By Philip Davis
The Castle Studies Group Journal, No 20 (2006-7)
Introduction: The serious study of castles is riddled with past assumptions, prejudices and ‘theories’ that have gained popular credence and move into the work of established ‘fact’. Castles were erected, from the start, to be powerful symbolic buildings and through the past and in to the modern world various contemporary symbolic values has been attached to the ‘fortifications’ of castles and their like. The study of licences to crenellate is a particularly good example of this. Victorian concerns with empire and strong centralised government led to Victorian scholars describing licences to crenellate as a requirement imposed by central authority to control over-mighty lords, a view still widely stated. It should be made clear that there is no evidence whatsoever for this view.
Much of what has been written about licences to crenellate was based on a few examples, often atypical, and on a misreading and misattribution of other historical documents. Very few scholars have done in depth study of the subject (the most notable is Charles Coulson). In particular it is important to understand that the so called ‘adulterine’ castles of the Anarchy of Stephen were not ‘unlicenced’, as sometimes stated. They were ‘tainted’ because they had been built and used in a rebellion.