Book Review: Exploring English Castles

Exploring English Castles is available on Amazon

I was doing some research for my interactive castles of the world map when I stumbled across this book.

I  sent the author an email and asked him if I could get a copy for review. And he sent me one. My thanks go to him for that.

And I was so happy that he did because this is a terrific book. I Love it.  It is broken down into two sections and in doing so it covers two very important aspects of castles.

In the first section it covers the basics of  castles including their history, how they were built, how they changed, developed, fell into disrepair, and came back into prominence over the centuries. This is all good stuff if you want to learn about castles.

And in the second section we get a specific look at nine different castles. And we also get stories about them. And this is where the romantic and magical aspect of them comes through.  The author has chosen these castles because they represent the whole of castles in England and they each have remarkable stories to tell.

And these stories cover all of those wonderful things that we have come to think about when we think about castles including King Arthur, Romance, betrayal, murder, intrigue, sieges and much much more. This is some wonderful stuff.

Yes, castles are big stone structures and architectural marnd vels. They are quite wonderful in that aspect. But they are also the endeavor of humans, and being so means they have lots of stories to tell.

And this book captures it all very well. If you are a fan of castles and all that they represent from the architectural to the romantic and mysterious then this is a book well worth getting. I recommend it highly! It is loaded with fascinating castle facts and castle stories.  Five stars.

 

 

Interactive Castles of the World Map

I love castles and have visited a few of them. If you frequent my websites you probably already know this. I do have a whole sub domain dedicated to them (Medieval Castles). I have lot of books about them and have done a fair amount of research on them. That for me is simply fun. But one thing that I had always wished for is a world map with all the castles on it.

One of those google maps where you can explore around, zoom in, zoom out and see various things. That would be great! Well…. there isn’t one of those maps, until now.

castles-of-the-world-map-thumb

I decided that I would have to be the guy to make one!  So I did. I made one. I didn’t realize how much work this project would entail. I would say I have about 50 or so hours invested in it. But now that the framework is done I can add castles to it rather easily. (currently I have 62 castles on the map)

If you are interested in castles you can check out the map right here. You can zoom in, pan around and explore the world and some of its most beautiful castles.

Castles of the World Interactive Google Map

Drilling through castle walls with a Terebra

I stumbled across a new type of siege engine that I hadn’t previously known about. Well, when I say it is a “new” type of siege engine I mean new to me. It has been around for centuries. I just never heard of it before. It is called a Terebra.

terebra2

 

 

 

 

I was doing some castle research, reading a book called British Castles – by Charles Ashdown when I ran across the Terebra.

This is all Ashdown said about it:

The Terebra.— A machine based upon the classical terebra was also in use. It consisted of a heavy beam which could be rotated; the iron head being furnished with a spike of square section was inserted in a joint into which it bored its way, breaking up the surrounding stones and facilitating their removal.

So I did some more digging to try to get a better sense of what it was and how it looks. I did find a few pictures. A couple of which I have put here in this blogpost.

terebra

 

 

 

 

This second picture is in German and the literal translation of its name is “Wall driller” which is apt.

It is an interesting siege engine because most engines rely on brute force to simply destroy castle walls whereas the terebra is a bit more elegant in that it drills!

I don’t think they were used very often, if at all. It seems to me you have to get awfully close to a curtain wall or a castle wall to use it. And this leaves you vulnerable to archers for an extended period of time.

But my understanding here is that the point isn’t to drill through the stone of the castle but to drill through the mortar between the stones which seems more feasible. A series of holes drilled in the mortar would weaken the wall making it more vulnerable to brute attacks by other siege engines.

Anyhoo, It is an interesting word and an interesting, relatively unknown, type of siege engine.

About the Book
The book I was reading is called British Castles – By Charles Ashdown  and it is in the public domain. I have it as a free download in ebook and kindle format on my website here:
Free ebooks about Castles

 

O’er the Ramparts we watched

“O’er the ramparts we watched”

If you are a US citizen you are not doubt familiar with that line. It is from the National Anthem. But do you know what a rampart actually is?

