Which were the last castles to be besieged and fall in the United Kingdom?

Which were the last castles to be besieged and fall in the United Kingdom?

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Which were the last castles to be besieged and fall in the United Kingdom? I'm separating the two in case a castle was besieged unsuccessfully most recently.

Fort Augustus was besieged on 3 March, 1746, and surrendered two days later. If not the absolute last, this was certainly one of the latest successful sieges in Britain. This followed an earlier action in December 1745 when Fort Augustus was captured by government-aligned militias.

If we were to be picky about the name, the last successful siege of a placed styled 'castle' occurred slightly earlier. Inverness Castle was besieged on 17 February, 1746. The garrison also surrendered within two days, and the castle was then demolished by the victorious Jacobites.

Another notable example was Carlisle Castle. Government forces laid siege to it on 21 December, 1745, and the Jacobite garrison surrendered nine days later. It had previously been taken by the Jacobites on 15 November, after a two day siege.

These all occurred during the last major Jacobite uprising, which broke out in 1745 and continued into spring the next year. On 13 July 1745 the Young Pretender landed in Scotland, seeking to regain the thrones of Great Britain that were his forefathers'. He successfully raised an army to defeat the only government force in Scotland on 23 September, and proceeded to march on Carlisle - one of the most heavily fought over places in Britain, owing to its proximity to the Border.

His invasion of England soon faltered, however. With military support from France not forthcoming and a largely unenthusiastic English populace, the Jacobite army was forced to retreat back to Scotland in December. They won a minor victory on 17 January 1746, but in April the Jacobite cause was decisively defeated at the Battle of Culloden.


By 1922, the Irish War of Independence had ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Most of Ireland was then placed under the authority of the Provisional Government, although technically the Irish Free State wasn't established until December that the year, at which point the United Kingdom adopted its present name. I'm not sure whether this transitional period counts as part of the UK.

Anyway, it should be noted that the Republican seizure of Killkenny Castle on 2 May probably doesn't count as a successful siege. They apparently walked in and took the castle by storm in the early morning, i.e. without laying siege. However, the occupiers were then besieged by forces loyal to the Provisional Government, and surrendered the next day. So the last successful siege is on 3 May 1922, when the Free Staters retook the castle after a 1 day siege.

In May 1922 Republican forces took over Kilkenny Castle.

The whole Island of Ireland was part of the UK until December 1922

Castles of Bellinzona

The Castles of Bellinzona are a set of three medieval fortifications located in and surrounding the city of Bellinzona, which is located in Canton Ticino, Switzerland. These castles are the only remaining examples in the Alpine region of heavy military architecture, which date from the late Middle Ages. The castles not only guarded the town of Bellinzona, but also the strategic alpine passes that run through the city before entering the Plain of Lombardy: the St. Gotthard Pass, the Nufenen Pass, the Lukmanier Pass, and the St. Bernard Passes. The three castles were of special importance to the Duchy of Milan, which was ruled by the Visconti (1277-1447 CE) and Sforza dynasties (1450-1535 CE), in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance until they were taken by the Swiss in 1500 CE. Surviving a massive flood in 1515 CE, the castles became the property of Canton Ticino in 1803 CE. UNESCO declared the three castles - Castelgrande, Montebello, and Sasso Corbaro - and their respective defensive walls as a single World Heritage Site in 2000 CE.

Geography & Early History

Bellinzona is situated east of the Ticino River, lying directly at the foot of the Lepontine Alps. To Bellinzona's south, lies the fertile Po River Valley and the city of Milan, while to the north, lies the high alpine passes of St Gotthard Nufenen, Lukmanier, and St. Bernard. The Ticino River flows into Lake Maggiore, allowing further access to what is now present-day Italy. The city's topography is perfectly suited for the construction of strategic fortresses as a rocky hillside encompasses the entire eastern flank of the valley in which Bellinzona sits.


There is ample evidence of early human settlement and inhabitation in and around Bellinzona. Archaeologists have found scattered burial sites and the remains of isolated, primitive structures dating back to the Neolithic Period (the 4th millennium BCE), and humans repeatedly occupied the site where Castelgrande now rests during the Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. Emperor Augustus (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE) brought what is now the Swiss Canton of Ticino into the Roman Empire as a result of successful military campaigns against the Celts, and the Romans set-up a basecamp on what is now Castelgrande around 1 CE. This camp was refortified and greatly expanded through the construction of a large wall and a gate at some point during the 4th century CE. During this era, Roman emperors consolidated their control over the region through the construction of interlinked military fortresses and walls. It is believed by archaeologists that this enlarged military camp in Bellinzona housed about 1000 soldiers during its heyday.

Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE, the Ostrogoths moved into the region taking control of the old Roman fortresses and alpine passes. The Ostrogoths - and later the Lombards - reinforced the older structures, and they successfully defeated the Alemmans in 475 CE at the Battle of Campi Canini, which is near the present-day village of Arbedo, just to Bellinzona's north. In the 6th century CE, the Lombards repelled periodic Frankish and Alemannic raids and imposed their sovereignty in the region by allying themselves with the powerful ecclesiastical elite in Milan and Rome. The nearly inviolable fortress at Castelgrande and the well-built Roman walls were of considerable importance to the Lombard kings, as they permitted them to not only exert political and military control over the region but also control the flow of traffic through the Alps.


Archaeological research shows that the transition from Lombard to Carolingian rule at Castelgrande was not disruptive. Although there is evidence of a fire around 800 CE, it is likely that this was not caused by strife or a battle. Otto the Great opened the St. Bernard and Lukmanier Passes as part of his imperial policies in Italy, and Bellinzona is mentioned for the first time in documents as an administrative district in the 10th century CE. The Investiture Conflict made Bellinzona and its fortresses highly desirable by both the Guelph and Ghibelline factions. (Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa passed through Bellinzona several times during his travels to Italy in the 12th century CE.) The Investiture Conflict continued on into the 14th century CE as a set of protracted political conflicts between local elites and transregional rulers.

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Bellinzona was besieged in 1284 CE, 1292 CE, and 1303 CE, as the Rusca family of Como fought against the Visconti family of Milan. It is most probable that Montebello's construction began during this time of internecine warfare. In 1335 CE, the Ruscas lost control of the Italian city of Como and in 1340 CE, they surrendered Castelgrande to the Visconti. The Milanese, however, were impressed with the tenacity of the Ruscas, and the family was permitted to retain control of the small Montebello Castle, which lies on a hill 90 m (300 ft) above Bellinzona and within sight of Castlegrande.

Castles under Milanese Rule

Bellinzona flourished as a city under the rule of the Visconti and Sforza dynasties, who secured the Alpine passes, upheld customs laws, and balanced state finances and ordinances. Interalpine traffic increased tremendously, enriching the ducal family in Milan as well as the regions of Lombardy, Ticino, and the central Swiss Cantons of Uri, Obwalden, and Schwyz. Despite a brief interlude of Swiss control from 1402-1422 by the noble House of Sax (Italian: Sacco) and the Cantons of Uri and Obwalden following the death of Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan (r. 1395-1402 CE), the Milanese retook the city and control over its castles following the Battle of Arbedo in 1422 CE. Nonetheless, it was during this Swiss occupation in the 15th century CE that construction began for a third castle - Sasso Corbaro. This castle is located on a hillside to Bellinzona's east, with views of both the Castlegrande and Montebello castles. When the Milanese retook control of Bellinzona, they completed this castle's construction in only six month's time.


The Milanese regularly reinforced the Castlegrande and Montebello castles throughout the 15th century CE. They also rebuilt the Murata - the walls located on the west side of Castelgrande - in addition to reinforcing the city's walls. Although the Swiss attempted to take Bellinzona and Ticino again in 1449 CE (Battle of Castione), 1478 CE (Battle of Giornico), and 1487 CE (Battle of Crevola), they were unable to do so as a result of the superior engineering and military prowess of the Milanese. The castles' present design and silhouette reflect the indelible Milanese imprint on Bellinzona.

Swiss in Bellinzona & Modern Times

The Italian Wars (1494-1559 CE) involved both the Duchy of Milan as well as the Swiss Confederation. King Louis XII of France (r.1498-1515 CE) claimed the duchy of Milan by virtue of being the grandson of Valentina Visconti, taking the city and the entire duchy by force of arms in 1499 CE. While initially promising the Swiss Confederation the city and castles of Bellinzona as a concession in return to the services rendered by Swiss mercenaries in the French army, Louis XII did not keep his word, and French forces occupied the castles in the winter of 1499-1500 CE. In 1500 CE, the citizens of Bellinzona requested aid from the Swiss Cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwalden to rid themselves of the despised French. Their appeal was heard and the Swiss removed the French army from Bellinzona. Successive treaties between the French and the Swiss Confederation in 1503 and 1516 CE recognized Swiss claims to Bellinzona and Ticino, and the city and its castles have remained under Swiss control for over 500 years now.


The Swiss Confederation choose a policy of strict neutrality after their devastating defeat by the French at the Battle of Marignano in 1515 CE, and over the ensuing centuries, Bellinzona's castles gradually lost their strategic importance. A severe flood of the Ticino River in 1515 CE - the “Buzz di Biasca” - destroyed part of Castlegrande's Murata, but this was quickly repaired. Each of the three castles was occupied by the three victorious Swiss cantons, and the Swiss maintained garrisons of roughly 80 men at each castle. By the middle of the 19th century CE, all three castles were in the state of disrepair, and the Canton of Ticino tried to sell the Castlegrande in 1881 CE. The first of a series of continuous restorations began just after 1900 CE, and intensive efforts lasted from 1920-1955 CE. Archaeological and restoration work continues at the castles to this day.

Caerlaverock Castle today

Today Caerlaverock Castle stands in the centre of picturesque countryside classed as a ‘National Scenic Area’, meaning it is protected and celebrated for its natural beauty.

The imposing moat, once a fearsome deterrent to attackers and important strategic tool against their enemies, is now a highlight for visitors and a stunning site all year round – reflecting the glistening sunlight in summer or laced with ice and snow during the winter months.

A trip to Caerlaverock Castle itself offers a lesson in siege warfare and there are many interesting reconstructions of medieval siege engines exciting educational tools that instantly transport visitors to the battlefield. For families, there’s even a castle-themed adventure park to provide extra entertainment for children, ensuring there always lots to see and do at Caerlaverock!

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle (meaning “Castle at the Mouth of the Ratty”) is a large 15th-century tower house in County Clare, Ireland. It’s located within the center of Bunratty village near Shannon Town. The castle and therefore the adjoining folk park were traveled by Shannon Heritage as tourist attractions.

What is a tower house?

A tower home is a specific sort of stone structure, built for defensive purposes but also for habitation. Tower houses came to be around the Middle Ages, especially in mountainous or limited access areas, so as to command and defend strategic points with reduced forces. During that time, they were also used as an aristocrat’s residence, around which a castle town was often constructed.

Interesting fact

The site on which Bunratty Castle stands was in origin a Viking trading camp in 970. This structure is the last of 4 castles to be built on the location.

The first recorded settlement at the location may are a Norsemen settlement/trading camp reported within the Annals of the Four Masters to possess been destroyed by Brian Boru in 977. Consistent with local tradition, such a camp was located on an increase south-west of the present castle. However, since no actual remains of this settlement have yet been found, its exact location is unknown and its existence isn’t proven.

Around 1250, King Henry III of England granted the cantred or district of Tradraighe to Robert De Muscegros, who in 1251 hamper around 200 trees within the King’s wood at Cratloe. A later reference within the state papers, dating to 1253 gives de Muscegros the proper to carry markets and an annual fair at Bunratty. it’s thus been assumed that the location was the centre of early Norman control in south-eastern Clare. Early 19th-century scholars put the structure to the north-west of the present castle. However, when a hotel was constructed there in 1959, John Hunt excavated the world and thought the remains to be that of a weapons emplacement from the Confederate Wars (see below).

South solar in Bunratty Castle

These lands were later handed back to (or taken back by) King Henry III and granted to Thomas De Clare, a descendant of Strongbow in 1276. De Clare built the primary stone structure on the location (the second castle). This castle was occupied from ca. 1278 to 1318 and consisted of an outsized single stone tower with lime white walls. It stood on the brink of the river, on or near the location of this Bunratty Castle. within the late 13th century, Bunratty had about 1,000 inhabitants. The castle was attacked several times by the O’Briens (or O’Brians) and their allies. In 1284, while De Clare was away in England, the location was captured and destroyed. On his return, in 1287, De Clare had the location rebuilt and a 140-yard (130 m) long fosse built around it. The castle was again attacked but it didn’t fall until 1318. therein year a serious battle was fought at Dysert O’Dea as a part of Irish Bruce Wars, during which both Thomas De Clare and his son Richard were killed. Lady De Clare, on learning this, fled from Bunratty to Limerick after burning castle and city. The De Clare family never returned to the world and therefore the remains of the castle eventually collapsed. because the stones were likely used for other local construction works, no traces remain of this second castle.

