Castles remind us of a time that was full of adventure and romance. Castles remind us of a time in history in which there was a lack of government and order. Although there was not mass confusion and anarchy, there was less order. Castles were the basis of feudalism. Castles can be seen as a manifestation of feudal society. Feudalism started with the rise of castles and ended with their end. The castle set the tone as the only homestead that nobility would live in during this time. Castles were influenced by and influenced many medieval cathedrals in Europe. Although castles served many purposes, their primary purpose was military. At that time, people were not protected by merely shutting and locking a regular wooden door. They needed the protection of castles and their knights. The lords and constables of castles needed serfs to work the land to make revenue in order to pay rent to the more important nobles. Given the following evidence, it is relatively obvious why castles and castle building played an instrumental role in the development of Western Europe.
Castles are unique to a time in history known as medieval times. The word medieval in our times is an insult to anything as is the word feudal. Through the haze and ruins, one can imagine dungeons, chivalrous knights, and mighty Lords who ruled the land and protected the common peasant from barbarians and other invaders. The rise of castles marked the rise of feudalism. This was all started by the crusades. The majority of the knights and nobles went to liberate the holy land from the Muslims. The Crusades influenced castle builders back in Europe. Ideas were gathered from Muslim and Byzantine fortifications. Because of the lack of protection in Europe, a castle's strength needed to be increased because of the ever-present threat of a Muslim invasion. The end of Feudalism also marked the end of the middle ages and hence the end of the great castle era.
Castles integrated the combination of residence and fortress. The first castle dates back to King Sargon II of Khorsabad in ancient Egypt. He erected a grand palace for himself to protect him and his subjects. The first recorded references to castles was the Edict of Pistes by Charles the Bald, king of the West Franks. "We will and expressly command that whoever at this time has made castles and fortifications and enclosures without our out permission shall have them demolished by the First of August" (Brown Architecture of Castles 13). Other castle laws were the Norman Institutions handed down by William the Conqueror after he took over England. One law says that no one shall raise castles in Normandy without the Duke's license.
An ideal castle site was one that had natural obstacles for defense such as steep hillsides and water. Castles that were built on rocks or islands were especially effective. An example of this is Bodiam in Sussex which was the home of Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in 1385. A moat offered good protection, but building on a lake or river offered better protection. The site should not be too remote. It should have water and building material readily available nearby. A site should have a good climate, good pasture, and ample fertile land. If a castle had all these things, it would increase its chances of surviving a siege.
A large majority of early castles followed the motte and bailey design. These designs utilized earth and timber. A motte and bailey design is a design where the keep is on a hill or motte behind the bailey which is the open area of the castle similar to a town square. A bridge usually connected the motte to the bailey. The motte was a great mound of earth or rock. Sometimes it was artificial, but the majority of the time it was authentic. At its base there was a deep trench that resembled a moat. This was used as defense. Surrounding the motte was a wall of timber. The motte also contained the keep which is where the lord of the manor and his family lived. The keep was the innermost part of the castle. It was the last defense against attack. The keep has also been referred to as the donjon. This is where the French got the word dungeon meaning the jail or place to hold prisoners. Surrounding the entire premises was a wooden fence that was at least ten feet in height. These wooden stakes were then implanted in the ground for support. The fence sometimes stood upon posts to allow men to get through. During a siege, the perimeter would be covered with wet animal skins to curb the threat of arson. Most motte and bailey castles were built before William the Conqueror's conquest in 1066.
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