It is a castle term, yup! It is a very old word and it refers to the top of a castle wall where soldiers walked.  It is a wonderful old word that isn’t used much any more but our national anthem keeps it alive.

ramparts

 

 

 

 

The song was initially a poem written by Francis Scott Key as he observed Fort McHenry which is a coastal star shaped fort that was bombarded by the British Navy during the war of 1812.

Here is the first verse of the National Anthem:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

A hole in a 17th century breastplate

I have a friend in the UK (Paul) who recently took a trip to Scotland. He sent me a group of interesting pictures from a museum in Banff. And this is one of the pictures.

The placard is very simple. It says the breastplate is from the middle of the 16th century and the pierced hole would have been terminal.

I am really at a loss as to what to say about this.  Five hundred years ago a knight, lord or someone of stature was wearing this and in a moment it was over.  Just like that. One blow with some kind of piercing weapon and it was all done. And since then 500 years have passed.

I wonder what that weapon was to cause that hole? Was it a lance or a spear? Or maybe a warhammer or a bec de corbin?

Here is my imagining based solely on the observation that the rest of the breastplate is pristine. A young knight strapped on his armor for his first battle and came to a tragic end.

If you want to see more pictures from the museum including an authentic Scottish Claymore check out the page on my website here: Weapons and Armor in the Banff Museum Scotland.

breastplate-with-hole

 

Test your knowledge of medieval jobs and their names

If you want to have a little fun with this and actually test yourself then don’t scroll all the way down right away! Each answer is given after each question. Reveal them after you guess. 

Ok, I have a fun little test for you. Do you know medieval jobs? Maybe you are a medievalist or maybe you just know a lot of words. Either way this should be fun. And you might even learn a new medieval word or two. These are all professions that originate in the early to middle ages.

a-cordwainer

Test 1: What is a Blacksmith?

Ha! That is a pretty easy one! You probably know it.

But let’s take it a little further.. What is a Farrier? 

Answer: A Farrier is a subset of blacksmithing. It is a person who specializes in working with horses. Typically shoeing them, making and repairing the various metal horse gear. And  Farriers of old were even well-versed in diseases and afflictions of horses.

 

 

Test 2: What is a cooper?

Ahh…. did you know that one? If you know this one then you get a grade of at least a “B”. Good work.

A cooper is a person who makes and repairs wooden barrels and casks. Sometimes they also make various wooden utensils. Think of the big wine barrels you see in vinyards. Making and repairing those is the job of a cooper.

Test 3: What is a Cordwainer?
(The hardest one. If you get this one then you get a grade of “A”.

 

Ahh… hint: It is similar to a cobbler but definitely not the same.

Answer: A cordwainer is a person who works with brand new leather to make shoes. It is important that it is brand new leather and brand new shoes. This is because a cobbler only works with old leather and repairs shoes.

In the middle ages this distinction was very important. Cordwainers did not allow cobblers to make shoes. Cobblers only repaired shoes.  They had separate guilds and eventually cobblers were accepted as a sub guild of the cordwainer guild.

Good work if you got them all!

Want to know more medieval jobs?  I have a list of them on my website here: Medieval Jobs

Quite Possibly the most remarkable Sword Melee ever put to film

I have watched a lot of medieval movies. I have pretty much seen them all multiple times.  And my favorite part of these movies is the big melee battles. They generally are very good. And I would imagine they are generally very difficult to film.

I just recently saw one that is head and shoulders above the rest. It is from Game of Thrones and it is episode 9 of season 6 (The Battle of the Bastards). And to be blunt I have never seen anything like it. Absolutely remarkable.

The whole battle is simply a masterwork that conveys things in such a remarkable way. And, of special note is the first two minutes of the battle. *minor spoiler alert: This is where Jon Snow first gets thrown into the melee. The confusion, craziness, unpredictability and energy of a battle like this is conveyed in such a remarkable way.

I was astonished by how well done this was.  I have watched the battlescene several times now and it keeps getting richer.

I just have to express kudos to the people that created this. They have done a remarkable job.  The whole episode is just magnificent.

