Castles - looking for some reading suggestions

Overread

Searching for a flower
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
4,295
Location
Hunting in the woods
Greetings I need to pick your brains fellow geeks = about castles.

I'm interested in finding some reading material on castles, specifically your standard western European castles, and would welcome any suggestions that you've got. Ideally in book format, though websites/youtubes are also good to recommend. Especially anything with mechanical discussions, technical drawings all the way through to historical accounts of sieges and storming the walls. From the ancient days of catapults all the way to the age of cannon (though with a stronger lean to the earlier days).
 

Dave

Non Bio
Staff member
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
21,795
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
The word "castle" might be a problem itself, a large building, typically of the medieval period, fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and in many cases a moat, since many such buildings were simply manor houses and family homes, fortified against roaming brigands and border reviers. I expect that isn't what you are looking for. You want the fortresses, that commanded the gateways to the realm? We had Danish friends visit us and they wanted to see an English "castle". We took them to Hever Castle, which is a fine house with and interesting history - Anne Boleyn, the Astors - but it isn't the kind of imposing structure that would hold out in a year long siege to the New Model Army.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,072
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
The word "castle" might be a problem itself, a large building, typically of the medieval period, fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and in many cases a moat, since many such buildings were simply manor houses and family homes, fortified against roaming brigands and border reviers. I expect that isn't what you are looking for. You want the fortresses, that commanded the gateways to the realm? We had Danish friends visit us and they wanted to see an English "castle". We took them to Hever Castle, which is a fine house with and interesting history - Anne Boleyn, the Astors - but it isn't the kind of imposing structure that would hold out in a year long siege to the New Model Army.

We had an American family over recently who tried to claim that our castle - the most intact Norman castle in Ireland and one of the UK’s best preserved, built on a rocky sea outcrop, with well, 3m thick walls and 80 ft high keep - wasn’t really a castle since it wasn’t like Buckingham Palace.

:D
 

Pyan

De omnibus dubitandum...
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jul 29, 2005
Messages
11,077
Location
Cumbria
Can't go wrong with good old Dorling-Kindersley for the basics, brilliantly illustrated.

61DX9EKQX9L._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


536190.jpg

 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,149
HA! I think I had those books as a kid, definitely the first one.

Now I want to see if I can find them again...
 

TheEndIsNigh

...Prepare Thyself
Supporter
Joined
Mar 16, 2008
Messages
3,279
Try the bookshop.

I think the national trust may sell them too.
 

Dave

Non Bio
Staff member
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
21,795
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
I didn't mean to reduce this conversation to small talk. What @Overread needs is a good academic book on the construction and architecture of medieval castles. I don't know one, sorry. I was just saying that rather than the word "castle" he might be looking for something else. Clearly, he is interested in fortresses built in period between Norman Keeps and gunpowder, after which most British castles were destroyed. Many UK castles surviving today are Victorian reconstructions. Or, even some with WWII additions.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,072
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
Is small talk so very bad? Reduce is a word that indicates so. We are a community and we chat, surely? Especially when it is actually around the subject of what is a castle? Also some of the suggestions - including Biesty’s cross section books - are good starter points. And one architectural study has been suggested so far.
 

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
9,777
Location
Scotland
When I’m looking for stuff like this, I often turn to Osprey Publishing.
Here’s your starter for ten...
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,814
Location
Idaho
Here are some academic references
The Castle in Medieval England and Wales. Colin Platt
Pounds, N. J. G. The Medieval Castle in England and Wales: A Social and Political History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
The English Castle 1066-1650 by Goodall, John (2011)
Liddiard, Robert, ed. Late Medieval Castles. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016.
The Castles of the Rhine: Recreating the Middle Ages in Modern Germany, Robert R.Taylor. 2006
Kaufmann, J.E., H.W. Kaufman. The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages. MA: Da Capo Press, 2004.
Kennedy, Hugh N.. Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994
Castles in Medieval Society by Charles Coulson. 2003
and of course, Crusader Castles by T.E. Lawrence, 1936

btw and just fwiw, looking up academic sources on any topic can go like this
<topic>bibliography site:edu
You'll get some lists from libraries that are less than helpful, but you'll also get reading lists from professors' courses, and other sites, all scoped to the .edu domain. To get the above I searched on
medieval castles bibliography site:edu
then I started substituting country names for "medieval".
 

