Lordship and Feudalism

The castle and the aristocratic  residence

Successives states of the seignorial residence at Mirville (Seine-Maritime). A new development in knightly homes was the addition of a palisaded enclosureDuring the period 1020-1060, we see in Normandy the emergence of minor noble families belonging to the military class. The family’s residence was initially within a village close to its church. This residence was subsequently transferred to the edge of the land holding and the addition of defensive features to the residential building gave the lord’s accommodation a powerful symbolic value.  Successives states of the seignorial residence at Mirville (Seine-Maritime). A new development in knightly homes was the addition of a palisaded enclosureIts military effectiveness was however limited as, in his dukedom, the Norman prince generally managed to control the spread of local power centres and the anarchic multiplication of castles built by rebel vassals. The ‘Coutumes et Justices’ (Customs and Laws) repealed in 1091, in the middle of a period of anarchy, had imposed strict rules limiting the depth of ditches and the arrangement of a defendable enclosure.

Moat and bailey castle, Grimboscq, early 11th c. (reconstitution)The archaeology of Normandy reveals the presence of many castle mottes built by minor lords rebelling against the authority of the Duke or sited at points where border disputes took place between rival families. In these small castles, the lord’s residence was simply fitted out, being sometimes in the keep, but more often in the service buildings gathered within the secondary enclosure, or bailey, connected to the motte. The presence of a chapel was common, but not ubiquitous and standards of comfort were makeshift. The castle was a fortified residence, the centre of an agricultural estate, from which the lord took his share of revenues, and a centre of the power which he exercised over his dependants, to whom he occasionally offered refuge.

Moat and bailey castle, La Ferté-Saint-Samson (Seine-Maritime, canton de Forges-les-Eaux)Although mottes were built quickly, they were, even so, adequate to resist small bands of soldiers not in possession of siege equipment. They were destroyed or reinstated under the authority of the Duke when he exerted his power to the full. The Duke himself used these temporary fortifications as a jumping off point for his military campaigns including the conquest of England and in this way introduced them to that country. The largest mottes sometimes survived and gave birth to settlements which formed the origin of many towns, especially in Lower Normandy.

The now disappeared reception hall (aula) at Lillebonne Castle (12th c.). Engraving by John Sell Cottman, 1817At the top of the social ladder, the residence of the high ranking lord most often included three fundamental elements: the private apartment (camera), the chapel (capella) and the reception room (aula). Palace and keep at Caen, built under Henry I Beauclerc, reinforced under Philip Augustus.BeauclercThis is particularly the case in the castles of the Duke of Normandy where he held his itinerant court: Fécamp, Rouen, Falaise, and Caen, for example. In origin they existed as a walled enclosure to which were later added a stone keep, the strong point of the defensive system (as in Caen castle),  or a large tower where military, domestic and religious functions were allocated to different floors (for example, the towers at Ivry or Rouen). Even in these cases, however, internal facilities were quite basic. For example, the Salle de l'Echiquier (Exchequer hall) in Caen, which had no internal walls, had a compacted earth floor into which hearths (without chimneys), water storage cisterns and pits were dug. Access to the first floor was by means of wooden stairs.

Château-sur-Epte (Eure), on the line of defence built by Henry I Beauclerc.Château-Gaillard, a military masterpiece by Richard The Lion HeartDuring the 12th century, there was a move to separate the military and specifically domestic functions of the castle. Henry I had built or reinforced on his frontiers a line of castles intended to counter the attacks of the King of France. A strengthened keep and a multiplication of towers flanking the external defences are the characteristic features. The right of fortification was then derived from the prince, or under his direct control to suit the needs of his policy. The last great period of Norman castle building accompanied the continuing struggle by the English kings of the Plantagenet dynasty to retain the Duchy. This was a period of imposing fortresses, mainly intended for defence, represented above all by Château-Gaillard.

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