I want to do a deeper analysis of the whole battle, how it progresses, how it unfolds and the tactics that are used but I just don’t want to spoil things for you.

 You can get the whole season or the individual episodes  amazon right here.

 

King Arthur, Excalibur, and the thing that’s important

There is another King Arthur Movie coming out. It is entitled “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”. It is a big budget movie and directed by Guy Ritchie. So I would guess it will probably be a fun movie. It is scheduled to be released in March of 2017 and the trailers are out.

But I don’t want to discuss that movie in particular. It just brought up a thought I had about the legend of King Arthur and the various movies. And something that is oft overlooked.

We get caught up in the fanfare of heroism, battling evil, battling dragons and enemies and the like. The focus tends to be on the overcoming of insurmountable  external obstacles. But there is one small scene in one of the movies that is, in my opinion, the most important. The scene  lasts about a minute. But it really brings out what is important when we are talking about being a knight, a king, or just a human being.

It is in the 1981 John Boorman version called “Excalibur”. Which, in my opinion is the best Arthur movie of them all.  It achieves a dream-like quality that is not seen in any of the others.

And now to my thesis.
excaliburWe all know that excalibur can only be withdrawn from the stone by the person who is worthy of being king. Easy enough to understand. And a wonderful concept that has helped to make the story of Arthur what it is.

Yet, we never really get a good look at what the determining factors are when it comes to “being worthy”. Except for in the film Excalibur.

In this film we get to see what defines a person worthy of the sword. And it only takes about a minute of film to show us convincingly.

You see, in Excalibur, Arthur is a simple squire to his adopted brother;  an assistant to a knight. And in an emergency, the knight ends up with no sword. It has been stolen.

Our young Arthur scrambles to get his step brother another sword. So he  goes to the sword in the stone. . . and easily removes it.

It was a selfless act on his part. He wanted nothing for himself. The sword was to be given to another. And this selfless act was a short glimpse into the pure character that Arthur embodied. This is the kind of man who will wield Excalibur and become a king. For, you see a king doesn’t rule over people. He is their servant.

Excalibur is available on amazon both to buy and to stream here

 

A Castle and a Peel?

I was doing some research on castles. Nothing new there 🙂 And I looked up synonyms for “castle”. Well, a lot of the expected stuff was found. You can probably recite a list of them.

The more common ones include fortress, hold, stronghold, tower, palace and manor.  Ok, those are pretty easy.

Then we get to a second level with some that are not as commonly known. I knew them because castles is my thing.  They include an alcazar a safehold, a citadel and a donjon.

Pretty cool and I really love the old fashioned spelling of dungeon. There is writing potential with that word.

But then I ran across one that threw me for a loop. I thought for sure that it didn’t belong in the list of synonyms for castle.  It is the word “peel”. Yup, just like the outside of an orange (noun) or the act of removing the skin from something (verb).

And then , there is a small fortress or fortified tower for residence or for use during an attack. And that is called a peel.

It seems very interesting to me that the word “peel” came to this. I mean what is the derivation of something like this? Does it catch both the noun and the verb versions that we are familiar with? Did a small tower like this have an outer peel of stone and did attackers focus their attention on these outer walls, slowly peeling them away with various siege tools? small-fortress-peel

Ever Get Pelted with something? That word, and it’s meaning is ancient.

If you follow my blog you know I have a love of words. And I particularly love those words that have their roots in something deep from the past. The meaning of which now has changed or been lost altogether.

Well, I have a new word for you. Have you ever been pelted by something?  For us it typically means to get a bunch of small, and irritating things thrown at you.

And it is a good definition that comes to us from ancient warfare. Yes, thousands of years ago is where this word originates.

You see during the times of ALexander the great, they had these soldiers that would skirmish around the battlefield in no particular formation. They would carry a small shield called a Pelte. (Thus the name)

But the unique thing about this type of soldier was that he carried several small spears or maybe even a sling and stones.

And they would go in and out of battle quickly, pelting the enemy with the spears and stones. IT was a harrassment of sorts.

And thus we still use the word, in a very similar fashion. Just without the actual warfare. More for fun . The picture here shows a Peltast.

peltast