‘Castles of Communities’: medieval town defences in England; Wales and Gascony

‘Castles of Communities’: medieval town defences in England; Wales and Gascony

By Oliver H. Creighton

Château Gaillard, Vol.22 (2006)

Introduction: This paper introduces the findings of a research project exploring the phenomenon of town defences in the later medieval period. The research is aiming to exploit the full range of available source material – including architectural, cartographic, documentary, archaeological and topographical data – to compile a database of fortified towns in the period c. 1050-1550. A secondary objective is the interpretation of town walls within the broader context of the townscapes they enclosed and the communities that built and maintained them. This paper serves two purposes: first, it provides a summary of key data regarding the number of fortified towns in England and Wales and the character of their defences; and, second, it presents a case study of the defences of bastide towns in England, Wales and ‘English’ Gascony.

This research is endeavouring to address deficiencies in our understanding of the subject in a number of areas. Overall, town defences have attracted comparatively little serious scholarship relative to their better studied cousins, castles. Perhaps lacking something of the glamour of ‘private’ fortifications and frequently leaving vestigial physical remains ravaged by development (or in numerous cases no aboveground evidence), urban defences are, at best, a neglected branch of scholarship and, in Britain at least, perhaps perceived as second-rate features of medieval fortification.

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