In the 14th century, Limerick was a crucial port for English Crown. to protect access via the Shannon estuary against attacks from Irish, the location was once more occupied. In 1353, Sir Thomas de Rokeby led an English army to overcome the MacNamaras and MacCarthys. a replacement castle (the third) was built at Bunratty, but once more, its exact location is unknown. Local tradition holds that it stood at the location where the Bunratty Castle Hotel was later constructed. However, the new structure was hardly finished before being captured by Irish. Documents show that in 1355, King Edward III of England released Thomas Fitzjohn Fitzmaurice from prison in Limerick. He had been charged with letting the castle fall under the hands of Murtough O’Brien whilst serving as a Governor (Captain) of Bunratty.

The fourth castle, this structure, was built by the MacNamara family after around 1425. Its builder may are one Maccon Sioda MacNamara, chieftain of Clann Cuilein (i.e. the MacNamaras). He died before the castle was completed which happened under his son Sean Finn (died in 1467). At around 1500, Bunratty Castle came into the hands of the O’Briens (or O’Brians), the foremost powerful clan in Munster and later Earls of Thomond. They expanded the location and eventually made it their chief seat, moving it there from Ennis.

In 1558, the castle—now noted together of the principal strongholds of Thomond—was taken by Thomas Radclyffe, the Lord-Lieutenant of eire from Donal O’Brien of Duagh, last King of Thomond (died 1579), and given to Donal’s nephew, Connor O’Brien. Donogh O’Brien, Conor’s son, may are the one to maneuver the seat of the family from Clonroad (Ennis) to Bunratty. He made various improvements to the castle including putting a replacement lead roof thereon.

During the Confederate Wars depart by Irish Rebellion of 1641, Lord Forbes, commanding forces of English Long Parliament, was allowed by the then Lord Barnabas O’Brien to occupy Bunratty in 1646. Barnabas didn’t want to plan to either side within the struggle, playing off royalists, rebels and roundheads against one another. He left for England, and there he joined King Charles. Defence of the castle, whose position allowed those holding it to blockade maritime access to Limerick (held by the Confederates) and therefore the river Shannon, was within the hands of Rear-Admiral Penn, the daddy of Penn, founding father of Pennsylvania. After an extended siege, the Confederates took the castle. Penn surrendered but was still allowed to sail away to Kinsale.

Barnabas O’Brien died in 1657, but had apparently leased out the castle to at least one “John Cooper”, likely an equivalent person married to Máire ní Mahon of Leamaneh Castle, widow of another O’Brien, Conor (died 1651). Bunratty Castle remained property of the O’Briens and within the 1680s the castle was still the principal seat of the Earls of Thomond. In the year 1712, Henry, the 8th and last Earl of Thomond (1688–1741) sold Bunratty Castle and 472 acres (191 ha) of land to Thomas Amory for £225 and an annual rent of £120. Amory successively sold the castle to Thomas Studdert who moved in ca. 1720.

The Studdert family left the castle (allowing it to fall under disrepair), to reside within the easier and modern adjacent “Bunratty House” that they had inbuilt 1804.

For some time within the mid-19th century, the castle was used as a barracks by the Royal Irish Constabulary. In 1894, Bunratty was once more employed by the Studdert family, because the seat of Captain Richard Studdert. within the late 19th century, the roof of the good Hall collapsed.

In 1956, the castle was purchased and restored by the 7th Viscount Gort, with assistance from the Office of structure. He reroofed the castle and saved it from ruin. The castle was opened to the general public in 1960, sporting furniture, tapestries and works of art dating to around 1600

MacNamara family:

Mac Conmara (anglicised as MacNamara) is an Irish surname of a family of County Clare in Ireland. The MacNamara family were a Dál gCais sept and after the O’Briens one among the foremost powerful families within the Kingdom of Thomond as Lords of Clancullen (a title later divided into East and West families). they’re associated with the O’Gradys, also descended from the Uí Caisin line of the Dál gCais.

The name began with the chieftain Cumara, of Maghadhair in the county Clare. Cumara may be a contracted sort of Conmara – hound of the ocean. His son, by the name of Domhnall, who died in 1099, adopted the surname Mac Conmara, or son of Cumara, thus becoming the very first MacNamara. The name has survived relatively unmodified as MacConmara in Irish and Mac Namara in English

Let’s learn something about the Vikings:

Vikings were the seafaring people who came from the North from southern Scandinavia (in present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) who from the late 8th to late 11th centuries pirated, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas all over Europe, and explored westward to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. In Modern English and other vernaculars, the term also commonly includes the inhabitants of Norse home communities during this era. This era of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion had a profound impact on the first medieval history of Scandinavia, British Isles, France, Estonia, Kievan Rus’ and Sicily.

Expert sailors and navigators aboard their characteristic longships, Vikings voyaged as far because the Mediterranean littoral, North Africa, and therefore the Middle East. After decades of exploration round the coasts and rivers of Europe, Vikings established Norse communities and governments scattered across north-western Europe, Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia, the North Atlantic islands all the thanks to the north-eastern coast of North America. The Vikings and all of their descendants established themselves as rulers and nobility in many areas of Europe. The Normans, descendants of Vikings who conquered and gave their name to what’s now Normandy, also formed the aristocracy of England after the Norman Conquest of England. While spreading Norse culture to foreign lands, they simultaneously brought home strong foreign cultural influences to Scandinavia, profoundly influencing the historical development of both. During the Viking Age all of the the Norse homelands were gradually consolidated from smaller kingdoms into three larger kingdoms, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The Norse civilisation during the Viking Age was technologically, militarily and culturally advanced. Yet popular, modern conceptions of the Vikings—a term which is frequently applied casually to their modern Scandinavian descendants—often strongly differ from the complex, advanced civilisation of the Norsemen that emerges from archaeology and historical sources. A romanticised picture of Vikings as noble savages began to emerge within the 18th century this developed and have become widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival. Perceived views of the Vikings as alternatively violent, piratical heathens or as intrepid adventurers owe much to conflicting sorts of the fashionable Viking myth that had taken shape by the first 20th century. Current popular representations of the Vikings are typically supported cultural clichés and stereotypes, complicating modern appreciation of the Viking legacy. These representations are rarely accurate—for example, there’s no evidence that they wore horned helmets, a fancy dress element that first appeared in Wagnerian opera.

We hope you enjoyed our great story about this amazing place. You can read even more about great castles in Ireland here:https://historicalcastles.com/lismore-castle/

Or you can read more about this incredible castle here:https://www.bunrattycastle.ie/bunratty-castle/

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17 Awe-Inspiring Castles to Visit in the United Kingdom

Sure, Queen Elizabeth II might live in Buckingham Palace, but across the British Isles there are many more castles to see. From Ireland to Wales, Scotland to England trace the United Kingdom’s history through the stunning castles that dot the maps of the country.

Castle Gwent or Chepstow Castle (1067)

This was the very first castle by the Norman William the Conqueror. Some may think that stone stands the test of time, but Castle Gwent boasts the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe, which are now preserved in an exhibit inside the castle. The bridge across the River Wye offers a stunning view of the castle on its perch.

Warwick Castle (1068)

Warwick Castle has been the heart of the English stronghold since it was built by William the Conqueror. Much like William’s takeover of England, Warwick Castle has a bloody history, changing hands between Dukes, reverting to the crown after treason, and even been the site of the murder of the King Edward II’s lover.

York Castle (1068)

William the Conqueror was a busy man in 1068, building castles across England to fortify his new country. When the original timber tower was burned to the ground, the town set about to rebuild it in the fashionable stone of the thirteenth century. On first glance Clifford’s Tower appears to be the only part of the castle, but laid out behind the tower is the castle complex.

Mitford Castle (1070)

One of the last standing motte-and-bailey castles, Mitford Castle in Northumberland is a crumbling ruin of beauty. Different from every other castle, it is the only one built with five sides. Burnt to the ground by King John I, the castle was rebuilt by Henry III, and later pillaged by Robert the Bruce of Scotland.

Ludlow Castle (1075)

A restored Roman citadel, Ludlow Castle carries all of the charm of a medieval castle, towers, hidden rooms, river views, markets, and fairs. In 1483 two young princes went missing, widely believed to have been killed by their uncle, King Richard III. But before they were a missing persons case, they lived in Ludlow Castle, learning how to be the kings they were destined to be.

Tower of London (1078)

Perhaps more a complex than a castle, the Tower of London has been home to some of the biggest scandals in British History. Now home to the crown jewels of England, it was once a notorious prison for some of the countries most treasonous citizens. Within the Tower’s walls, Anne Boleyn slept before her coronation. Little did she know that she would sleep in the same exact room three years later while awaiting her death sentence. Not to mention two princes somehow went missing (were murdered?) within the walls of the tower. The main suspects are Richard III, their uncle, Henry VII, the conqueror, and Henry Duke of Buckingham, the kingmaker and breaker. The longest occupants of the tower are the ravens that have lived there for centuries. Usually an ill omen, these ravens are the protectors of the United Kingdom.

Cardiff Castle (1093)

Recognizing the strategic value of the former Roman fort, the Normans once again set out to build a castle to fortify their borders. Despite it’s old age, the castle was used as a bunker for the citizens of Cardiff during WWII, protecting them from repeated air strike attacks. After the war, the Marquess of Bute, owner of the castle, returned the castle rights to the people of Cardiff.

The Castles of Cornwall (1100)

Restormel, Launceston, Tintagel, and Trematon are the four castles of Cornwall and are home to the Arthurian legends. Built by the sea, these castles offer a beautiful view of the famed English countryside. Trace Arthur’s history from Tintagel and beyond. But Arthur isn’t the only legend here too. Merlin and fated lovers Tristan and Isolde have their history entwined with the castles of Cornwall.

Stirling Castle (Early 12 th Century)

Most people might recognize Stirling Castle as the backdrop for Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but the castle’s history goes much further back. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here when she was just six days old, making her the youngest ruler of Scotland. An avid lover of sports, found in Mary’s closet is the world’s oldest football (soccer ball).

Rochester Castle (1127)

The keep, or stone tower, of Rochester Castle is the best preserved in England or France. When the Barons of England became disenchanted with King John I, they holed up inside the castle, thinking of ideas to keep their king in check. In an epic siege, John underestimated the strength of the outer wall, and used 40 pigs to burrow under the wall. Even then, his barons were unwilling to give up.

Edinburgh Castle (1174)

Built on top of a 700 million year old extinct volcano called Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is built around Edinburgh’s oldest building. Because of wars between the English and the Scottish, the castle changed hands many times throughout history and has been home to many royal people, including Mary Queen of Scots who gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England. During WWII, the crown jewels were buried in a bunker inside the castle complex, for fear that they would be stolen otherwise.

Carrickfergus Castle (1177)

Carrickfergus Castle built in Northern Ireland was not meant to display anything other than the impressive might of the Norman conquerors. It was built in a strategic military position, surrounded by the sea on three sides. Despite it’s fortified appearance, the castle did little to defend the Norman interests and changed hands throughout history.

Dover Castle (1189)

When William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at Dover, he burnt the town to the ground and rebuilt fortifications around it. One hundred years later, King Henry II rebuilt the castle, spending a hefty sum of money, the most on any castle project at the time. The castle sits on the White Cliffs of Dover overlooking the English Channel, warning when invaders are entering. As you stand at the castle, you can see France across the sea.

Hever Castle (1270)

Home to one of the most powerful and dangerous families of the sixteenth century, the notorious Anne Boleyn spent her childhood exploring the grounds of Hever Castle. After Anne’s fall from King Henry VIII’s graces, the house passed to his fourth wife, also an Anne (of Cleves). Once in disrepair, the castle has since been restored and has sprawling gardens to walk through.

Caernarfon Castle (1283)

Since 1283 the Princes of Wales have ruled from Caernarfon Castle. The castle was built on the roots of a Roman forts and Norman motte-and-bailey castles. The massive fortress would intimidate any army, surely King Edward I’s intention when building it.

Conwy Castle (1289)

To take in the breathtaking beauty of Conwy Castle, head for the battlements to see the mountains and sea. It’s often considered Edward I’s most impressive Welsh castle, with its two barbicans, eight towers, and bow-shaped grand hall. But the outside isn’t the only extraordinary part of the castle. When you step inside, it’s easy to see that it was built for royalty.

Bodiam Castle (1385)

Spiral staircases, battlements, and even a portcullis, paint a romantic picture of the architectural ruins. Bodiam Castle is considered the perfect English castle, but appearances can be deceiving. Historians can’t seem to agree whether or not it was meant to be a beautiful country home or war-hardened fortress.

From romantic ruins to sprawling estates, the castles of the United Kingdom grace the countryside. The castles are a testament to the United Kingdom’s royal history, and each castle tells a different story about a different time in a different place. While some of the castles have fallen into disrepair, the majority have been maintained throughout history, preserving a snapshot of the lives that once lived there.

5. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle headlines the view of the Scottish capital as it has been built on top of an extinct volcano overlooking the city below. The original settlement dates from the Iron Age, with the site serving as a royal residence from the reign of David I in the 12th century until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

The earliest detailed documents referring to a castle at the site, rather than a rock, date from the death of King Malcolm III in 1093.

Since 1603, the castle has served various purposes, including spells as both a prison and a garrison.


Anglo-Saxon fortifications Edit

The English word "castle" derives from the Latin word castellum and is used to refer to the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. The presence of castles in Britain and Ireland dates primarily from the Norman invasion of 1066. [1] Before the arrival of the Normans the Anglo-Saxons had built burhs, fortified structures with their origins in 9th-century Wessex. [2] Most of these, especially in urban areas, were large enough to be best described as fortified townships rather than private dwellings and are therefore not usually classed as castles. [3] Rural burhs were smaller and usually consisted of a wooden hall with a wall enclosing various domestic buildings along with an entrance tower called a burh-geat, which was apparently used for ceremonial purposes. [4] Although rural burhs were relatively secure their role was primarily ceremonial and they too are not normally classed as castles. [5] There were, however, a small number of castles which were built in England during the 1050s, probably by Norman knights in the service of Edward the Confessor. [6] These include Hereford, Clavering, Richard's Castle and possibly Ewyas Harold Castle and Dover. [7] [nb 1]

Invasion Edit

William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England in 1066 and one of his first actions after landing was to build Hastings Castle to protect his supply routes. [8] Following their victory at the battle of Hastings the Normans began three phases of castle building. The first of these was the establishment, by the new king, of a number of royal castles in key strategic locations. [9] This royal castle programme focused on controlling the towns and cities of England and the associated lines of communication, including Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Norwich, Nottingham, Wallingford, Warwick and York. [10] Of the castles built by William the Conqueror two-thirds were built in towns and cities, often those with the former Anglo-Saxon mints. [11] These urban castles could make use of the existing town's walls and fortifications, but typically required the demolition of local houses to make space for them. [12] This could cause extensive damage, and records suggest that in Lincoln 166 houses were destroyed, with 113 in Norwich and 27 in Cambridge. [13] Some of these castles were deliberately built on top of important local buildings, such as the burhs or halls of local nobles, and might be constructed so as to imitate aspects of the previous buildings – such as the gatehouse at Rougemont Castle in Exeter, which closely resembled the previous Anglo-Saxon burh tower – this was probably done to demonstrate to the local population that they now answered to their new Norman rulers. [14]

The second and third waves of castle building were led by the major magnates, and then by the more junior knights on their new estates. [11] The apportionment of the conquered lands by the king influenced where these castles were built. In a few key locations the king gave his followers compact groups of estates including the six rapes of Sussex and the three earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford intended to protect the line of communication with Normandy and the Welsh border respectively. [15] In these areas a baron's castles were clustered relatively tightly together, but in most of England the nobles' estates, and therefore their castles, were more widely dispersed. [16] As the Normans pushed on into South Wales they advanced up the valleys building castles as they went and often using the larger castles of the neighbouring earldoms as a base. [17]

As a result, castle building by the Norman nobility across England and the Marches lacked a grand strategic plan, reflecting local circumstances such as military factors and the layout of existing estates and church lands. [18] Castles were often situated along the old Roman roads that still formed the backbone for travel across the country, both to control the lines of communication and to ensure easy movement between different estates. [19] Many castles were built close to inland river ports and those built on the coast were usually located at the mouths of rivers or in ports, Pevensey and Portchester being rare exceptions. [20] [nb 2] Some groups of castles were located so as to be mutually reinforcing – for example the castles of Littledean Camp, Glasshouse Woods and Howle Hill Camp were intended to act as an integrated defence for the area around Gloucester and Gloucester Castle for Gloucester city itself, while Windsor was one of a ring of castles built around London, each approximately a day's march apart. [21] Some regional patterns in castle building can also be seen – relatively few castles were built in East Anglia compared to the west of England or the Marches this was probably due to the relatively settled and prosperous nature of the east of England and reflected a shortage of available serfs, or unfree labour. [22]

Not all of the castles were occupied simultaneously. Some were built during the invasions and then abandoned while other new castles were constructed elsewhere, especially along the western borders. Recent estimates suggest that between 500 and 600 castles were occupied at any one time in the post-conquest period. [23]

Architecture Edit

There was a large degree of variation in the size and exact shape of the castles built in England and Wales after the invasion. [24] One popular form was the motte and bailey, in which earth would be piled up into a mound (called a motte) to support a wooden tower, and a wider enclosed area built alongside it (called a bailey) Stafford Castle is a typical example of a post-invasion motte castle. [25] Another widespread design was the ring work in which earth would be built up in a circular or oval shape and topped with a wooden rampart Folkestone Castle is a good example of a Norman ring work, in this case built on top of a hill although most post-invasion castles were usually sited on lower ground. [26] Around 80 per cent of Norman castles in this period followed the motte-and-bailey pattern, but ring works were particularly popular in certain areas, such as south-west England and south Wales. [27] One theory put forward to explain this variation is that ringworks were easier to build in these shallow-soil areas than the larger mottes. [28]

The White Tower in London and the keep of Colchester Castle were the only stone castles to be built in England immediately after the conquest, both with the characteristic square Norman keep. [29] Both these castles were built in the Romanesque style and were intended to impress as well as provide military protection. [29] In Wales the first wave of the Norman castles were again made of wood, in a mixture of motte-and-bailey and ringwork designs, with the exception of the stone built Chepstow Castle. [30] Chepstow too was heavily influenced by Romanesque design, reusing numerous materials from the nearby Venta Silurum to produce what historian Robert Liddiard has termed "a play upon images from Antiquity". [31]

The size of these castles varied depending on the geography of the site, the decisions of the builder and the available resources. [32] Analysis of the size of mottes has shown some distinctive regional variation East Anglia, for example, saw much larger mottes being built than the Midlands or London. [33] While motte-and-bailey and ring-work castles took great effort to build, they required relatively few skilled craftsmen allowing them to be raised using forced labour from the local estates this, in addition to the speed with which they could be built – a single season, made them particularly attractive immediately after the conquest. [34] The larger earthworks, particularly mottes, required an exponentially greater quantity of manpower than their smaller equivalents and consequently tended to be either royal, or belong to the most powerful barons who could muster the required construction effort. [35] Despite motte-and-bailey and ringworks being common designs amongst Norman castles, each fortification was slightly different – some castles were designed with two baileys attached to a single motte, and some ring works were built with additional towers added on yet other castles were built as ringworks and later converted to motte-and-bailey structures.

Developments in castle design Edit

From the early 12th century onwards the Normans began to build new castles in stone and convert existing timber designs. [36] This was initially a slow process, picking up speed towards the second half of the century. [36] Traditionally this transition was believed to have been driven by the more crude nature of wooden fortifications, the limited life of timber in wooden castles and its vulnerability to fire recent archaeological studies have however shown that many wooden castles were as robust and as complex as their stone equivalents. [37] Some wooden castles were not converted into stone for many years and instead expanded in wood, such as at Hen Domen. [38]

Several early stone keeps had been built after the conquest, with somewhere between ten and fifteen in existence by 1100, and more followed in the 12th century until around 100 had been built by 1216. [39] [nb 3] Typically these were four sided designs with the corners reinforced by pilaster buttresses. [41] Keeps were up to four storeys high, with the entrance on the first storey to prevent the door from being easily broken down. [41] The strength of the design typically came from the thickness of the walls: usually made of rag-stone, as in the case of Dover Castle, these walls could be up to 24 feet (7.3 metres) thick. [42] The larger keeps were subdivided by an internal wall while the smaller versions, such as that at Goodrich, had a single, slightly cramped chamber on each floor. [43] Stone keeps required skilled craftsmen to build them unlike unfree labour or serfs, these men had to be paid and stone keeps were therefore expensive. [44] They were also relatively slow to erect – a keep's walls could usually only be raised by a maximum of 12 feet (3.7 metres) a year, the keep at Scarborough was typical in taking ten years to build. [44]

Norman stone keeps played both a military and a political role. Most of the keeps were physically extremely robust and, while they were not designed as an intended location for the final defence of a castle, they were often placed near weak points in the walls to provide supporting fire. [45] Many keeps made compromises to purely military utility: [46] Norwich Castle included elaborate blind arcading on the outside of the building, in a Roman style, and appears to had a ceremonial entrance route [47] The interior of the keep at Hedingham could have hosted impressive ceremonies and events, but contained numerous flaws from a military perspective. [48] Similarly there has been extensive debate over the role of Orford Castle whose expensive, three-cornered design most closely echoes imperial Byzantine palaces and may have been intended by Henry II to be more symbolic than military in nature. [49] [nb 4]

Another improvement from the 12th century onwards was the creation of shell keeps, involving replacing the wooden keep on the motte with a circular stone wall. [51] Buildings could be built around the inside of the shell, producing a small inner courtyard. [51] Restormel Castle is a classic example of this development with a perfectly circular wall and a square entrance tower while the later Launceston Castle, although more ovoid than circular, is another good example of the design and one of the most formidable castles of the period. [52] Round castles were unusually popular throughout Cornwall and Devon. [53] Although the circular design held military advantages, these only really mattered in the 13th century onwards the origins of 12th-century circular design were the circular design of the mottes indeed, some designs were less than circular in order to accommodate irregular mottes, such as that at Windsor Castle. [54]

Economy and society Edit

English castles during the period were divided into those royal castles owned by the king, and baronial castles controlled by the Anglo-Norman lords. According to chronicler William of Newburgh royal castles formed the "bones of the kingdom". [55] A number of royal castles were also designated as shrieval castles, forming the administrative hub for a particular county – for example Winchester Castle served as the centre of Hampshire. [56] These castles formed a base for the royal sheriff, responsible for enforcing royal justice in the relevant shire the role of the sheriff became stronger and clearer as the century progressed. [57]

A number of royal castles were linked to forests and other key resources. Royal forests in the early medieval period were subject to special royal jurisdiction forest law was, as historian Robert Huscroft describes it, "harsh and arbitrary, a matter purely for the King's will" and forests were expected to supply the king with hunting grounds, raw materials, goods and money. [58] Forests were typically tied to castles, both to assist with the enforcement of the law and to store the goods being extracted from the local economy: Peveril Castle was linked to the Peak Forest and the local lead mining there [59] St Briavels was tied to the Forest of Dean and Knaresborough, Rockingham and Pickering to their eponymous forests respectively. [60] In the south-west, where the Crown oversaw the lead mining industry, castles such as Restormel played an important role running the local stannery courts. [61]

Baronial castles were of varying size and sophistication some were classed as a caput, or the key stronghold of a given lord, and were usually larger and better fortified than the norm and usually held the local baronial honorial courts. [62] The king continued to exercise the right to occupy and use any castle in the kingdom in response to external threats, in those cases he would staff the occupied castles with his own men the king also retained the right to authorise the construction of new castles through the issuing of licenses to crenellate. [63] It was possible for bishops to build or control castles, such as the important Devizes Castle linked to the Bishop of Salisbury, although this practice was challenged on occasion. [64] In the 12th century the practice of castle-guards emerged in England and Wales, under which lands were assigned to local lords on condition that the recipient provided a certain number of knights or sergeants for the defence of a named castle. [65] In some cases, such as at Dover, this arrangement became quite sophisticated with particular castle towers being named after particular families owing castle-guard duty. [66]

The links between castles and the surrounding lands and estates was particularly important during this period. Many castles, both royal and baronial, had deer parks or chases attached to them for the purposes of hunting. [67] These usually stretched away from the village or borough associated with the castle, but occasionally a castle was placed in the centre of a park, such as at Sandal. [67]

The Anarchy Edit

Civil war broke out in England and raged between 1139 and 1153, forming a turbulent period in which the rival factions of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda struggled for power. [68] Open battles were relatively rare during the war, with campaigns instead centred on a sequence of raids and sieges as commanders attempted to gain control over the vital castles that controlled the territory in the rival regions. [69] Siege technology during the Anarchy centred on basic stone-throwing machines such as ballistae and mangonels, supported by siege towers and mining, combined with blockade and, occasionally, direct assault. [70] The phase of the conflict known as "the Castle War" saw both sides attempting to defeat each other through sieges, such as Stephen's attempts to take Wallingford, the most easterly fortress in Matilda's push towards London, or Geoffrey de Mandeville's attempts to seize East Anglia by taking Cambridge Castle. [71]

