The English Castle: 1066-1650 (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
Paul Mellon Centre BA, 2011
480 pp., $75.00
"A man's home is his …." That the overwhelming majority of English-speaking adults can complete that sentence is testimony to the place that castles continue to hold in the Western imagination, centuries after they lost their utility as fortresses. (William Blackstone, in his famous 18th-century commentaries on England law, observed: "the law of England has so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a man's house, that it stiles it his castle.") Castles become part of our imaginative and literal vocabulary when we are very young and remain potent symbols with wide-ranging associations thereafter. And then there are real castles (the definition of a Real Castle being rather controversial), which actually turn out to be more interesting and varied than our imagined ones.
One could not ask for a better guide to the theory, structure, and political and social milieu of the castle in the country that English speakers most associate with castles than John Goodall's The English Castle, 1066-1650. Goodall's sweeping overview—a combination of architectural, political, socio-economic, ecclesiological, and cultural history—is learned but not discouragingly academic, engaging recent scholarship (and frequently challenging received opinion) while at the same time offering a very accessible discussion of all things castle. While this seven-pound book would look good on a (sturdy) coffee table—a visual feast with its hundreds of superb photographs, maps, charts, cut-aways, diagrams, and drawings—it seeks to bridge the gap the author laments between the popular view of castles (perpetuated by "the heritage industry and television") and the sober treatises of narrowly focused scholars.
I write not as a castle scholar but as an unrepentant tourist who has been to roughly thirty of the several hundred castles and quasi-castles Goodall covers (many in detail) from a 600-year period. Like many of the lightly educated, I tended to lump most of them ...