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Author Topic:   Castles in Context
Senior Member
posted 08-30-2005 05:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ElCid     Edit/Delete Message
I have just finished reading 'Castles in Context' by Robert Liddiard and recommend everyone with a serious interest in castles to read it too. The book is enjoyable and very well written and summarises the recent theories on the purpose of medieval castles. Now not everone will accept some of these latest theories but they are very interesting and cannot be ignored.
Simply put the latest thinking about castles takes them away from being military structures designed for war and seiges and shows them as buildings full of symbolism and meaning built to impress the knowing visitor and overawe the peasantry. They were wrapped up in a militaristic style to portray the owners strength and power but were not really intended to be put to the test. The landscape setting in which they were built was often chosen for its visual and psycological effect rather than for military considerations.
Unlike the above brief sentences, the arguments are very convincing and wholly at odds with castle studies and beliefs of the past hundred years or so. You need to read this book and make up your own minds.
I personally think the non-military use has gone a little too far - and I think here of the amazing Castel del Monte in Southern Italy (http://www.inmedia.it/Puglia/eng/virtual/03/vt14.htm) where the symbolism of the structure is truly staggering and very impressive (even if the modern culture doesn't really understand it) - but no attempt at military pretention was made. The builder of this structure - Frederick II - also built many typical 'military' castles in Italy as well so the two things (symbolic gestures to impress your peers and defensive structures) didn't have to be within the same building.
However, the new thinking does go some way to explain the not-too-convincing theory in the 'keep' as being the final refuge of a castle to it being a symbolic, ceremonial structure that I am personally more comfortable with.
As an insight into medieval thinking and the visual culture of the age, the book is very useful.
What is most intersting of all is that castles are being seriously studied by a whole range of academicas and specialists from many disciplines taking the subject into a new age. Expect many new theories to emerge over the coming years.

Senior Member
posted 08-31-2005 04:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Sounds like a interesting book, but the theory you describe is everything but new. Authors like Werner Meyer (Switzerland) or Joachim Zeune (Germany) have shown in their books already years ago, that the representative aspect was the most improtant of most castles. I think this has a lot to do with the strong relationship between early castles and the usualy unfortified royal palaces of the 10th/11th century.
But to ignore the military aspect of castles is, from my point of view, also misleading. Otherwise there would have been no reason to change castle-architecture over the centuries and make the walls of later castles stronger to protect them against modern weaponry.

posted 08-31-2005 08:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ipflo   Click Here to Email ipflo     Edit/Delete Message
It is interesting to notice that the book has several very different prices on the net.

On www.amazon.co.uk the price is GBP 35

And on the website of the publisher, Windgather, the price is GBP 20.

Ofcourse the last price is more tempting or at least it is for me.


Senior Member
posted 08-31-2005 03:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ElCid     Edit/Delete Message
Hi Merlin - I'm not making a case for the theories discussed in this book, only drawing peoples attention to an interesting series of ideas. To be fair to the writer I haven't explained very well in my post the nature of the new theories. I take your point about earlier writers recognising the symbolic role of castles as being quite established.

What is a new thinking (at least I'm not aware of these views beyond 5-10 years ago) are the castle and landcape theories. These talk about structured routes and approaches to the castle, the deliberate placing of castle features in specific positions to enhance the visual impact from certain viewpoints. The theory proposes that visitors to some castles were brought along particular lines in order to increase the dramatic effect of the building, perhaps providing glimpses first and then a gradual build up to the full effect at the castle gate. All interesting stuff and there is much more in here.

Ipfo - I got mine from Blackwells on-line bookshop - a tad cheaper still!.



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posted 09-01-2005 07:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Ok, that sounds much more interesting and like a realy new concept of looking at the architecture of castles. Does the author concentrate his studies on the castles of the english-speaking countries or also on France, Spain, Germany etc.?

[This message has been edited by Merlin (edited 09-01-2005).]

Senior Member
posted 09-01-2005 03:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ElCid     Edit/Delete Message
Unfortunately the book only deals with the English-speaking countries and France.

One interesting area discussed in this book (not a new topic but included to set the tone for some of the new theories) is how little military action most castles actually saw during their working life.

A number of well known seiges and battles at some English castles are discussed, but really to stress their rarity. Most castles - certainly in the UK - never saw any military action at all during hundreds of years.
The author does pose the question of examples of castles anywhere in Europe that saw regular military action.

This is an interesting question. Are there many examples out there?


Senior Member
posted 09-02-2005 03:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Yes, there are. My area of special interest is Switzerland, as I live in Zurich. We have over 1000 castles in this small country and I'd say about the half of them has at least once seen military action. I know of castles that have been destroyed four times over the centuries and always been rebuilt afterwards.
The reason for this is: There have been many minor wars and feuds in the high and late middle ages over here as the power of the kings was by far not that widespread as it was in England.

posted 09-09-2005 12:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garben     Edit/Delete Message

That is very interesting news (to me at least) to hear that Switzerland has over one thousand castles!

I have spent a lot of time researching medieval information particularly in the area of medieval siege weapons but I also have a keen interest in medieval castles (obviously, the siege weapons would be kind of pointless without the castles).

Not sure how I missed that bit of info but thanks for sharing it. I'll be spending some time over the next several days researching medieval castles in Switzerland.

Other than using the search engines do you know of any websites that are focused on medieval castles in Switzerland that you would recommend off the top of your head?


Garfield Benjamin
Medieval Castles
Medieval Siege Weapons

posted 09-09-2005 02:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ipflo   Click Here to Email ipflo     Edit/Delete Message
on top of my head I would recommend http://www.burgen.ch/ (site is in German) and http://www.swisscastles.ch/castles.htm (also in English).

But probably Merlin knows some better ones, suited for you.


Senior Member
posted 09-12-2005 03:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Well, the ones mentioned by ipflo are ok. The one I'm constantly building up myself, with groundfloor-plans, bibliography, links, lots of pictures and the most accurate historical information (alas, in german), is the SWISS SECTION of www.burgenwelt.de
Burgenwelt is by far the biggest (and the best) website about castles in german language and covers castles and fortresses from many countries.
Direct link to the swiss castles there: www.dickemauern.de/schweiz.htm

...about 10 new swiss castles added every month.

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