Both sides responded to the challenge of the conflict by building many new castles, sometimes as sets of strategic fortifications. In the south-west Matilda's supporters built a range of castles to protect the territory, usually motte and bailey designs such as those at Winchcombe, Upper Slaughter, or Bampton. [72] Similarly, Stephen built a new chain of fen-edge castles at Burwell, Lidgate, Rampton, Caxton, and Swavesey – all about six to nine miles (10–15 km) apart – in order to protect his lands around Cambridge. [73] Many of these castles were termed "adulterine" (unauthorised), because no formal permission was given for their construction. [74] Contemporary chroniclers saw this as a matter of concern Robert of Torigny suggested that as many as 1,115 such castles had been built during the conflict, although this was probably an exaggeration as elsewhere he suggests an alternative figure of 126. [75] Another feature of the war was the creation of many "counter-castles". [76] These had been used in English conflicts for several years before the civil war and involved building a basic castle during a siege, alongside the main target of attack. [77] Typically these would be built in either a ringwork or a motte-and-bailey design between 200 and 300 yards (180 and 270 metres) away from the target, just beyond the range of a bow. [77] Counter-castles could be used to either act as firing platforms for siege weaponry, or as bases for controlling the region in their own right. [78] Most counter-castles were destroyed after their use but in some cases the earthworks survived, such as the counter-castles called Jew's Mount and Mount Pelham built by Stephen in 1141 outside Oxford Castle. [79]

Matilda's son Henry II assumed the throne at the end of the war and immediately announced his intention to eliminate the adulterine castles that had sprung up during the war, but it is unclear how successful this effort was. [80] Robert of Torigny recorded that 375 were destroyed, without giving the details behind the figure recent studies of selected regions have suggested that fewer castles were probably destroyed than once thought and that many may simply have been abandoned at the end of the conflict. [81] Certainly many of the new castles were transitory in nature: Archaeologist Oliver Creighton observes that 56 per cent of those castles known to have been built during Stephen's reign have "entirely vanished". [82]

The spread of castles in Scotland, Wales and Ireland Edit

Castles in Scotland emerged as a consequence of the centralising of royal authority in the 12th century. [83] Prior to the 1120s there is very little evidence of castles having existed in Scotland, which had remained less politically centralised than in England with the north still ruled by the kings of Norway. [84] David I of Scotland spent time at the court of Henry I in the south, until he became the Earl of Huntingdon, and returned to Scotland with the intention of extending royal power across the country and modernising Scotland's military technology, including the introduction of castles. [85] The Scottish king encouraged Norman and French nobles to settle in Scotland, introducing a feudal mode of landholding and the use of castles as a way of controlling the contested lowlands. [86] The quasi-independent polity of Galloway, which had resisted the rule of David and his predecessors, was a particular focus for this colonisation. [87] The size of these Scottish castles, primarily wooden motte-and-bailey constructions, varied considerably from larger designs, such as the Bass of Inverurie, to smaller castles like Balmaclellan. [88] As historian Lise Hull has suggested, the creation of castles in Scotland was "less to do with conquest" and more to do with "establishing a governing system". [89]

The Norman expansion into Wales slowed in the 12th century, but remained an ongoing threat to the remaining native rulers. In response the Welsh princes and lords began to build their own castles, usually in wood. [90] There are indications that this may have begun from 1111 onwards under Prince Cadwgan ap Bleddyn with the first documentary evidence of a native Welsh castle being at Cymmer in 1116. [91] These timber castles, including Tomen y Rhodwydd, Tomen y Faerdre and Gaer Penrhôs, were of equivalent quality to the Norman fortifications in the area and it can prove difficult to distinguish the builders of some sites from the archaeological evidence alone. [90] At the end of the 12th century the Welsh rulers began to build castles in stone, primarily in the principality of North Wales. [91]

Ireland remained ruled by native kings into the 12th century, largely without the use of castles. There was a history of Irish fortifications called ráths, a type of ringfort, some of which were very heavily defended but which are not usually considered to be castles in the usual sense of the word. [92] The kings of Connacht constructed fortifications from 1124 which they called caistel or caislen, from the Latin and French for castle, and there has been considerable academic debate over how far these resembled European castles. [93]

The Norman invasion of Ireland began between 1166 and 1171, under first Richard de Clare and then Henry II of England, with the occupation of southern and eastern Ireland by a number of Anglo-Norman barons. [94] The rapid Norman success depended on key economic and military advantages, with castles enabling them to control the newly conquered territories. [95] The new lords rapidly built castles to protect their possessions, many of these were motte-and-bailey constructions in Louth at least 23 of these were built. [96] It remains uncertain how many ringwork castles were built in Ireland by the Anglo-Normans. [97] Other castles, such as Trim and Carrickfergus, were built in stone as the caput centres for major barons. [98] Analysis of these stone castles suggests that building in stone was not simply a military decision indeed, several of the castles contain serious defensive flaws. [99] Instead the designs, including their focus on large stone keeps, were intended both to increase the prestige of the baronial owners and to provide adequate space for the administrative apparatus of the new territories. [100] Unlike in Wales the indigenous Irish lords do not appear to have constructed their own castles in any significant number during the period. [101] [nb 5]

Military developments Edit

Castle design in Britain continued to change towards the end of the 12th century. [103] After Henry II mottes ceased to be built in most of England, although they continued to be erected in Wales and along the Marches. [104] Square keeps remained common across much of England in contrast to the circular keeps increasingly prevailing in France in the Marches, however, circular keep designs became more popular. [105] Castles began to take on a more regular, enclosed shape, ideally quadrilateral or at least polygonal in design, especially in the more prosperous south. [103] Flanking towers, initially square and latterly curved, were introduced along the walls and gatehouses began to grow in size and complexity, with portcullises being introduced for the first time. [103] Castles such as Dover and the Tower of London were expanded in a concentric design in what Cathcart King has labelled the early development of "scientific fortification". [106]

The developments spread to Anglo-Norman possessions in Ireland where this English style of castles dominated throughout the 13th century, although the deteriorating Irish economy of the 14th century brought this wave of building to an end. [107] In Scotland Alexander II and Alexander III undertook a number of castle building projects in the modern style, although Alexander III's early death sparked conflict in Scotland and English intervention under Edward I in 1296. In the ensuing wars of Scottish Independence castle building in Scotland altered path, turning away from building larger, more conventional castles with curtain walls. [108] The Scots instead adopted the policy of slighting, or deliberately destroying, castles captured in Scotland from the English to prevent their re-use in subsequent invasions – most of the new Scottish castles built by nobles were of the tower house design the few larger castles built in Scotland were typically royal castles, built by the Scottish kings. [109]

Some of these changes were driven by developments in military technology. Before 1190 mining was used rarely and the siege engines of the time were largely incapable of damaging the thicker castle walls. [54] The introduction of the trebuchet began to change this situation it was able to throw much heavier balls, with remarkable accuracy, and reconstructed devices have been shown to be able to knock holes in walls. [110] Trebuchets were first recorded in England in 1217, and were probably used the year before as well. Richard I used them in his sieges during the Third Crusade and appears to have started to alter his castle designs to accommodate the new technology on his return to Europe. [111] The trebuchet seems to have encouraged the shift towards round and polygonal towers and curved walls. [112] In addition to having fewer or no dead zones, and being easier to defend against mining, these castle designs were also much less easy to attack with trebuchets as the curved surfaces could deflect some of the force of the shot. [112]

Castles saw an increasing use of arrowslits by the 13th century, especially in England, almost certainly linked to the introduction of crossbows. [113] These arrow slits were combined with firing positions from the tops of the towers, initially protected by wooden hoarding until stone machicolations were introduced in England in the late 13th century. [114] The crossbow was an important military advance on the older short bow and was the favoured weapon by the time of Richard I many crossbows and vast numbers of quarrels were needed to supply royal forces, in turn requiring larger scale iron production. [115] In England, crossbows were primarily made at the Tower of London but St Briavels Castle, with the local Forest of Dean available to provide raw materials, became the national centre for quarrel manufacture. [116] In Scotland, Edinburgh Castle became the centre for the production of bows, crossbows and siege engines for the king. [117]

One result of this was that English castle sieges grew in complexity and scale. During the First Barons' War from 1215 to 1217, the prominent sieges of Dover and Windsor Castle showed the ability of more modern designs to withstand attack King John's successful siege of Rochester required an elaborate and sophisticated assault, reportedly costing around 60,000 marks, or £40,000. [118] [nb 6] The siege of Bedford Castle in 1224 required Henry III to bring siege engines, engineers, crossbow bolts, equipment and labourers from across all of England. [119] The Siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266, during the Second Barons' War, was larger and longer still. Extensive water defences withstood the attack of the future Edward I, despite the prince targeting the weaker parts of the castle walls, employing huge siege towers and attempting a night attack using barges brought from Chester. [120] The costs of the siege exhausted the revenues of ten English counties. [121] Sieges in Scotland were initially smaller in scale, with the first recorded such event being the 1230 siege of Rothesay Castle where the besieging Norwegians were able to break down the relatively weak stone walls with axes after only three days. [122] When Edward I invaded Scotland he brought with him the siege capabilities which had evolved south of the border: Edinburgh Castle fell within three days, and Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Dunbar, Stirling, Lanark and Dumbarton castles surrendered to the king. [123] Subsequent English sieges, such as the attacks on Bothwell and Stirling, again used considerable resources including giant siege engines and extensive teams of miners and masons. [124]

Economy and society Edit

A number of royal castles, from the 12th century onwards, formed an essential network of royal storehouses in the 13th century for a wide range of goods including food, drink, weapons, armour and raw materials. [125] Castles such as Southampton, Winchester, Bristol and the Tower of London were used to import, store and distribute royal wines. [125] The English royal castles also became used as gaols – the Assize of Clarendon in 1166 insisted that royal sheriffs establish their own gaols and, in the coming years, county gaols were placed in all the shrieval royal castles. [126] Conditions in these gaols were poor and claims of poor treatment and starvation were common Northampton Castle appears to have seen some of the worst abuses. [126]

The development of the baronial castles in England were affected by the economic changes during the period. [127] During the 13th and 14th centuries the average incomes of the English barons increased but wealth became concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of individuals, with a greater discrepancy in incomes. [127] At the same time the costs of maintaining and staffing a modern castle were increasing. [128] The result was that although there were around 400 castles in England in 1216, the number of castles continued to diminish over the coming years even the wealthier barons were inclined to let some castles slide into disuse and to focus their resources on the remaining stock. [129] The castle-guard system faded into abeyance in England, being replaced by financial rents, although it continued in the Welsh Marches well into the 13th century and saw some limited use during Edward I's occupation of Scotland in the early 14th century. [130]

The remaining English castles became increasingly comfortable. Their interiors were often painted and decorated with tapestries, which would be transported from castle to castle as nobles travelled around the country. [131] There were an increasing number of garderobes built inside castles, while in the wealthier castles the floors could be tiled and the windows furnished with Sussex Weald glass, allowing the introduction of window seats for reading. [132] Food could be transported to castles across relatively long distances fish was brought to Okehampton Castle from the sea some 25 miles (40 km) away, for example. [133] Venison remained the most heavily consumed food in most castles, particularly those surrounded by extensive parks or forests such as Barnard Castle, while prime cuts of venison were imported to those castles that lacked hunting grounds, such as Launceston. [134]

By the late 13th century some castles were built within carefully "designed landscapes", sometimes drawing a distinction between an inner core of a herber, a small enclosed garden complete with orchards and small ponds, and an outer region with larger ponds and high status buildings such as "religious buildings, rabbit warrens, mills and settlements", potentially set within a park. [135] A gloriette, or a suite of small rooms, might be built within the castle to allow the result to be properly appreciated, or a viewing point constructed outside. [136] At Leeds Castle the redesigned castle of the 1280s was placed within a large water garden, while at Ravensworth at the end of the 14th century an artificial lake was enclosed by a park to produce an aesthetically and symbolically pleasing entrance to the fortification. [137] The wider parklands and forests were increasingly managed and the proportion of the smaller fallow deer consumed by castle inhabitants in England increased as a result. [134]

Welsh castles Edit

During the 13th century the native Welsh princes built a number of stone castles. [91] The size of these varied considerably from smaller fortifications, such as Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, to more substantial castles like Dinefwr and the largest, Castell y Bere. [91] Native Welsh castles typically maximised the defensive benefits of high, mountainous sites, often being built in an irregular shape to fit a rocky peak. [138] Most had deep ditches cut out of the rock to protect the main castle. [91] The Welsh castles were usually built with a relatively short keep, used as living accommodation for princes and nobility, and with distinctive 'apsidal' D-shaped towers along the walls. [139] [140] In comparison to Norman castles the gatehouses were much weaker in design, with almost no use of portcullises or spiral staircases, and the stonework of the outer walls was also generally inferior to Norman built castles. [141] The later native Welsh castles, built in the 1260s, more closely resemble Norman designs including round towers and, in the case of Criccieth and Dinas Brân, twin-towered gatehouse defences. [139]

