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Castles, Lordship and Settlement in Norman England and Wales

O.H. Creighton examines the many and varied reasons behind the siting of Norman castles, and considers their decisive effect on the cultural landscape of Britain.

The tired cliché of modernist architecture that 'form follows function' has often been applied, implicitly or explicitly, to the architecture of castles. Traditional interpretations have seen medieval castle design and development as the product of a struggle between the increasingly sophisticated art of the siege engineer and the responses of the military architect. For early British castle scholars such as George T. Clark and Alexander Hamilton Thompson, the medieval castle was an essentially military phenomenon, and for long, warlike interpretations cast a shadow over the world of castle study. More recently, however, archaeologists and historians have developed an understanding of castles  that reflects their broad range of functions and wider place within medieval society and landscape.

As well as being defensible strongholds and elite private residences, most castles were also the hubs of estates. The castle was also a conspicuous emblem of royal authority or seigneurial status. Such qualities  are reflected not only in their physical remains, but also in their portrayal within literature and art. While one of the words most commonly identified with castles is 'keep', the term is virtually unknown in medieval documentation where  the term donjon was generally used. This derives ultimately from the Latin dominium ('lordship'). This word reflects the qualities of these conspicuous buildings of the medieval period not simply as the ultimate place of refuge within a fortified complex, but as a proclamation of lordly ambition.

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