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<b>The Castellation of Europe<b>

Beginning in the ninth century, local strongmen began dotting the landscape of E
urope with castles. These were first of simple design and construction but evolv
ed into stone strongholds. Many of these belonged to kings or the vassals of kin
gs, but the majority appear to have been built out of self-interest by local nob
les. They were justified by barbarian threats, but the nobles employed them to e
stablish local control. This was possible because Europe had no strategic defens
es and no strong central authorities at the time.
An example of the castellation of Europe was the Poitou region of France. There
were three castles there before Viking raids began in the ninth century and 39 b
y the eleventh century. This pattern was repeated across Europe. Castles could b
e built quickly. Until the appearance of cannon, castle defenders had a great ad
vantage over any attackers.
Widespread castle construction and the maintenance of large bodies of soldiers f
or their defense resulted not in peace and mutual defense against invaders but i
ncessant warfare.
<i>The Evolution of the Castle<i>
The earliest castles were of a type called the "motte and bailey." The motte was
a broad, leveled mound of earth, typically 50 feet high. A large wooden tower w
as built atop the motte. Below the motte was an enclosure within a wooden palisa
de called the bailey. Here were placed storehouses, stock pens, and huts. Both t
he motte and bailey were small islands surrounded by a water-filled ditch, excav
ated to construct the motte. A bridge and steep narrow path connected the two pa
rts of the castle. At a time of danger, the defensive forces withdrew into the t
ower if the bailey could not be held.
In the eleventh century, stone began replacing earth and wood in castle construc
tion. The wooden tower atop the motte was replaced with a round stone fortificat
ion called a shell keep. This grew into a tower or keep. A curtain wall of stone
enclosed the old bailey and the keep, and was in turn surrounded by a ditch or
moat. A single fortified gate protected by a drawbridge and portcullis led into
the castle. The best-known example of a basic keep-type castle is the original T
ower of London, built by William the Conqueror. This large square structure stoo
d by itself at first and was whitewashed to draw attention. Later kings improved
this castle with the curtain walls and other improvements seen today.
Castle design advanced when crusaders to the East returned with news of the fort
ifications and siege engines they had encountered in their travels. Concentric c
astles were designed that enclosed a central keep within two or more rings of wa
lls. Walls were strengthened first with square towers and then with round towers
. The angled corners on square towers were easy to shear off, making the whole t
ower very vulnerable. Round towers were more resistant to attack. Embattlements
were added at the top of walls and towers to make fighting from above more effec
Cannon appeared in Europe in the early fourteenth century, but effective siege a
rtillery was not used until the middle fifteenth century. Castle designs changed
in response to the power of cannon. High perpendicular walls were replaced by l
ow sloping walls. By the middle of the fifteenth century castles were in decline
because of the rising power of kings. In the eleventh century William the Conqu
eror claimed ownership of all castles in England to get them out of the hands of
nobles. By the thirteenth century it was necessary to ask a king's permission t
o build a castle or strengthen an existing one. Kings worked to demilitarize cas
tles to minimize their usefulness to potential rebels.
Castles were abandoned as living quarters for nobles and fell into ruin. Fortifi
ed towns were increasingly important because the wealth of the land had shifted
to the cities.
<i>Castle Construction<i>
Construction of a castle might take less than a year or up to 20 years to comple
te. For several centuries castle-building was an important industry. Renowned ma
ster masons were in high demand and gangs of castle builders moved from site to
site. Towns wishing to build cathedrals had to compete for skilled workers with
lords wishing to build castles.
Construction of Beaumaris Castle in North Wales began in 1295. The design was sy
mmetrical, with no weak points. At the height of its building, it required the e
ffort of 30 blacksmiths, 400 masons, and 2000 laborers. Laborers did most of the
excavation, carrying, lifting, well-digging, and stone-breaking. This particula
r castle was never completed. The massive castle at Conway, built in Wales by Ed
ward I of England, took 40 months to build.
Castle walls were masonry shells filled with stone rubble and flint mixed with m
ortar. Wall width ranged from 6 to 16 feet.