations' hopes and tribulations.