Vladd67

Stake Holder
Joined
Jun 10, 2007
Messages
3,896
You said you were interested in websites and YouTube videos as well, you could try watching videos by shadiversity.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,809
Location
UK
A couple of books I have on this specifically:

Life in a Mediaeval Castle, Gies - I haven't read this one yet, but while their book on city life was superb, I found their mediaeval village book dull.
Life on a Mediaeval Barony, Stearns Davis - This is a superb and rich resources of general life centered on a castle. The style of writing is dated, but I've personally found it one of the most useful sources in my library.

Cutaway books are also great for visualizing castles. :0

As for sieges:

Mediaeval Warfare Sourcesbook
By Sword and Fire

have been useful, but for a take on the Italian mercenary wars.

However,

Hawkwood by Saunders

could also provide a different perspective, especially with regards to the politics and bribery and mercenary bands of Italy along with both how and why sieges took place there.

Hope that helps. :)
 
Last edited:

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
14,060
Location
nearly the New Forest
We've got a couple of general books but both of them are rather old now, so finding them might be difficult.

The first is Castles by Tom McNeill (copyright is TE McNeill, so almost certainly the same chap as Jo mentioned). It's from 1992, published by BT Batsford, but part of a series with English Heritage. Very informative, if dated now in style, with plans, drawings and photos (very few of these in colour, unfortunately), glossary of technical terms, gazetteer of castles, suggestions for further reading and chapter headings including Building castles, The inner household, The outer core, and Defending castles.

The second is Scottish Castles and Fortifications by Christopher Tabraham, but that's from 1986. Cram-packed full of colour illustrations and photos and excellent overview of changes in style.

Over the last couple of years English Heritage have been updating their guidebooks and the new ones we've got are uniformly excellent. They're designed to be read as you go round the castles themselves, obviously, but they're still well worth a read in the absence of visiting. It might be worth just going through the EH website to see if there are any castles that catch your eye that you'd like to know more about, and if EH do mail order.


And not reading, but we've just noticed on BBC4 tonight at 8pm was Michael Wood's Story of England "The construction of a Norman castle in 1066." We're going to try and watch it on catch-up, but it should be on iPlayer for a while.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,149
The first is Castles by Tom McNeill (copyright is TE McNeill, so almost certainly the same chap as Jo mentioned). It's from 1992, published by BT Batsford, but part of a series with English Heritage. Very informative, if dated now in style, with plans, drawings and photos (very few of these in colour, unfortunately), glossary of technical terms, gazetteer of castles, suggestions for further reading and chapter headings including Building castles, The inner household, The outer core, and Defending castles.
I love books like that, especially when they go into detail on how the castles were built and how they'd be defended; the level of thought and engineering that went into them is staggering. Can't say I've ever been desperate to know the colour of the stone though :)
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,072
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
I love books like that, especially when they go into detail on how the castles were built and how they'd be defended; the level of thought and engineering that went into them is staggering. Can't say I've ever been desperate to know the colour of the stone though :)

Stone was often the only decorative element a available, it said a lot about the status of the Lord building the castle :)
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,149
Stone was often the only decorative element a available, it said a lot about the status of the Lord building the castle
Yea, that's true I suppose but they wouldn't use that stone for the main construction, that would be local stuff. The fancy stone would be for the decorative elements and I've always been more interested in the engineering and utility of a place than the aesthetics - I'm one of those weirdos who can look at brutalism and be like yup, I'd live there :)
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,072
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
Yea, that's true I suppose but they wouldn't use that stone for the main construction, that would be local stuff. The fancy stone would be for the decorative elements and I've always been more interested in the engineering and utility of a place than the aesthetics - I'm one of those weirdos who can look at brutalism and be like yup, I'd live there :)

In our local castles the latrines are picked out in Cultra sandstone and are the most decorative element there is - and also very useful :D
 

Similar threads


Top