Edward I's castles in Wales Edit

In 1277 Edward I launched a final invasion of the remaining native Welsh strongholds in North Wales, intending to establish his rule over the region on a permanent basis. As part of this occupation he instructed his leading nobles to construct eight new castles across the region Aberystwyth and Builth in mid-Wales and Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Flint, Harlech and Rhuddlan Castle in North Wales. [142] Historian R. Allen Brown has described these as "amongst the finest achievements of medieval military architecture [in England and Wales]". [142] The castles varied in design but were typically characterised by powerful mural towers along the castle walls, with multiple, over-lapping firing points and large and extremely well defended barbicans. [143] The castles were intended to be used by the king when in the region and included extensive high-status accommodation. [144] Edward also established various new English towns, and in several cases the new castles were designed to be used alongside the fortified town walls as part of an integrated defence. [142] Historian Richard Morris has suggested that "the impression is firmly given of an elite group of men-of-war, long-standing comrades in arms of the king, indulging in an orgy of military architectural expression on an almost unlimited budget". [145]

James of Saint George, a famous architect and engineer from Savoy, was probably responsible for the bulk of the construction work across the region. [146] The castles were extremely costly to build and required labourers, masons, carpenters, diggers, and building resources to be gathered by local sheriffs from across England, mustered at Chester and Bristol, before being sent on to North Wales in the spring, returning home each winter. [147] The number of workers involved placed a significant drain on the country's national labour force. [148] The total financial cost cannot be calculated with certainty, but estimates suggest that Edward's castle building programme cost at least £80,000 – four times the total royal expenditure on castles between 1154 and 1189. [149]

The Edwardian castles also made strong symbolic statements about the nature of the new occupation. For example, Caernarvon was decorated with carved eagles, equipped with polygonal towers and expensive banded masonry, all designed to imitate the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, then the idealised image of imperial power. [150] The actual site of the castle may also have been important as it was positioned close to the former Roman fort of Segontium. [151] The elaborate gatehouse, with an excessive five sets of doors and six portcullises, also appears to have been designed to impress visitors and to invoke an image of an Arthurian castle, then believed to have been Byzantine in character. [152]

Palace-fortresses Edit

In the middle of the 13th century Henry III began to redesign his favourite castles, including Winchester and Windsor, building larger halls, grander chapels, installing glass windows and decorating the palaces with painted walls and furniture. [153] This marked the beginning of a trend towards the development of grand castles designed for elaborate, elite living. Life in earlier keeps had been focused around a single great hall, with privacy for the owner's family provided by using an upper floor for their own living accommodation. By the 14th century nobles were travelling less, bringing much larger households with them when they did travel and entertaining visitors with equally large retinues. [154] Castles such as Goodrich were redesigned in the 1320s to provide greater residential privacy and comfort for the ruling family, while retaining strong defensive features and a capacity to hold over 130 residents at the castle. [155] The design influenced subsequent conversions at Berkeley and by the time that Bolton Castle was being built, in the 1380s, it was designed to hold up to eight different noble households, each with their own facilities. [156] Royal castles such as Beaumaris, although designed with defence in mind, were designed to hold up to eleven different households at any one time. [157]

Kings and the most wealthy lords could afford to redesign castles to produce palace-fortresses. Edward III spent £51,000 on renovating Windsor Castle this was over one and a half times Edward's typical annual income. [158] In the words of Steven Brindle the result was a "great and apparently architecturally unified palace. uniform in all sorts of ways, as to roof line, window heights, cornice line, floor and ceiling heights", echoing older designs but without any real defensive value. [159] The wealthy John of Gaunt redesigned the heart of Kenilworth Castle, like Windsor the work emphasised a unifying, rectangular design and the separation of ground floor service areas from the upper stories and a contrast of austere exteriors with lavish interiors, especially on the 1st floor of the inner bailey buildings. [160] By the end of the 14th century a distinctive English perpendicular style had emerged. [161]

In the south of England private castles were being built by newly emerging, wealthy families like the work at Windsor, these castles drew on the architectural themes of earlier martial designs, but were not intended to form a serious defence against attack. [162] These new castles were heavily influenced by French designs, involving a rectangular or semi-rectangular castle with corner towers, gatehouses and moat the walls effectively enclosing a comfortable courtyard plan not dissimilar to that of an unfortified manor. [163] Bodiam Castle built in the 1380s possessed a moat, towers and gunports but, rather than being a genuine military fortification, the castle was primarily intended to be admired by visitors and used as a luxurious dwelling – the chivalric architecture implicitly invoking comparisons with Edward I's great castle at Beaumaris. [164]

In the north of England improvements in the security of the Scottish border, and the rise of major noble families such as the Percies and the Nevilles, encouraged a surge in castle building at the end of the 14th century. [165] Palace-fortresses such as Raby, Bolton and Warkworth Castle took the quadrangular castle styles of the south and combined them with exceptionally large key towers or keeps to form a distinctive northern style. [166] Built by major noble houses these castles were typically even more opulent than those built by the nouveau riche of the south. [167] They marked what historian Anthony Emery has described as a "second peak of castle building in England and Wales", after the Edwardian designs at the end of the 14th century. [168]

Introduction of gunpowder Edit

Early gunpowder weapons were introduced to England from the 1320s onwards and began to appear in Scotland by the 1330s. [169] By the 1340s the English Crown was regularly spending money on them and the new technology began to be installed in English castles by the 1360s and 1370s, and in Scottish castles by the 1380s. [169] Cannons were made in various sizes, from smaller hand cannons to larger guns firing stone balls of up to 7.6 inches (19 cm). [170] Medium-sized weapons weighing around 20 kg each were more useful for the defence of castles, although Richard II eventually established 600 pound (272 kilo) guns at the Tower of London and the 15,366 pound (6,970 kilo) heavy Mons Meg bombard was installed at Edinburgh Castle. [171]

Early cannons had only a limited range and were unreliable in addition early stone cannonballs were relatively ineffective when fired at stone castle walls. [172] As a result, early cannon proved most useful for defence, particularly against infantry assaults or to fire at the crews of enemy trebuchets. [173] Indeed, early cannons could be quite dangerous to their own soldiers James II of Scotland was killed besieging Roxburgh Castle in 1460 when one of his cannons, called "Lion", exploded next to him. [174] The expense of early cannons meant that they were primarily a weapon deployed by royalty rather than the nobility. [175]

Cannons in English castles were initially deployed along the south coast where the Channel ports, essential for English trade and military operations in Europe, were increasingly threatened by French raids. [176] Carisbrooke, Corfe, Dover, Portchester, Saltwood and Southampton Castle received cannon during the late 14th century, small circular "keyhole" gunports being built in the walls to accommodate the new weapons. [177] Carisbrooke Castle was subject to an unsuccessful French siege in 1377, the Crown reacting by equipping the castle with cannon and a mill for producing gunpowder in 1379. [176] Some further English castles along the Welsh borders and Scotland were similarly equipped, with the Tower of London and Pontefract Castle acting as supply depots for the new weapons. [178] In Scotland the first cannon for a castle appears to have been bought for Edinburgh in 1384, which also became an arsenal for the new devices. [117]

Decline of English castles Edit

By the 15th century very few castles were well maintained by their owners. Many royal castles were receiving insufficient investment to allow them to be maintained – roofs leaked, stone work crumbled, lead or wood was stolen. [179] The Crown was increasingly selective about which royal castles it maintained, with others left to decay. [180] By the 15th century only Windsor, Leeds, Rockingham and Moor End were kept up as comfortable accommodation Nottingham and York formed the backbone for royal authority in the north, and Chester, Gloucester and Bristol forming the equivalents in the west. [180] Even major fortifications such as the castles of North Wales and the border castles of Carlisle, Bamburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne saw funding and maintenance reduced. [181] Many royal castles continued to have a role as the county gaol, with the gatehouse frequently being used as the principal facility. [182]

The ranks of the baronage continued to reduce in the 15th century, producing a smaller elite of wealthier lords but reducing the comparative wealth of the majority. [183] and many baronial castles fell into similar decline. [181] John Leland's 16th-century accounts of English castles are replete with descriptions of castles being "sore decayed", their defences "in ruine" or, where the walls might still be in good repair, the "logginges within" were "decayed". [184] English castles did not play a decisive role during the Wars of the Roses, fought between 1455 and 1485, which were primarily in the form of pitched battles between the rival factions of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. [185]

Renaissance palaces Edit

The 15th and 16th centuries saw a small number of British castles develop into still grander structures, often drawing on the Renaissance views on architecture that were increasing in popularity on the continent. Tower keeps, large solid keeps used for private accommodation, probably inspired by those in France had started to appear in the 14th century at Dudley and Warkworth. [186] In the 15th century the fashion spread with the creation of very expensive, French-influenced palatial castles featuring complex tower keeps at Wardour, Tattershall and Raglan Castle. [187] In central and eastern England castles began to be built in brick, with Caister, Kirby Muxloe and Tattershall forming examples of this new style. [188] North of the border the construction of Holyrood Great Tower between 1528 and 1532 picked up on this English tradition, but incorporated additional French influences to produce a highly secure but comfortable castle, guarded by a gun park. [189]

Royal builders in Scotland led the way in adopting further European Renaissance styles in castle design. James IV and James V used exceptional one-off revenues, such as the forfeiture of key lands, to establish their power across their kingdom in various ways including constructing grander castles such as Linlithgow, almost invariably by extending and modifying existing fortifications. [190] These Scottish castle palaces drew on Italian Renaissance designs, in particular the fashionable design of a quadrangular court with stair-turrets on each corner, using harling to giving them a clean, Italian appearance. [191] Later the castles drew on Renaissance designs in France, such as the work at Falkland and Stirling Castle. [191] The shift in architectural focus reflected changing political alliances, as James V had formed a close alliance with France during his reign. [192] In the words of architectural historian John Dunbar the results were the "earliest examples of coherent Renaissance design in Britain". [193]

These changes also included shifts in social and cultural beliefs. [194] The period saw the disintegration of the older feudal order, the destruction of the monasteries and widespread economic changes, altering the links between castles and the surrounding estates. [195] Within castles, the Renaissance saw the introduction of the idea of public and private spaces, placing new value on castles having private spaces for the lord or his guests away from public view. [195] Although the elite in Britain and Ireland continued to maintain and build castles in the style of the late medieval period there was a growing understanding through the Renaissance, absent in the 14th century, that domestic castles were fundamentally different from the military fortifications being built to deal with the spread of gunpowder artillery. [196] Castles continued to be built and reworked in what cultural historian Matthew Johnson has described as a "conscious attempt to invoke values seen as being under threat". [197] The results, as at Kenilworth Castle for example, could include huge castles deliberately redesigned to appear old and sporting chivalric features, but complete with private chambers, Italian loggias and modern luxury accommodation. [198]

Although the size of noble households shrank slightly during the 16th century, the number of guests at the largest castle events continued to grow. [199] 2,000 came to a feast at Cawood Castle in 1466, while the Duke of Buckingham routinely entertained up to 519 people at Thornbury Castle at the start of the 16th century. [200] When Elizabeth I visited Kenilworth in 1575 she brought an entourage of 31 barons and 400 staff for a visit that lasted an exceptional 19 days Leicester, the castle's owner, entertained the Queen and much of the neighbouring region with pageants, fireworks, bear baiting, mystery plays, hunting and lavish banquets. [201] With this scale of living and entertainment the need to find more space in older castles became a major issue in both England and Scotland. [202]

Tower houses Edit

Tower houses were a common feature of British and Irish castle building in the late medieval period: over 3,000 were constructed in Ireland, around 800 in Scotland and over 250 in England. [203] A tower house would typically be a tall, square, stone-built, crenelated building Scottish and Ulster tower houses were often also surrounded by a barmkyn or bawn, a walled courtyard designed to hold valuable animals securely, but not necessarily intended for serious defence. [204] Many of the gateways in these buildings were guarded with yetts, grill-like doors made out of metal bars. [205] Smaller versions of tower houses in northern England and southern Scotland were known as Peel towers, or pele houses, and were built along both sides of the border regions. [206] In Scotland a number were built in Scottish towns. [207] It was originally argued that Irish tower houses were based on the Scottish design, but the pattern of development of such castles in Ireland does not support this hypothesis. [208]

The defences of tower houses were primarily aimed to provide protection against smaller raiding parties and were not intended to put up significant opposition to an organised military assault, leading historian Stuart Reid to characterise them as "defensible rather than defensive". [209] Gunports for heavier guns were built into some Scottish tower houses by the 16th century but it was more common to use lighter gunpowder weapons, such as muskets, to defend Scottish tower houses. [210] Unlike Scotland, Irish tower houses were only defended with relatively light handguns and frequently reused older arrowloops, rather than more modern designs, to save money. [211]

