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The Castle Thread

This is a great thread, some excellent photos. Just looking at those castles though makes you think. To our modern eye they look so quaint and chocolate boxy and remind us of fairy tales and princesses and knights in shining armour. But of course when they were built they were anything but romantic, they were nasty massive, ugly, brutal things, a great big "eff you!" to the local populace, or neighbouring populace, reminding them who was boss.

Especially those great Norman castles, one can only imagine the terror they inspired when they suddenly started rising out of the ground all over England and Wales and later Scotland and Ireland. The cowed natives would have been under no illusion as to what place they now occupied on the social ladder.
 
Here is my own humble contribution.

Northburg castle built by the De Burghs/Burgos/Burkes in the appropriately named town of Greencastle in Inishowen County Donegal and commanding the entrance to Lough Foyle, also the site of a more modern Martello Tower paired with one across the narrow strait in Magilligan in Northern Ireland. There is a very convivial pub in Greencastle called the Ferryman, I don't believe it is named after the person that a later De Burgh warned us not to pay.

Anyway I believe Northburg is of the same vintage and design as Carrickfergus castle, guarding an equally strategic lough at the other end of Ulster, although Carrickfergus is in obviously better nick these days, I am not sure when Northburg fell into ruin.

Northburg's claim to fame can be found on the coat of arms of the city of Londonderry (anyone who manned a checkpoint on Craigavon Bridge will remember the coat of arms on the base of the dinky little street lamps on the bridge). On top of the arms is the coat of arms of the City of London, a St. George's cross with a sword in the upper left quadrant, surmounting the coat of arms of Derry, which is of a tower and a miserable looking skeleton on a green rock. This relates to the imprisonment and starvation of, I think, the Earl of Ulster in Northburg.


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Solving mysteries to expose more mysteries at Shrewsbury.

S
SHREW COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR STEVE LEATH 16/09/2020.

'The second season of excavations at Shrewsbury Castle, funded by the Castle Studies Trust finished last Friday. The team, including led archaeologist Dr Nigel Baker and University Centre Shrewsbury heritage experts Professor Tim Jenkins and Dr Morn Capper, have been reviewing the findings.

'Dr Baker said: “We were perplexed to find no sign of the natural gravel hilltop in this year’s excavation, despite going more than two metres deep. The answer has dawned on us slowly. The familiar face of Shrewsbury Castle seen from the front of the station and from Castle Gates and the Dana is in fact the second Shrewsbury Castle. It probably dates to just after 1200AD. But the first Shrewsbury Castle, which would have been familiar to William the Conqueror, was about 25 per cent smaller. "It was confined to the hilltop and, though smaller, was absolutely bristling with defences – as we found in 2019. That’s why we didn’t find the chapel of St Michael: that was within the first castle perimeter – we were digging in the wrong castle!"

'This latest dig was commissioned after a successful first season in 2019, when finds of national significance were made. The first season dig showed just how strongly fortified the original Norman castle was – it successfully resisted a siege by rebellious local people in 1069 – but also how much damage was done to the castle remains by engineer Thomas Telford in the years between 1786 and 1790. The new excavation aimed to shed more light on both these issues.

Two discoveries of national significance were made last year, rewriting what was known about Shrewsbury Castle. The first key find was the great defensive ditch that encircled the base of the Norman motte.
The excavation has shown that when a castle was first built by the Normans in or just before 1069, the motte, with its defensive ditch, was enormous. It would have been about 12 metres wide and the geophysics suggest there was probably a bridge over it. The second key find was the discovery of two arrow heads or crossbow-bolt heads.'


 

tiv

LE
Hadleigh Castle, built on a clay ridge that suffered a landslip bringing down the south side of the curtain wall.
 

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Anyway I believe Northburg is of the same vintage and design as Carrickfergus castle, guarding an equally strategic lough at the other end of Ulster, although Carrickfergus is in obviously better nick these days, I am not sure when Northburg fell into ruin.

According to Wiki, extensively damaged by cannon fire and left in ruins in the 17th C, though no detail as to whether that was during the Elizabethan wars, Irish Confederate Wars, the Cromwellian period or later during the Williamite War.
 
According to Wiki, extensively damaged by cannon fire and left in ruins in the 17th C, though no detail as to whether that was during the Elizabethan wars, Irish Confederate Wars, the Cromwellian period or later during the Williamite War.
Seems it was a bit earlier than that, the de Burghs fell into internecine warfare as Norman families tended to do and they lost control of Northwest Ulster to the local Gaelic clans. The O'Dohertys took over the castle and in 1555 the O'Donnells attacked it with the assistance of Scottish artillery and destroyed it. After the Plantation of Ulster it was briefly reactivated but by 1700 had been abandoned.

Northburgh Castle, Greencastle, Co. Donegal | Castles Uncovered

ETA: I might have got the spelling wrong, there is inconsistency about the final "h".
 
Has anyone ever done a study of the actual logistics of castle building? I mean was there a Yellow Pages of castle designers and builders that you could call up?

These things were probably the most technical constructions ever built at the time, other than cathedrals, but cathedrals were built in cities where at least you could find the various tradesmen on hand and they could feed and accommodate themselves and it didn't matter if it took a hundred years to build. Castles by their nature are often built in remote disputed lands and in some pretty challenging terrain and need to be put up in pretty short order. The design and physical construction would have required architects and engineers who would have had educational training in their field of a standard that many people couldn't achieve today.

