Castles in the United Kingdom

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A number of castles in the United Kingdom are important to the history of the British Isles, especially before and during the middle ages.



Norman England

The castles that existed in England at the time of the Norman Conquest seem to have offered little resistance to William of Normandy. Immediately after the Conquest, William, wishing to guard against invasions from without as well as to awe his newly-acquired subjects, began to erect castles all over the kingdom, and to repair and improve the old ones. Moreover, William had parceled out the lands of the English among his followers, who built strongholds and castles on their estates.[1] These "adulterine" (i.e. unauthorized) castles multiplied so rapidly during the troubled reign of King Stephen that they were said by Robert of Torigny to have amounted to 1115.[2]

In earlier times, when the interest of the king and his barons was identical, the king had only retained in his hands the castles in the chief towns of the shires, which were entrusted to his sheriffs or constables. But the great feudal revolts under the Conqueror and his sons showed that to have such fortresses in private hands was a formidable obstacle to the rule of the king. The people hated the castles from the first for the oppressions connected with their erection and maintenance.

It was, therefore, the settled policy of the crown to strengthen the royal castles and increase their number, while jealously keeping in check those of the barons. But in the struggle between Stephen and the Empress Matilda for the crown, which became largely a war of sieges, the royal power was relaxed and there was an outburst of castle-building, without permission, by the barons. The barons in many cases acted as petty kings.[3]

England under the Plantagenets

These excesses paved the way for the pacification at the close of Stephen's reign, when it was provided that all unauthorized castles constructed during its course should be destroyed. Henry II, in spite of his power, was warned by the great revolt against him that he must still rely on castles, and the massive keeps of Newcastle upon Tyne and Dover date from this period.

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