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Castles In History And Fantasy

Chepstow Castle (Wales) - started in 1067, it features cylindrical towers and thick stone walls.

Castles are the ancestral homes of powerful Kings and Lords – together with their immediate entourage (e.g. aids and knights).

History

Early castles were made of wood – and were situated on-top of earthen mounds. This “Iron Age” approach was then further enhanced by the Normans – who adopted the idea and used wooden castles as a base from which to launch further conquests.

Unfortunately, wooden castles had two main disadvantages: they can catch fire and are quickly weather beaten. To help overcome these disadvantages, castles evolved to be constructed in stone; and it is this type of construction that we are most familiar with – simply because so many were built.

The inspiration for various stone castle designs is believed to lay (mostly) at the feet of the Christian Crusades of the middle ages: where deep within the Muslim realms, Christian castles needed to be portrayed as symbols of Christian might. In time, these “designs” were transferred to mainland England, where such castles were used to dominate the local populace (e.g. help suppress revolts).

Features

Basic Castle Features - showing towers, walls, moat and drawbridge.

Castles are usually self-contained strongholds – since they are often located in remote/desolate land, far from support. As such, castles will seek to take advantage of the natural landscape – and may be built on-top of hills or mountains, against the side of a mighty cliff, or even in rivers themselves. To aid their defensive capabilities, many included:

  • Walls. Built between towers (or a single tower and a gatehouse). They could also include “arrow slits” and “gun-ports” (in later years).
  • Moat. These could be quite deep/wide – and provided a means of deterrent against any attacker attempting to tunnel under the walls.
  • Drawbridges. Built from wood, allowed the castles occupants easy access across moats (e.g.) – but could be raised to prevent access to attackers.
  • Hoarding. Found at the top of towers or walls, a series of holes in the floor allowed defenders to pour liquids and drop missiles on attackers.

In some cases, concentric architecture was adopted – whereby an inner stronghold was itself encased in outer fortifications (with those of higher stature living inside the stronghold). In any case, a castle must be capable of keeping invaders out (usually for many months – which meant they had to include substantial stores).

Examples from History

Conwy Castle (Wales) - started in 1283, its walls are to 4.5 metres thick!

Some of the most interesting/impressive castles within the United Kingdom include:

  • Arundel. This is a palatial neo-Gothic/Victorian castle (today) that still displays some of its medieval roots.
  • Caernarfon. This was built by the English to help put an end to Welsh resistance. It is also here that the ceremony to appoint Charles as the Prince of Wales took place (in 1969).
  • Caerphilly. A concentric castle – it was built from scratch (by the English), and featured both land and water defences to blight the Welsh.
  • Conwy. Built by the English, it formed part of an enclosed towns defences – and inspired terror and dominion over the Welsh.
  • Ludlow. Contains features associated with the Knights Templar – it was also used for governmental purposes (in later years).
  • Sterling. The Scottish fought bitterly to hold this castle against the English – since it is built upon a major route into the Scottish Highlands.

Camelot

King Arthur - pulls Excalibur from the stone.

Is (probably) the most famous castle/realm heard of throughout the world – but owing to the amount of myths/stories surrounding it, it is hard to know whether it really existed. Despite this, many individuals have grown up believing in tasks such as: Arthur pulls Excalibur from a stone, Merlin banishes evil with a mere wave of his hand – and Arthur's knights sit as equals around the round table.

One area of England, Cornwall, is often regarded as the site of Camelot – because in one version of the tale, Arthur was conceived/born at Tintagel castle. Many authors also equate the location of Tintagel on its inspiring sea cliffs/headland with the “kind of place” that such a mighty King would have looked out from (although this is likely a complete fabrication). Despite this, an entire tourist economy has sprung up; featuring places of interest such as: Dozmary Pool, The Hall of Chivalry, Jesus Well, Merlin's Cave and Slaughter Bridge.

The tale also crosses over into further realms of fantasy – for it is here that Arthur is believed to have been conceived of the Gods, and as such, has been accredited a great many supernatural powers. In turn, both Camelot and Arthur have become symbols of purity and strength; and it comes as little surprise to discover that they have been linked with the Holy Grail. As such, many of these ideas are regarded as unobtainable (by current levels of mental/spiritual understanding), but they do (at least) inspire many of us to work harder at whatever we do.

Fantasy

Fantasy World - the home of many a fantasy castle.

In (other) worlds of fantasy, castles take on many more attributes:

  • Armouries that extend for mile upon mile – filled with blades of legend and haunted suits of armour.
  • Elemental gates – able to resist the most determined of attacks.
  • External walls with ancient magic's embedded in them – to guard against both physical and magical attacks.
  • Internal tombs – where Kings and Princes may consort with their fathers of old.
  • Internal forests – providing ample food for any siege.
  • Rows of gargoyles – able to topple any would be invaders.
  • Tapestry guardians – ghostly spectres that come forth when the walls have been breeched.
  • Towers upon towers – able to reign down fire against any enemy encamped outside.

Overall

Castles have the power to dominate both our landscapes and our minds – with even ruined castles having the ability to inspire. Even now, many castles are at home in our modern world – despite their architecture being centuries old.

Fantasy Reviews

Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Shrek Forever After, Brave, Blue Moon Rising, Cinderella, Lands of Lore, Dragons of Atlantis, Monastery Swiftspear

Copyright © 2009 Victorian Hawk.

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