Analysis of the construction of tower houses has focused on two key driving forces. The first is that the construction of these castles appears to have been linked to periods of instability and insecurity in the areas concerned. [212] In Scotland James IV's forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles in 1494 led to an immediate burst of castle building across the region and, over the longer term, an increased degree of clan warfare, while the subsequent wars with England in the 1540s added to the level of insecurity over the rest of the century. [213] Irish tower houses were built from the end of the 14th century onward as the countryside disintegrated into the unstable control of a large number of small lordships and Henry VI promoted their construction with financial rewards in a bid to improve security. [214] English tower houses were built along the frontier with Scotland in a dangerous and insecure period. [215] Secondly, and paradoxically, appears to have been the periods of relative prosperity. [212] Contemporary historian William Camden observed of the northern English and the Scots, "there is not a man amongst them of a better sort that hath not his little tower or pile", and many tower houses seem to have been built as much as status symbols as defensive structures. [216] Along the English-Scottish borders the construction pattern follows the relative prosperity of the different side: the English lords built tower houses primarily in the early 15th century, when northern England was particularly prosperous, while their Scottish equivalents built them in late 15th and early 16th centuries, boom periods in the economy of Scotland. [217] In Ireland the growth of tower houses during the 15th century mirrors the rise of cattle herding and the resulting wealth that this brought to many of the lesser lords in Ireland. [217]

Further development of gunpowder artillery Edit

Cannons continued to be improved during the 15th and 16th centuries. [218] Castle loopholes were adapted to allow cannons and other firearms to be used in a defensive role, but offensively gunpowder weapons still remained relatively unreliable. [219] England had lagged behind Europe in adapting to this new form of warfare Dartmouth and Kingswear Castles, built in the 1490s to defend the River Dart, and Bayard's Cover, designed in 1510 to defend Dartmouth harbour itself, were amongst the few English castles designed in the continental style during the period, and even these lagged behind the cutting edge of European design. [220] Scottish castles were more advanced in this regard, partially as a result of the stronger French architectural influences. [221] Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland, for example, was an early attempt in the 1460s to deploy a combination of "letter box" gun-ports and low-curved stone towers for artillery weapons. [222] These letter box gun-ports, common in mainland Europe, rapidly spread across Scotland but were rarely used in England during the 15th century. [221] Scotland also led the way in adopting the new caponier design for castle ditches, as constructed at Craignethan Castle. [221]

Henry VIII became concerned with the threat of French invasion during 1539 and was familiar with the more modern continental designs. [223] He responded to the threat by building a famous sequence of forts, called the Device Forts or Henrician Castles, along the south coast of England specifically designed to be equipped with, and to defend against, gunpowder artillery. [224] These forts still lacked some of the more modern continental features, such as angled bastions. [225] Each fort had a slightly different design, but as a group they shared common features, with the fortification formed around a number of compact lobes, often in a quatrefoil or trefoil shape, designed to give the guns a 360-degree angle of fire. [226] The forts were usually tiered to allow the guns to fire over one another and had features such as vents to disperse the gunpowder smoke. [227] It is probable that many of the forts were also originally protected by earth bulwarks, although these have not survived. [228] The resulting forts have been described by historian Christopher Duffy as having "an air at once sturdy and festive, rather like a squashed wedding cake". [229]

These coastal defences marked a shift away from castles, which were both military fortifications and domestic buildings, towards forts, which were garrisoned but not domestic often the 1540s are chosen as a transition date for the study of castles as a consequence. [230] The subsequent years also marked almost the end of indigenous English fortification design – by the 1580s English castle improvements were almost entirely dominated by imported European experts. [231] The superiority of Scottish castle design also diminished the Half Moon battery built at Edinburgh Castle in 1574, for example, was already badly dated in continental terms by the time it was built. [231] The limited number of modern fortifications built in Ireland, such as those with the first gunports retrofitted to Carrickfergus Castle in the 1560s and at Corkbeg in Cork Harbour and built in the 1570s in fear of an invasion, were equally unexceptional by European standards. [232]

Nonetheless, improved gunpowder artillery played a part in the reconquest of Ireland in the 1530s, where the successful English siege of Maynooth Castle in 1530 demonstrated the power of the new siege guns. [211] There were still relatively few guns in Ireland however and, during the Nine Years' War at the end of the century, the Irish were proved relatively unskilled in siege warfare with artillery used mainly by the English. [233] In both Ireland and Scotland the challenge was how to transport artillery pieces to castle sieges the poor state of Scottish roads required expensive trains of pack horses, which only the king could afford, and in Ireland the river network had to be frequently used to transport the weapons inland. [234] In these circumstances older castles could frequently remain viable defensive features, although the siege of Cahir Castle in 1599 and the attack on Dunyvaig Castle on Islay in 1614 proved that if artillery could be brought to bear, previously impregnable castle walls might fall relatively quickly. [235]

Wars of the Three Kingdoms Edit

In 1603 James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England, bringing a period of peace between the two countries. The royal court left for London and, as a result – with the exceptions of occasional visits, building work on royal castles north of the border largely ceased. [236] Investment in English castles, especially royal castles, declined dramatically. James sold off many royal castles in England to property developers, including York and Southampton Castle. [237] A royal inspection in 1609 highlighted that the Edwardian castles of North Wales, including Conwy, Beaumaris and Caernarfon were "[u]tterlie decayed". [238] a subsequent inspection of various English counties in 1635 found a similar picture: Lincoln, Kendal, York, Nottingham, Bristol, Queenborough, Southampton and Rochester were amongst those in a state of dilapidation. [239] In 1642 one pamphlet described many English castles as "muche decayed" and as requiring "much provision" for "warlike defence". [240] Those maintained as private homes such as Arundel, Berkeley, Carlisle and Winchester were in much better condition, but not necessarily defendable in a conflict while some such as Bolsover were redesigned as more modern dwellings in a Palladian style. [241] A handful of coastal forts and castles, amongst them Dover Castle, remained in good military condition with adequate defences. [242]

In 1642 the English Civil War broke out, initially between supporters of Parliament and the Royalist supporters of Charles I. The war expanded to include Ireland and Scotland, and dragged on into three separate conflicts in England itself. The war was the first prolonged conflict in Britain to involve the use of artillery and gunpowder. [243] English castles were used for various purposes during the conflict. York Castle formed a key part of the city defences, with a military governor rural castles such as Goodrich could be used a bases for raiding and for control of the surrounding countryside larger castles, such as Windsor, became used for holding prisoners of war or as military headquarters. [244] During the war castles were frequently brought back into fresh use: existing defences would be renovated, while walls would be "countermured", or backed by earth, in order to protect from cannons. [245] Towers and keeps were filled with earth to make gun platforms, such as at Carlisle and Oxford Castle. [246] New earth bastions could be added to existing designs, such as at Cambridge and Carew Castle and at the otherwise unfortified Basing House the surrounding Norman ringwork was brought back into commission. [247] The costs could be considerable, with the work at Skipton Castle coming to over £1000. [248]

Sieges became a prominent part of the war with over 300 occurring during the period, many of them involving castles. [243] Indeed, as Robert Liddiard suggests, the "military role of some castles in the seventeenth century is out of all proportion to their medieval histories". [249] Artillery formed an essential part of these sieges, with the "characteristic military action" according to military historian Stephen Bull, being "an attack on a fortified strongpoint" supported by artillery. [250] [nb 7] The ratio of artillery pieces to defenders varied considerably in sieges, but in all cases there were more guns than in previous conflicts up to one artillery piece for every nine defenders was not unknown in extreme cases, such as near Pendennis Castle. [251] The growth in the number and size of siege artillery favoured those who had the resources to purchase and deploy these weapons. [252] Artillery had improved by the 1640s but was still not always decisive, as the lighter cannon of the period found it hard to penetrate earth and timber bulwarks and defences – demonstrated in the siege of Corfe. [253] Mortars, able to lob fire over the taller walls, proved particularly effective against castles – in particular those more compact ones with smaller courtyards and open areas, such as at Stirling Castle. [254]

The heavy artillery introduced in England eventually spread to the rest of the British Isles. Although up to a thousand Irish soldiers who had served in Europe returned during the war, bringing with them experience of siege warfare from the Thirty Years' War in Europe, it was the arrival of Oliver Cromwell's train of siege guns in 1649 that transformed the conflict, and the fate of local castles. [255] None of the Irish castles could withstand these Parliamentary weapons and most quickly surrendered. [211] In 1650 Cromwell invaded Scotland and again his heavily artillery proved decisive. [256]

The Restoration Edit

The English Civil War resulted in Parliament issuing orders to slight or damage many castles, particularly in prominent royal regions. This was particularly in the period of 1646 to 1651, with a peak in 1647. [257] Around 150 fortifications were slighted in this period, including 38 town walls and a great many castles. [258] Slighting was quite expensive and took some considerable effort to carry out, so damage was usually done in the most cost-effective fashion with only selected walls being destroyed. [259] In some cases the damage was almost total, such as Wallingford Castle or Pontefract Castle which had been involved in three major sieges and in this case at the request of the townsfolk who wished to avoid further conflict. [260]

By the time that Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the major palace-fortresses in England that had survived slighting were typically in a poor state. As historian Simon Thurley has described, the shifting "functional requirements, patterns of movement, modes of transport, aesthetic taste and standards of comfort" amongst royal circles were also changing the qualities being sought in a successful castle. [261] Palladian architecture was growing in popularity, which sat awkwardly with the typical design of a medieval castle. [ citation needed ] Furthermore, the fashionable French court etiquette at the time required a substantial number of enfiladed rooms, in order to satisfy court protocol, and it was impractical to fit these rooms into many older buildings. [262] A shortage of funds curtailed Charles II's attempts to remodel his remaining castles and the redesign of Windsor was the only one to be fully completed in the Restoration years. [263]

Many castles still retained a defensive role. Castles in England, such as Chepstow and York Castle, were repaired and garrisoned by the king. [264] As military technologies progressed the costs of upgrading older castles could be prohibitive – the estimated £30,000 required for the potential conversion of York in 1682, approximately £4,050,000 in 2009 terms, gives a scale of the potential costs. [265] [266] Castles played a minimal role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, although some fortifications such as Dover Castle were attacked by mobs unhappy with the religious beliefs of their Catholic governors, and the sieges of King John's Castle in Limerick formed part of the endgame to the war in Ireland. [267] In the north of Britain security problems persisted in Scotland. Cromwellian forces had built a number of new modern forts and barracks, but the royal castles of Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Stirling, along with Dunstaffnage, Dunollie and Ruthven Castle, also continued in use as practical fortifications. [268] Tower houses were being built until the 1640s after the Restoration the fortified tower house fell out of fashion, but the weak state of the Scottish economy was such that while many larger properties were simply abandoned, the more modest castles continued to be used and adapted as houses, rather than rebuilt. [269] In Ireland tower houses and castles remained in use until after the Glorious Revolution, when events led to a dramatic shift in land ownership and a boom in the building of Palladian country houses in many cases using timbers stripped from the older, abandoned generation of castles and tower houses. [270]

Military and governmental use Edit

Some castles in Britain and Ireland continued to have modest military utility into the 18th century. Until 1745 a sequence of Jacobite risings threatened the Crown in Scotland, culminating in the rebellion in 1745. [271] Various royal castles were maintained during the period either as part of the English border defences, like Carlisle, or forming part of the internal security measures in Scotland itself, like Stirling Castle. [272] Stirling was able to withstand the Jacobite attack in 1745, although Carlisle was taken the siege of Blair Castle, at the end of the rebellion in 1746, was the final castle siege to occur in the British Isles. [273] In the aftermath of the conflict Corgaff and many others castles were used as barracks for the forces sent to garrison the Highlands. [274] Some castles, such as Portchester, were used for holding prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars at the end of the century and were re-equipped in case of a popular uprising during this revolutionary period. [275] In Ireland Dublin Castle was rebuilt following a fire and reaffirmed as the centre of British administrative and military power. [276]

Many castles remained in use as county gaols, run by gaolers as effectively private businesses frequently this involved the gatehouse being maintained as the main prison building, as at Cambridge, Bridgnorth, Lancaster, Newcastle and St Briavels. [277] During the 1770s the prison reformer John Howard conducted his famous survey of prisons and gaols, culminating in his 1777 work The State of the Prisons. [278] This documented the poor quality of these castle facilities prisoners in Norwich Castle lived in a dungeon, with the floor frequently covered by an inch of water Oxford was "close and offensive" Worcester was so subject to jail fever that the castle surgeon would not enter the prison Gloucester was "wretched in the extreme". [279] Howard's work caused a shift in public opinion against the use of these older castle facilities as gaols. [278]