Were there off-the-peg designs a baron could consult from Castles-r-Us? How the hell did they pay for them? In an age of limited specie the sheer scale of spending on castles must have been mind-boggling, how did everyone from the architect down to the humble stone-mason get paid?

So many questions before even asking whether they actually had any real purpose beyond scaring the peasants and your neighbouring barons, militarily did they really provide any great advantage, in relation to the resources that they must have eaten up?
 

tiv

LE
Has anyone ever done a study of the actual logistics of castle building? I mean was there a Yellow Pages of castle designers and builders that you could call up?

These things were probably the most technical constructions ever built at the time, other than cathedrals, but cathedrals were built in cities where at least you could find the various tradesmen on hand and they could feed and accommodate themselves and it didn't matter if it took a hundred years to build. Castles by their nature are often built in remote disputed lands and in some pretty challenging terrain and need to be put up in pretty short order. The design and physical construction would have required architects and engineers who would have had educational training in their field of a standard that many people couldn't achieve today.

Were there off-the-peg designs a baron could consult from Castles-r-Us? How the hell did they pay for them? In an age of limited specie the sheer scale of spending on castles must have been mind-boggling, how did everyone from the architect down to the humble stone-mason get paid?

So many questions before even asking whether they actually had any real purpose beyond scaring the peasants and your neighbouring barons, militarily did they really provide any great advantage, in relation to the resources that they must have eaten up?
Well there was this chap James of Saint George - Wikipedia
 
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Nevitsky Castle Fortress of Guaita. Guaita is one of three peaks which overlooks the city of San Marino. It was built in the 11th century and served briefly as a prison.
 

Londo

LE
As a pre-gunpowder castle it seems a bit ill-conceived. An invading force in that valley could largely ignore it rather than attack it...
It may have been built to intimidate the peasants below . Also there to keep the top dog safe from attack . But I agree with what you're saying about invaders .
 
As a pre-gunpowder castle it seems a bit ill-conceived. An invading force in that valley could largely ignore it rather than attack it...
That's the question I was asking, how useful were these castles? We always assume there was a great garrison of knights tucked up inside waiting to come charging out if the neighbouring baron decided to invade, but realistically was this so? Couldn't an army just take a ten mile detour around the castle and proceed happily on its way?

As @Londo says, were they little more than safe houses for the big lad to live in and a way to keep the serfs in their place and paying their taxes rather than any great military asset?
 

oldnotbold

War Hero
That's the question I was asking, how useful were these castles? We always assume there was a great garrison of knights tucked up inside waiting to come charging out if the neighbouring baron decided to invade, but realistically was this so? Couldn't an army just take a ten mile detour around the castle and proceed happily on its way?

As @Londo says, were they little more than safe houses for the big lad to live in and a way to keep the serfs in their place and paying their taxes rather than any great military asset?
Looking just at the military angle...They were expensive and so usually built to protect something - a pass, port, a river crossing etc. The bigger and more advanced ones were built by royals or military orders in unsettled areas - marches, Holy Land etc or protecting important royal sites such as Dover or London. I'm willing to be shown to be wrong but my impression is that once England was settled, moated manor houses were generally cheaper, more comfortable than private castles and solid enough to keep the riff-raff out.

You could detour past a castle but but there were fewer roads so you were limited if you had a big force plus wagons. Also, you'd need to cover off anything you bypassed or risk leaving an enemy with a secure base behind you.

You didn't need a huge garrison either - swell it in war with mercenaries or locals. If you TEWT most castles they are pretty hard nuts to crack without troops, time, trebuchets or treachery.
 
Not the best picture of the castle at Barnard Castle - better shots often include the River Tees which can't be seen in this view.

However, I took the picture just over a week ago whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change and allow me to cross the Tees by the lovely old County Bridge. The south bank of the Tees used to be in Yorkshire, with the castle and town on the northern bank in County Durham. Since the early 70s, boundary changes have made a swathe of Yorkshire now part of County Durham.

The castle is well worth a visit. Visible in the picture is the circular keep on the left, with a stone oriel window
providing a view to the north-west up the Tees from the former great hall. Just left of centre is Mortham Tower, with the remains of a staircase visible in the broken masonry.


2020 Barnard Castle September resized.jpg
 
As a pre-gunpowder castle it seems a bit ill-conceived. An invading force in that valley could largely ignore it rather than attack it...

Not really. As a fast moving skirmish force, you could ignore it, but a more serious attempt, if you leave it, you have a source of continuous trouble behind your lines if you don't take it. That's a significant value of a castle. It stalled advances, giving defenders time to marshall resources, and other defences.
 
Not really. As a fast moving skirmish force, you could ignore it, but a more serious attempt, if you leave it, you have a source of continuous trouble behind your lines if you don't take it. That's a significant value of a castle. It stalled advances, giving defenders time to marshall resources, and other defences.
Castles also provided a secure logistics base from which forces could manoeuvre and to which they could recover.

Is there really much difference between medieval networks of castles and forts and the network of MOBs and FOBs set up in Afghanistan or Iraq? I
 

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