Castles developed first in France, in Anjou, in the 10th cent. The first castles in England were built in Edward the Confessor's reign by his nephew Ralph and his Norman followers, and were strongly resented by the English, as foreign imports. Lordly residences in late Saxon England appear to have been enclosed with a palisade and a ditch, as excavations at Sulgrave (Northants) and Goltho (Lincs.) have shown, but the defences were slight. Castles were an introduction into England and a direct consequence of the Norman invasion of 1066.
Orderic Vitalis, a Norman historian writing in the 12th cent. about the Norman Conquest, said that the English fought bravely but lost to William because they lacked castles. William secured his first landing in England with a wooden castle, which he brought with him in ready-made sections from Normandy. On entering London, after the battle of Hastings, one of William's first acts was to order the creation of a castle to control the city: the Tower of London. His various campaigns to secure the country or to suppress rebellion are notable for castle-building at centres up and down the line of his march.
The castles built immediately after the Conquest, whether by the king or his followers, were generally rapidly constructed of earth and timber, using locally impressed Saxon labour. In form, they were either a fortified enclosure surrounded by a ditch (known as a ringwork) or a motte and bailey, that is an earth mound topped with a fortification and surrounded by a ditch connected to a further lower fortified enclosure. These castles vary considerably in size. This suggests that their owners had differing resources and also that their roles were different. Large castles like Windsor, Dover, or Richmond seem to have been conceived from the first as residences as well as fortresses. The White Tower built by William I to subdue London incorporated two large suites of rooms plus a grand chapel and extensive storage space within the defensive keep. Excavations of the motte at Abinger (Surrey) have shown that the top of the motte had a raised fighting platform or perhaps a look-out tower surrounded by a palisade. All the accommodation, if there was any, must have been in the bailey and suggests that the smaller castles were principally fortresses.
This distinction is important, for it helps to explain the development of castles after the Conquest. During the Conquest all Norman barons, great or small, seem to have built castles; however, the wooden fortresses of the first generation were not very durable and their owners were soon forced to decide whether they should be replaced in stone. Further, the castle's importance in warfare meant that its design was constantly being refined so that to maintain its military efficiency meant a constant outlay. Many smaller landowners seem to have ceased to be castle owners, preferring instead a fortified manor house, which provided security and domestic comfort within their means. Castles became the prerogative of the wealthy baronage and the crown. Thus the castles which are notable monuments today are those which were rebuilt and updated in the 12th cent. and later, with both defensive systems and residential arrangements brought to considerable sophistication. Amongst the most developed examples in Britain are the castles built for Edward I in north Wales, for example, Conwy, Caernarfon, and Harlech. These played a crucial role in the subjugation of the principality, and also provided palatial accommodation for the king and his officers.
Such castles were extremely expensive to build, and castles constructed in the later Middle Ages, such as Bodiam, were consequently smaller, although they retained considerable sophistication. Despite the introduction of gunpowder in that period, castles retained their importance. Late examples, such as Raglan (Monmouthshire), were designed to include cannon as part of their defences. Castles were again important in the English Civil War, when large numbers were refortified and held for the king. Several, including Corfe, suffered major sieges. In recognition of the part that castles had played in the war, the majority of surviving buildings were deliberately slighted by the victorious parliamentarians.
Brown, R. A. , English Castles (2nd edn. 1976);
McNeill, T. , Castles (1992);
Pounds, N. J. G. , The Medieval Castle in England and Wales: A Social and Political History (Cambridge, 1990);
Thompson, M. W. , The Decline of the Castle (Cambridge, 1987).
1. Large, strong, fortified structure or complex of buildings used for defence against an attacker. In the Middle Ages the most important part of a castle was the donjon or keep (Bergfried in German), essentially a strong tower with living quarters. The keep, in France and England, might also include the hall for gatherings, in which case it was called a hall-keep. The Tower of London has a hall-keep of great magnificence (1077–97) that also includes an apsidal-ended Romanesque chapel. The most usual Continental arrangement was for the hall-range to be separate and not within the keep: perhaps the most impressive C14 hall-ranges are those at Malbork (Marienburg) in Poland, built by the Teutonic Order. The keep was set within the inner bailey or ward, itself protected by walls, either in a corner or the centre of the space. Outside the inner bailey was the outer bailey, often containing stables and other offices, so it was a distinct space surrounded by walls. The outer ring of walls had battlemented tops and walks, with towers at intervals—the walls between towers were called curtain-walls. Gates leading from the outside to the baileys or from bailey to bailey were protected by towers and portcullises. An entrance to a castle could also have the extra defence of a barbican. Around the walls, themselves often raised on sloping embankments or ramparts (valla) were usually fossae or ditches, sometimes filled with water (moat), and over the moat was a drawbridge that could be raised. Smaller, less important castles might have the central keep (of modest proportions) set on a motte surrounded by a bailey contained within palisaded earthworks and surrounded by a ditch.
2. Country-house, named after a feudal castle, or a large country mansion looking vaguely like a castle. See also castle style.
cas·tle / ˈkasəl/ • n. a large building or group of buildings fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and in many cases a moat. ∎ a magnificent and imposing mansion, esp. one that is the home or former home of a member of the nobility. [in names] Castle Howard. ∎ inf. Chess old-fashioned term for rook2 . • v. [intr.] [often as n.] (castling) Chess make a special move (no more than once in a game by each player) in which the king is transferred from its original square two squares along the back rank toward the corner square of a rook, which is then transferred to the square passed over by the king. ∎ [tr.] move (the king) in this way. DERIVATIVES: cas·tled / ˈkasəld/ adj. ( archaic ).
The Castle was a name for the former Irish viceregal government and administration, of which Dublin Castle was the seat.
castles in Spain visionary unattainable schemes; the expression is recorded from late Middle English, and it is possible that Spain, as the nearest Moorish country to Christendom, was taken as the type of a region in which the prospective castle-builder had no standing. An alternative expression, castles in the air, is recorded from the late 16th century.
any structure or pile of objects more or less in the shape of a castle.
Examples: castle of cards (modern); of fine manchet [the finest kind of wheaten bread], 1791; of march-pane [‘marzipan’], 1627.