Social and cultural use Edit

By the middle of the century medieval ruined castles had become fashionable once again. They were considered an interesting counterpoint to the now conventional Palladian classical architecture, and a way of giving a degree of medieval allure to their new owners. [280] Historian Oliver Creighton suggests that the ideal image of a castle by the 1750s included "broken, soft silhouettes and [a] decayed, rough appearance". [281] In some cases the countryside surrounding existing castles was remodelled to highlight the ruins, as at Henderskelfe Castle, or at "Capability" Brown's reworking of Wardour Castle. [281] Alternatively, ruins might be repaired and reinforced to present a more suitable appearance, as at Harewood Castle. [281] In other cases mottes, such as that at Groby Castle, were reused as the bases for dramatic follies, or alternatively entirely new castle follies could be created either from scratch or by reusing original stonework, as occurred during the building of Conygar Tower for which various parts of Dunster Castle were cannibalised. [282]

At the same time castles were becoming tourist attractions for the first time. By the 1740s Windsor Castle had become an early tourist attraction wealthier visitors who could afford to pay the castle keeper could enter, see curiosities such as the castle's narwhal horn, and by the 1750s buy the first guidebooks. [283] The first guidebook to Kenilworth Castle followed in 1777 with many later editions following in the coming decades. [284] By the 1780s and 1790s visitors were beginning to progress as far as Chepstow, where an attractive female guide escorted tourists around the ruins as part of the popular Wye Tour. [285] In Scotland Blair Castle became a popular attraction on account of its landscaped gardens, as did Stirling Castle with its romantic connections. [286] Caernarfon in North Wales appealed to many visitors, especially artists. [287] Irish castles proved less popular, partially because contemporary tourists regarded the country as being somewhat backward and the ruins therefore failed to provide the necessary romantic contrast with modern life. [288]

The appreciation of castles developed as the century progressed. During the 1770s and 1780s the concept of the picturesque ruin was popularised by the English clergyman William Gilpin. Gilpin published several works on his journeys through Britain, expounding the concept of the "correctly picturesque" landscape. [289] Such a landscape, Gilpin argued, usually required a building such as a castle or other ruin to add "consequence" to the natural picture. [290] Paintings in this style usually portrayed castles as indistinct, faintly coloured objects in the distance in writing, the picturesque account eschewed detail in favour of bold first impressions on the sense. [291] The ruins of Goodrich particularly appealed to Gilpin and his followers Conwy was, however, too well preserved and uninteresting. [292] By contrast the artistic work of antiquarians James Bentham and James Essex at the end of the century, while stopping short of being genuine archaeology, was detailed and precise enough to provide a substantial base of architectural fine detail on medieval castle features and enabled the work of architects such as Wyatt. [293]

Military and governmental use Edit

The military utility of the remaining castles in Britain and Ireland continued to diminish. Some castles became regimental depots, including Carlisle Castle and Chester Castle. [275] Carrickfergus Castle was re-equipped with gunports in order to provide coastal defences at the end of the Napoleonic period. [294] Political instability was a major issue during the early 19th century and the popularity of the Chartist movement led to proposals to refortify the Tower of London in the event of civil unrest. [295] In Ireland Dublin Castle played an increasing role in Ireland as Fenian pressures for independence grew during the century. [ citation needed ]

The operation of local prisons in locations such as castles had been criticised, since John Howard's work in the 1770s, and pressure for reform continued to grow in the 1850s and 1860s. [296] Reform of the legislation surrounding bankruptcy and debt in 1869 largely removed the threat of imprisonment for unpaid debts, and in the process eliminated the purpose of the debtor's prisons in castles such as St Briavels. [297] Efforts were made to regularise conditions in local prisons but without much success, and these failures led to prison reform in 1877 which nationalised British prisons, including prisons at castles like York. [298] Compensation was paid to the former owners, although in cases such as York where the facilities were considered so poor as to require complete reconstruction, this payment was denied. [299] In the short term this led to a 39 per cent reduction in the number of prisons in England, including some famous castle prisons such as Norwich over the coming years, centralisation and changes in prison design led to the closure of most remaining castle prisons. [300]

Social and cultural use Edit

Many castles saw increased visitors by tourists, helped by better transport links and the growth of the railways. The armouries at the Tower of London opened for tourists in 1828 with 40,000 visitors in their first year by 1858 the numbers had grown to over 100,000 a year. [301] Attractions such as Warwick Castle received 6,000 visitors during 1825 to 1826, many of them travelling from the growing industrial towns in the nearby Midlands, while Victorian tourists recorded being charged six-pence to wander around the ruins of Goodrich Castle. [302] The spread of the railway system across Wales and the Marches strongly influenced the flow of tourists to the region's castles. [303] In Scotland tourist tours became increasingly popular during the 19th century, usually starting at Edinburgh complete with Edinburgh Castle, and then spending up to two weeks further north, taking advantage of the expanding rail and steamer network. [304] Blair Castle remained popular, but additional castles joined the circuit – Cawdor Castle became popular once the railway line reached north to Fort William. [305]

Purchasing and reading guidebooks became an increasingly important part of visiting castles by the 1820s visitors could buy an early guidebook at Goodrich outlining the castle's history, the first guidebook to the Tower of London was published in 1841 and Scottish castle guidebooks became well known for providing long historical accounts of their sites, often drawing on the plots of Romantic novels for the details. [306] Indeed, Sir Walter Scott's historical novels Ivanhoe and Kenilworth helped to establish the popular Victorian image of a Gothic medieval castle. [307] Scott's novels set in Scotland also popularised several northern castles, including Tantallon which was featured in Marmion. [308] Histories of Ireland began to stress the role of castles in the rise of Protestantism and "British values" in Ireland, although tourism remained limited. [288]

One response to this popularity was in commissioning the construction of replica castles. [309] These were particularly popular at beginning of the 19th century, and again later in the Victorian period. [309] Design manuals were published offering details of how to recreate the appearance of an original Gothic castles in a new build, leading to a flurry of work, such as Eastnor in 1815, the fake Norman castle of Penrhyn between 1827 and 1837 and the imitation Edwardian castle of Goodrich Court in 1828. [310] The later Victorians built the Welsh Castell Coch in the 1880s as a fantasy Gothic construction and the last such replica, Castle Drogo, was built as late as 1911. [311]

Another response was to improve existing castles, bringing their often chaotic historic features into line with a more integrated architectural aesthetic in a style often termed Gothic Revivalism. [312] There were numerous attempts to restore or rebuild castles so as to produce a consistently Gothic style, informed by genuine medieval details, a movement in which the architect Anthony Salvin was particularly prominent – as illustrated by his reworking of Alnwick and much of Windsor Castle. [312] A similar trend can be seen at Rothesay where William Burges renovated the older castle to produce a more "authentic" design, heavily influenced by the work of the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. [309] North of the border this resulted in the distinctive style of Scots Baronial Style architecture, which took French and traditional medieval Scottish features and reinvented them in a baroque style. [313] The style also proved popular in Ireland with George Jones' Oliver Castle in the 1850s, for example, forming a good example of the fashion. [314] As with Gothic Revivalism, Scots Baronial architects frequently "improved" existing castles: Floors Castle was transformed in 1838 by William Playfair who added grand turrets and cupolas. [315] In a similar way the 16th-century tower house of Lauriston Castle was turned into the Victorian ideal of a "rambling medieval house". [315] The style spread south and the famous architect Edward Blore added a Scots Baronial touch to his work at Windsor. [316]

With this pace of change concerns had begun to grow by the middle of the century about the threat to medieval buildings in Britain, and in 1877 William Morris established the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. [317] One result of public pressure was the passing of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882, but the provisions of the act focused on unoccupied prehistoric structures and medieval buildings such as castles were exempted from it leaving no legal protection. [318]

1900–1945 Edit

During the first half of the century several castles were maintained, or brought back into military use. During the Irish War of Independence Dublin Castle remained the centre of the British administration, military and intelligence operations in Ireland until the transfer of power and the castle to the Irish Free State in 1922. [319] During the Second World War the Tower of London was used to hold and execute suspected spies, and was used to briefly detain Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, in 1941. [320] Edinburgh Castle was used as a prisoner of war facility, while Windsor Castle was stripped of more delicate royal treasures and used to guard the British royal family from the dangers of the Blitz. [321] Some coastal castles were used to support naval operations: Dover Castle's medieval fortifications used as basis for defences across the Dover Strait Pitreavie Castle in Scotland was used to support the Royal Navy and Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland was used as a coastal defence base. [322] Some castles, such as Cambridge and Pevensey, were brought into local defence plans in case of a German invasion. [323] A handful of these castles retained a military role after the war Dover was used as a nuclear war command centre into the 1950s, while Pitreavie was used by NATO until the turn of the 21st century. [324]

The strong cultural interest in British castles persisted in the 20th century. In some cases this had destructive consequences as wealthy collectors bought and removed architectural features and other historical artefacts from castles for their own collections, a practice that produced significant official concern. [325] Some of the more significant cases included St Donat's Castle, bought by William Randolph Hearst in 1925 and then decorated with numerous medieval buildings removed from their original sites around Britain, and the case of Hornby, where many parts of the castle were sold off and sent to buyers in the United States. [326] Partially as a result of these events, increasing legal powers were introduced to protect castles – acts of parliament in 1900 and 1910 widened the terms of the earlier legislation on national monuments to allow the inclusion of castles. [317] An act of Parliament in 1913 introduced preservation orders for the first time and these powers were extended in 1931. [327] Similarly, after the end of the Irish Civil War, the new Irish state took early action to extend and strengthen the previous British legislation to protect Irish national monuments. [328]

Around the beginning of the century there were a number of major restoration projects on British castles. Before the outbreak of the First World War work was undertaken at Chepstow, Bodiam, Caernarfon and Tattershal after the end of the war various major state funded restoration projects occurred in the 1920s with Pembroke, Caerphilly and Goodrich amongst the largest of these. [329] This work typically centred on cutting back the vegetation encroaching on castle ruins, especially ivy, and removing damaged or unstable stonework castles such as Beaumaris saw their moats cleaned and reflooded. [330] Some castles such as Eilean Donan in Scotland were substantially rebuilt in the inter-war years. The early UK film industry took an interest in castles as potential sets, starting with Ivanhoe filmed at Chepstow Castle in 1913 and starring US leading actor King Baggot. [331]

1945–21st century Edit

After the Second World War picturesque ruins of castles became unfashionable. The conservation preference was to restore castles so as to produce what Oliver Creighton and Robert Higham have described as a "meticulously cared for fabric, neat lawns and [a] highly regulated, visitor-friendly environment", although the reconstruction or reproduction of the original appearance of castles was discouraged. [332] As a result, the stonework and walls of today's castles, used as tourist attractions, are usually in much better condition than would have been the case in the medieval period. [333] Preserving the broader landscapes of the past also rose in importance, reflected in the decision by the UNESCO World Heritage Site programme to internationally recognise several British castles including Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, Durham and the Tower of London as deserving of special international cultural significance in the 1980s. [334]

The single largest group of English castles are now those owned by English Heritage, created out of the former Ministry of Works in 1983. [335] The National Trust increasingly acquired castle properties in England in the 1950s, and is the second largest single owner, followed by the various English local authorities and finally a small number of private owners. [336] Royal castles such as the Tower of London and Windsor are owned by the Occupied Royal Palaces Estate on behalf of the nation. [337] Similar organisations exist in Scotland, where the National Trust for Scotland was established 1931, and in Ireland, where An Taisce was created in 1948 to working alongside the Irish Ministry of Works to maintain castles and other sites. [338] Some new organisations have emerged in recent years to manage castles, such as the Landmark Trust and the Irish Landmark Trust, which have restored a number of castles in Britain and Ireland over the last few decades.

