Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Castles

I've seen a lot of castles.  It took me a long time to figure them out, though.  They come in two kinds: ruined or remodeled to a high standard suitable for life in the 19th/20th century.  And no two are alike, so I found it difficult to generalize to the 'idealtypus' or 'ideal type' of castle - the pure form. Oddly enough, though, we visited two castles last week - both of which I had seen before - and some things shifted into place.  I feel that I now have an even clearer understanding of castles.

Both of the castles we saw - Lewes and Bodiam - are ruins.   Above, is a picture of Lewes Castle, which is unusual in that it has two mottes, or is built on two hills.  The castle was built in 1069, very soon after the Norman Invasion. It began as a wooden fortification on one of the mottes, now closed to the public and surrounded by houses.  Then, it was replaced with a stone castle on a different motte,  artificially made higher with chalk blocks. A castle wall enclosed both mottes. You can still see parts of the wall in people's backyards. And part of the site of the original moat is a street called Castle Ditch Lane.

 This was a castle built for defense and squelching the populace, not for comfort.  Its primary function was military.  There are barracks and places for armorers and blacksmiths and saddle makers. People lived there, but it was a pretty Spartan existence.

Next we saw Bodiam Castle, which was built 300 years after Lewes Castle, in 1385.  It's a beautiful little jewel of a castle which appears to float on the water of the moat.  Ostensibly, Bodiam was meant to guard the English coast against a French invasion during the 100 years war. It's sited quite aways inland, but next to a river that was big enough to be navigable by big ships.   But it was probably never involved in any military action.  What it really was, is a Medieval MacMansion.

It was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who made a lot of money, pillaging and plundering in France, and married an heiress. He got permission from the King to crenelate his manor and build a moat and chose, instead, to build a castle on a different site. It was built rapidly and all at one time, so the form you see today is the way it was built.  It's a classic style, square with round towers at each corner and a square tower in the middle of each wall. It has all the fancy defensive accoutrements - portcullis, postern gate, murder holes, machicolations and arrow slits. Then, there's the moat, which is fed by several streams, at least one of them inside the castle, so it would have continued to provide water under siege. The garderobes emptied into the moat, under the waterline, so it would not have been easy to gain access to the castle through them.

Although it has the most up-to-date defensive mechanisms, they are mostly built for show. The castle is small, it wasn't built to contain a whole town full of armorers, saddle makers etc, or to barrack many soldiers.  The living quarters were truly luxurious, an up-to-date manor house concealed within a castle. There were  fireplaces in every chamber, 28 garderobes or toilets and the well was easily reached from the kitchen, just down a few stairs. The living rooms for the family were on the southern and eastern walls, so they got light and warmth from the sun through many windows.  The standard of comfort was very high.  And it's such a pretty place.  The light from the moat dapples the interior in a very pleasant way, even on a cold and overcast day and you keep getting little glimpses of the moat from the interior.  Although, maybe it wouldn't have seemed so pretty when the moat was an open sewer.

I learned something, by the way.  The word 'garderobe' which refers to the kind of toilets they had in castles, comes from the Norman for 'protecting clothing'.  Clothing was hung there to protect it from moths and other vermin, who were kept away by the powerful smell.  Nice, eh?


Kate said...

Bodiam is like the storybook castle, isn't it!?!! Its opulence reminds me of Raglan Castle in Wales, another "defensive" site where style and comfort were a top priority.

The Bride said...

It's very storybook, and it's set is really lovely rolling countryside. A fairytale come to life.