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I did try and make the title shorter but I didn't really know how to describe this as "the Liddiard and Morris theory" wouldn't make sense to many people. If someone can word it neater then please do.

Liddiard and Morris are two English historians, both of whom have written extensively on the subject of how defensible English castles really were. In short, their summary of English castle-building is that approx. a few generations after the Conquest (and also after the Anarchy), most castles were built with clever ruses, using features which would have been very poor in actual defensive engagements, but that worked to awe the peasantry (and keep them in submission). At the same time, similarly knowledgeable nobles would have been able to traipse around with the owner of the castle and discuss the apparent strength but real weaknesses of these features in real combat. I've provided citations from Morris (my Liddiard copy is hidden away) below to emphasise these points.

Have similar theories been suggested for Continental castles as well (i.e., by respectable academic historians and not by 'Wulf from the local pub'). If so, what other regions are brought out with similar castle-building characteristics?


I found it surprising that it was quite difficult to find information on this at all. While Wikipedia's 'Castle' relies extensively on Liddiard, there was no mention (that I could see) of his theories in this part. Wikipedia's 'Castles in Great Britain and Ireland' has one very short paragraph that references King, Pounds, and Creighton, rehearsing the arguments on Bodiam (and other places) that Morris writes about below.

Such a dearth of mentions that castles—at least in England—were not primarily intended for defense but rather entertainment of the nobles, and that of their structural design (in other words, beyond building a fireplace and a keep) seems to suggest this did not happen too much in other places. Yet, the English article does not bring it out as a contrast either.

Please note that while the below also discusses symbolism—which no doubt extended to all castles—the fact that they were designed with weaknesses that could be fatal in war is the point which I am enquiring about.

In recent decades, however, the scholarly trend has been to emphasise that castles had other roles beyond the military. The fact that they were often sited to command road and river routes, for example, meant that their owners were also well placed to control trade, and could both protect and exploit mercantile traffic. We are reminded, too, that part of the reason for building a castle could be symbolic. A great fortress, towering above everything else for miles around, provided a constant physical reminder of its owner’s power – a permanent assertion of his right to rule.

Within a generation or two [of the Conquest], it is possible to point to castles that did owe more to ideas of peaceful living than military deterrence.
—Morris, 'Castles of the Conqueror'


...a lot of the country’s favourite castles seemed to be useless as fortresses. ... [Regarding Bodiam Castle] The only snag is that none of these military features actually work. The gun-loops are ill-positioned, the moat could easily be drained and the battlements are small and thin. The castle’s main gate, which speaks loudly of military might, is contradicted by its back entrance, which would have been easy to access and weakly defended. Bodiam, in other words, is all talk and no action; in a real fight, it would have been almost useless.

The castle, however, is not weedy by accident. Its builder, Sir Edward Dallingridge, was an expert soldier – indeed, he paid for Bodiam using the profits he made in war. As such, he would have been the first person to spot whether or not a building was suitable for defence.

It is this symbolic value of castles that has attracted the attention of scholars in recent years. They have been keen to point out that castles did not necessarily have to be built as functional fortresses, but as symbols of their owners’ right to rule. What’s more, this was true not only of late medieval castles like Bodiam, where defence was only a minor consideration, but also of earlier examples, where fortification would still have been high on the list of priorities.
—Morris, 'Castles and Symbolism'

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    Now compare Harlech castle (also built in the middle of your time range), which withstood a number of lengthy sieges plus one moderately long one where it was woefully undermanned and under equipped. I posit that the authors you quote have cherry picked the worst examples of castle building and extrapolated from those. The purpose of a castle is not to withstand forever, but to deny access to a resource long for reinforcements to defeat the besieging force. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 8 '20 at 16:09
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    As for the postern gate of Bodiam castle: Are your authors aware that the prime defense of a wooden bridge involves the removal of the plank roadway? They're designed with that in mind. the bridge to the postern gate would have had that done in any soege that was not a coup de main, as it only takes a few hourss labour. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 8 '20 at 16:16
  • @PieterGeerkens: I cannot say what these authors are aware of and what they are not aware of; I do remember a study which said that such wooden bridges were rather useless as the debate as to whether they should be removed nearly always took so long that the enemy was there before the bridges were actually demolished. – gktscrk Jun 9 '20 at 4:47
  • @PieterGeerkens: I should perhaps say that the next paragraph in this work actually praises the Welsh castles: "The mighty structures that still stand at Harlech, Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Rhuddlan and Flint are tribute to the iron will of the king, the genius of his master mason, and the enormous power of late medieval England as a state. There is no question that these buildings, as well as being luxury residences fit for a king, were also fighting machines par excellence. The technology of defence at each of Edward’s castles is absolutely state of the art." – gktscrk Jun 9 '20 at 4:47
  • The purpose of the above theory is not to say that some castles were not built for genuine defensive purposes, but rather that the majority, which acted primarily as defensible dwellings, were built in a style that wasn't aimed at defense—and with features that would have hindered defense. 'Castles in Context' regrettably doesn't have a preview so I can't quote from there. I don't think either work actually carried out a survey of how many of one type vs the other. – gktscrk Jun 9 '20 at 4:51

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