Cultural realities and reappraisals in English castle-study

Cultural realities and reappraisals in English castle-study

By Charles Coulson

Journal of Medieval History, Vol.22:2 (1996)

Abstract: Surveying a selection of publications on English castles, particularly since the writer’s ‘Structural symbolism in medieval castle architecture’ (1979), the problem of military determinism is reviewed. Historical experience, differing from the French and the German, has made English castellology heavily technological until recently. The cultural method of architectural and art history, and of archaeology, has rarely extended to castles and been too learned to modify perceptions. Neglect of the aristocratic ethos manifested in the castellated fortified style of a wide range of ‘domestic’, so-called ‘military’ and ‘religious’ buildings, prior to the early modern classical revival, has been damaging. Expecting ‘true castles’ (compare château-fort) to be ‘seriously defended’ has forced them into the anachronistic mould of ‘military architecture’, imposing post-medieval stereotypes, in Britain most grievously. Narrow specialism has impeded appreciation of the castellated fusion of state, style and security. As socio-political study develops so will the risk of making ‘display’ and ‘prestige’ the new bandwagon, especially in the simplistic literature so far starved of scholarly infrastructure. By drawing together here some of the strands of the interplay of elements material and metaphysical essential to ‘fortification’, progress may, it is hoped, be stimulated.

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