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Mediaeval Military Architecture in England

118 pages
Library of Alexandria
THE art of construction in Europe from the fall of the Roman empire to the dawn of the Reformation, though of late years much and successfully investigated, has been approached almost exclusively from its ecclesiastical side. This was, for many reasons, to be expected. The service of the altar justified, perhaps required, the highest degree of taste in the design of the temple, and the utmost richness in its ornamentation. Moreover, the greater number of our ecclesiastical buildings are still in use, and even the remains of those that are in decay, being chiefly monastic, are interesting from the intimate connexion of their foundations and endowments with early piety and learning, and from the evidence supplied by their records of the descent of landed property and of the ancestry of the older historic families of the country. The coëval military structures exhibit, generally, no such splendours of design or excellence of execution, nor do they awaken such sympathies in our breasts. The parish church is the common concern of all who worship within its walls, or whose dead are laid within its sacred precinct; but the castle, always a dangerous and unpopular neighbour, and often associated with local tyranny or the disasters of war, was in most instances ruined or swept away with the general use of gunpowder, and even where preserved, its narrow dimensions and inconvenient arrangements, particulars more or less essential to its value as a place of defence, rendered it, except in a few instances, unfit for a modern residence, and have thus tended to sever it still more completely from the current sympathies and interests of humanity. Nevertheless, there is in these structures, obsolete as they are, or because they are obsolete, much to attract those who care to know of the life and customs of former generations. Many of these buildings were the work and residence of persons who have left their mark upon the history of our country. Some, as York, Lincoln, Norwich, Dover, Rochester, Chester, Colchester, Wallingford, have been the seats of Saxon thanes or Danish jarls, succeeding a Roman or perhaps British occupant; others, as Bamborough, Taunton, Sarum, Tutbury, and Hereford, are associated with the earliest, most celebrated, or most patriotic of our purely English kings; others, as the Tower, Windsor, Winchester, Berkeley, Pontefract, Newark, Carisbrook, were the scene of the splendours of our greatest or the miseries of our most unfortunate monarchs; some, as Oxford, Northampton, Lewes, Kenilworth, are connected with great constitutional struggles between prince and subject; some, as Exeter, Bedford, Rochester, Pembroke, Chepstow, and Raglan, remind us of bloody combats and sieges from the times of the Conqueror to those of Charles the First. Some castles, as Sherborne, the Devizes, Malmesbury, Wolvesley, Newark, Farnham, Norham, and Durham, were constructed by lordly ecclesiastics who brought the arm of the soldier to support the brain of the priest and statesman; some again, as Hedingham, Bungay, Axholm, Alnwick, Raby, Tonbridge, Warwick, Wigmore, Powderham, Goderich, and Helmsley, are intimately bound up with the great baronial names of De Vere, Bigot, Mowbray, Percy, Neville, Clare, Beauchamp, Mortimer, Courtenay, Talbot, and De Ros, those “ancient stocks that so long withstood the waves and weathers of time.” Ludlow is identified with the fairest creation of Milton’s genius; Caerleon and Tintadgel glitter bright in mediæval romance; while Shrewsbury, Chester, the Welsh castles, Carlisle, Newcastle, Prudhoe, Ford, Hermitage, Jedburgh, Berwick, and a host of subordinate towers and peels, are celebrated in Marchman’s warfare or Border Minstrelsy, and played a part in the politic but unjust aggressions of our earlier Henrys and Edwards.