posted 02-08-2000 04:53 PM
This is a very complicated question, to which many of the answers are not known. However, lets try to cover some of the basic points.
The Normans were a group of vikings who settled in north France in the 800's (Normans is a shortening of north man). They gradually took on some aspects of the french, notably the french langague and the habit of fighting on horse back and, importantly, they took on the feudal philosophy. What they kept from their viking forefathers was a particular fondness for warfare. The Normans conquered saxon England in the years following the battle of Hastings (More properly known as the battle of Senlac Hill.) in 1066. They also conquered Scilly and southern Italy a little later and were the major force in the first crusade (When Jerusalem was taken in 1099).
Actually this only refers to the Norman upper class; the lords, barons and knights. Norman peasants were tied to the land like virtually everyone else.
The saxons were one of a group of several germanic tribes who invaded Britain in the 5th century. By 1066 these tribes were well settled and established in England, Christian and unified. The saxons were beginning to take on feudal principles but still had many aspects of tribal practices formulated in law.
This was a political system based on the idea that all the land belonged to the king. Lords, barons, knights gained the right to all the produced of lands granted to them by King by payment of a fee (Feudum in Latin), later this fee was money but earlier it was usually for military service to the king. You can see feudalism is very closely tied to ownership of land (To which peasants were tied, in that they could not legally live except in their original village.). Saxon practice, whilst not excluding land ownership, made much more of rights and obligations to peoples. Saxon kings and lords still had great power but it wasn't absolute, Saxon kings were elected by the witan, a group of lords who answered, in part, to all free saxon men. A quick summary would be to say that Harold was king of the English and William was king of England.
This is important with regard to castles. Saxons did not build castles but fortified towns, they protected people rather than land. Normans built castles to establish their rights to a piece of land and as a center to protect and administer that land. Remember the Norman lord didn't technically own the land, just the rights to its produce, so a center to collect that produce (and keep it safe from other lords and outlaws) was very important. They couldn't raise money by selling the land because they didn't own it.
Whilst the lords didn't own the land it wasn't in the kings interest to take the land away from lords, even if they were treacherous, since this would upset the other lords who made up the generals and officers kings army (And military coups could happen then as they do now). Treacherous lords might have their lands taken from them for a few years, and their castles destroyed, but they, or their heirs, usually got the lands back eventually.
I've already started to say some of the things that a castle was used for, and castle life revolved about this things. Defense of the land, administration of the lands produce and the people who produced it, storage of some of that produce. However, on top of this, the castle was the lords private residence. Most lords had several manors and several castles and would travel between these. So for much of the time a castle would be fairly empty of people, just a few guards and servants. When the Lord arrived the castle would fill up, business would be done, reports taken, court case heard, taxes would be collected. The sort of thing that now happens in the Town Hall, local court and tax office. Also the lord would show his power off by spending on feasts, organizing hunts or tournaments. This sort of thing had, of course, gone on in saxon times but then it was done either in a lords unfortified Hall or in the town.
I think this is enough to get you started, for further information try
http://www.castlewales.com/home.html several good essays
http://netserf.cua.edu/ Use this to check up on feudalism, normans, saxons etc.
Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them, Psychiatrists charge the rent, art therapists do the interior design and nurses clean out the garderobes!