Castles remain highly popular attractions: in 2018 nearly 2.9 million people visited the Tower of London, 2.1 million visited Edinburgh Castle, 466,000 visited Leeds Castle and 365,000 visited Dover Castle. [339] Ireland, which for many years had not exploited the tourist potential of its castle heritage, began to encourage more tourists in the 1960s and 1970s and Irish castles are now a core part of the Irish tourist industry. [340] British and Irish castles are today also closely linked to the international film industry, with tourist visits to castles now often involving not simply a visit to a historic site, but also a visit to the location of a popular film. [341]

The management and handling of Britain's historic castles has at times been contentious. Castles in the late 20th and early 21st century are usually considered part of the heritage industry, in which historic sites and events are commercially presented as visitor attractions. [342] Some academics, such as David Lowenthal, have critiqued the way in which these histories are constantly culturally and socially reconstructed and condemned the "commercial debasement" of sites such as the Tower of London. [343] The challenge of how to manage these historic properties has often required very practical decisions. At one end of the spectrum owners and architects have had to deal with the practical challenges of repairing smaller decaying castles used as private houses, such as that at Picton Castle where damp proved a considerable problem. [344] At the other end of the scale the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992 opened up a national debate about how the burnt-out castle wing should be replaced, the degree to which modern designs should be introduced and who should pay the £37 million costs (£50.2 million in 2009 terms). [266] [345] At Kenilworth the speculative and commercial reconstruction of the castle gardens in an Elizabethan style led to a vigorous academic debate over the interpretation of archaeological and historical evidence. [346] Trends in conservation have altered and, in contrast to the prevailing post-war approach to conservation, recent work at castles such as Wigmore, acquired by English Heritage in 1995, has attempted to minimise the degree of intervention to the site. [332]

The earliest histories of British and Irish castles were recorded, albeit in a somewhat fragmented fashion, by John Leland in the 16th century and, by the 19th century, historical analysis of castles had become popular. [347] Victorian historians such as George Clark and John Parker concluded that British castles had been built for the purposes of military defence, but believed that their history was pre-Conquest – concluding that the mottes across the countryside had been built by either the Romans or Celts. [348]

The study of castles by historians and archaeologists developed considerably during the 20th century. The early-20th-century historian and archaeologist Ella Armitage published a ground-breaking book in 1912, arguing convincingly that British castles were in fact a Norman introduction, while historian Alexander Thompson also published in the same year, charting the course of the military development of English castles through the Middle Ages. [349] The Victoria County History of England began to document the country's castles on an unprecedented scale, providing an additional resource for historical analysis. [350]

After the Second World War the historical analysis of British castles was dominated by Arnold Taylor, R. Allen Brown and D. J. Cathcart King. [351] These academics made use of a growing amount of archaeological evidence, as the 1940s saw an increasing number of excavations of motte and bailey castles, and the number of castle excavations as a whole went on to double during the 1960s. [352] With an increasing number of castle sites under threat in urban areas, a public scandal in 1972 surrounding the development of the Baynard's Castle site in London contributed to reforms and a re-prioritisation of funding for rescue archaeology. [353] Despite this the number of castle excavations fell between 1974 and 1984, with the archaeological work focusing on conducting excavations on a greater number of small-scale, but fewer large-scale sites. [354] The study of British castles remained primarily focused on analysing their military role, however, drawing on the evolutionary model of improvements suggested by Thompson earlier in the century. [355]

In the 1990s a wide-reaching reassessment of the interpretation of British castles took place. A vigorous academic discussion over the history and meanings behind Bodiam Castle began a debate, which concluded that many features of castles previously seen as primarily military in nature were in fact constructed for reasons of status and political power. [356] As historian Robert Liddiard has described it, the older paradigm of "Norman militarism" as the driving force behind the formation of Britain's castles was replaced by a model of "peaceable power". [357] The next twenty years was characterised by an increasing number of major publications on castle studies, examining the social and political aspects of the fortifications, as well as their role in the historical landscape. [358] Although not unchallenged, this "revisionist" perspective remains the dominant theme in the academic literature today. [358]

What are the best Crusader Castles You Can Still Visit Today?

1. Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers is a stunning example of Crusader-era military architecture and was the headquarters of the famous Knights Hospitallier during the 12th and 13th centuries. This awe-inspiring feat of medieval military architecture is perhaps the best preserved Crusader fortress in existence today. Built to withstand a siege for up to five years, Krak des Chevaliers stands atop a 650-metre high hill which dominated the route from Antioch to Beirut, with the main enclosure surrounded by a man-made moat carved out of solid rock. Captured by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars in 1271, Krak des Chevaliers was used as a base for Mameluk expansion towards the end of the 13th Century.

2. Grandmasters Palace - Rhodes

The Grandmasters Palace of Rhodes was the palace of the Knights Hospitaller of St John. Dating to the fourteenth century (circa 1309), the Grandmasters Palace would be the base of this famous Christian and military order until Rhodes was captured by the Ottomans in 1522. Under this empire the palace served as a fortress, but was devastated in 1856 by an ammunitions explosion. It was the Italians who restored it in 1912. Today, this medieval castle operates as a museum of works mostly from the early Christian period up to the Ottoman conquest.

3. Acre

Acre or “Akko” is an ancient city in Israel which has been almost continuously inhabited since at least 3000 BC. Today, the Old City of Acre is a UNESCO site, with a myriad of ruins representing the many civilisations that ruled the area over the centuries. However the overwhelming character of Acre is defined by the city’s time under the Crusaders and the Ottomans. Visitors can see its impressive fortifications, sites related to the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallers, such as the Knights’ Halls, sites of the Bahá’í Faith and the many remaining public buildings, most of which originate from the Ottoman and Crusader periods.

4. Kerak Castle

Kerak Castle is an impressive 12th century Crusader-era fortification located to the south of Amman, Jordan, on the ancient King’s Highway. Today the castle operates as a visitor attraction and contains a maze of corridors and chambers within the imposing fortifications.

Described by a contemporary adventurer as “the most marvellous, most inaccessible and most celebrated of castles”, the site of Kerak is mentioned in the Bible, where it was said to have been besieged by the King of Israel. The structure which is visible today took on its current guise during the Crusades in the 12th century. Initially a Crusader stronghold, the castle is situated within the city walls of Karak and was located in an area of great strategic importance, nine-hundred metres above sea level. There are seven different levels within the castle and visitors can wander through its vaulted passageways and dungeons.

5. Bodrum Castle

Bodrum Castle was built by the Knights Hospitaller in 1402 in order to offer protection from the invading Seljuk Turks. Constructed according to the highest standards at the time, it remained an important Christian stronghold for over a century, serving as a focal point in Asia Minor. Today, it houses the world renowned Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

6. Belvoir Fortress

Offering up great views of the surrounding area, the ruins of this former Crusader castle can be found towering high above the Jordan Valley. Once a stronghold of the powerful Knights Hospitallers, Belvoir was located at a key strategic location and dominated the local area. Despite withstanding a number of attacks the fortress fell to Saladin’s forces after a long siege. Today the fortress is located in Belvoir National Park and is a popular visitor attraction.

7. Citadel of Salah Ed-Din

The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din is a partly-preserved fortress in Syria which is an interesting example of Crusader-era fortifications. The site has been used as a fortification for many centuries, and is thought to have first been occupied by the Phoenicians and later by Alexander the Great. The current site was built by the Byzantines and became a Crusader stronghold until its capture by Saladin in 1188.

8. Arsuf

Arsuf, also known as Apollonia, contains the remains of an ancient settlement on the Israeli coast that has stood for over 1,000 years. It is best known for the remains of a mighty Crusader castle which was once home to the Knights Hospitaller, but the site also contains remnants from the many other civilisations that have occupied the area.The Crusaders captured the town in 1101AD and in 1191AD Richard the Lionheart defeated Saladin here in the Battle of Arsuf. In 1265, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars captured the fortress after a 40-day siege. His forces destroyed the town and the site was abandoned. Today, visitors can see the remains of the Crusader fortress, including evidence from the final battle. The clifftop setting and impressive defensive moat bring to life the scale and drama of the once-mighty castle.

9. Shobak Montreal Castle

A beautiful ancient fortress in Jordan, Shobak is a remote Crusader ruin which dates back to the early 12 th century. Originally built by Baldwin I of Jerusalem, it was positioned along key trading routes and designed to control this key strategic location. It was from this location that many Crusader raids on caravan convoys were launched, leading to significant tensions in the area and eventual war. Saladin’s forces lay seige to the castle for several months before the fortress eventually fell in 1189. Today the castle lies in ruins but there is still much for the visitor to explore. The main outer walls still stand along with a number of the internal chambers, archways and passageways. As well as the ruins themselves it is possible to explore a tunnel which runs through the hillside – though this is certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

10. Grandmasters Palace - Valletta

The Grandmasters Palace in Valletta has been the seat of power in Malta since the sixteenth century. It was in 1571 that the Knights Hospitaller of St John made the Grandmasters Palace their base, a role which it would fulfil until 1798, when this religious and military order left Malta. At first, the site of the Grandmasters Palace only had a single house on it, owned by the nephew of the head of the Knights Hospitaller, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette. This was incorporated into the new palace. Today, as well as being a government building, parts of the Grandmasters Palace are open to the public, particularly the State Rooms and the Armoury. The opulent and lavishly decorated State Rooms display several art collections of which many, such as The Great Siege Frescoes by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, date back to the times of the Knights Hospitaller.

The Tower of London: Ravens, Jewels and Beefeaters

Officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, this imposing building and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the bank of the River Thames has a long and chilling history. Built in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings, the White Tower was built by – yes, you guessed it – William the Conqueror. It was used as a prison from 1100-1952, housing the Princes in the Tower (more happily resident in Ludlow Castle beforehand), Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth I before she ascended to the throne.

In its time, the Tower has also been an armoury, treasury, menagerie, a public records office, royal residence, home of the Crown Jewels and the Royal Mint. Now managed by the Constable of the Tower, it’s the most visited paid attraction in England, receiving just under 3 million visitors each year. If you can, purchase your tickets online, and choose an early weekday morning to visit at a quieter time. Keep an eye out for the ghost of Anne Boleyn, said to haunt the White Tower. And don’t forget to call in on the 37 Yeoman Warders, otherwise known as the Beefeaters.

If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall.”

Castle Crazy: Six Castles to Visit Whilst in the UK

IT'S WIDELY accepted that the United Kingdom has one of the most fascinating pasts in the world. But why are people around the globe so obsessed by it? Perhaps it&rsquos because it&rsquos so different to the histories of Asia and the Americas. Or, for the middle-aged men who dress up as medieval knights and faux-battle one another in a field just outside Surrey, perhaps it just offers a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Whether they want to see what the UK was like 400 years ago or whether they just want to pretend they&rsquore in an episode of Game of Thrones, there&rsquos plenty of real history in the UK still standing that people like to visit. From castles to abbeys, universities to mills, people flock to these historical monuments from all over the world. Here&rsquos a roundup of some of the country&rsquos castles worth a visit between your studies.

Bodiam Castle, Robertsbridge, East Sussex

I once read an advertisement for Bodiam Castle where it called itself &lsquothe most beautiful castle in the world&rsquo. Ignoring the fact it likes to blow its own trumpet, it&rsquos actually got a point. It is enormously picturesque and is in fairly good condition considering it was built in 1385. Technically classed as &lsquoruins,&rsquo Bodiam is not the crumbling mound you might expect &ndash some of the interior construction wouldn&rsquot allow for much picture-hanging, but the exterior walls are still standing. There&rsquos an impressive well (don&rsquot fall in) and a wealth of history in it &ndash feel free to go up into one of the towers but don&rsquot expect to see anything much. People seem to like Bodiam, meaning you should probably avoid it during school holidays because there are always children running around pretending to be miniature kings and queens.

Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire

Best known for portraying the house in Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is in excellently good condition, mostly because someone still lives in it (I know, unbelievable!). It&rsquos popular around July and August, and the grounds are always full of people pretending to be on the set of Downton, so don&rsquot be surprised if you hear odd phrases like &lsquoCarson, can you arrange for Mrs Hughes to bring out some tea for us?&rsquo Please take into account that, while the TV show is set in Yorkshire, the actual house isn&rsquot. Hampshire's at the other end of the country, so make sure you&rsquore going to the right place when you want to visit.

Pevensey Castle, Pevensey, East Sussex

This one had to make the list because of its historical importance, but I&rsquod advise you give it a miss if you think you&rsquore going to see something spectacular. This heap of stone in the middle of the countryside was built in 290ad so it&rsquos older than your grandparents&rsquo grandparents. A Roman construction, it has a nice vantage point that looks out across very flat land that used to be the sea. When I last visited, we were warned that the dungeon might be a little bit damp: I walked down the stairs to find that the dungeon was knee-deep in water, so if it&rsquos been raining it won&rsquot hurt to take wellies or a rubber boat. Mocking aside, it&rsquos an incredible piece of history and is very close to a few delightful pubs.

Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh, Northumberland

A sprawling great big castle, this was once home to the kings of Northumberland. It&rsquos right on the coast so offers a terrific view, and since it&rsquos situated on a rugged outcrop, it really does look like something out of a film almost all of the time. It&rsquos a sight of archeological interest and a few treasure items, including a gold plate, have been discovered there. It&rsquos worth a visit in the summer just for the view.

Pontefract Castle, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Pontefract Castle played a huge part in the English Civil War, and saw various famous sieges throughout the conflict in the 17th Century. King Richard II is said to have died there after being murdered &ndash so keep your wits about you in case you see his ghost roaming the ruins. Having said that, you might not see much else, as Pontefract is mostly a ruin. It&rsquos a good place to go if you want to say you&rsquove visited an important site of English history.

Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex

Okay, this one isn&rsquot technically a castle, but it&rsquos too good to miss out. The front of the site is gorgeous and extremely well kept (and also a private school &ndash you can&rsquot go in there) but the real interest is the grounds inside. There are some frankly amazing structures still remaining, including great vaulted ceilings, older-than-you&rsquod-believe tombs and the towering exterior walls of the original dorter (dormitory). It&rsquos also the site where the Battle of Hastings was fought &ndash perhaps the UK&rsquos most significant point in history &ndash which explains the town&rsquos name.

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