Thursday, April 29, 2010

Question from Mona - Castles v. types of houses

Hi! I have a question about what defines a castle v. greater house v. lesser house.

I know that greater houses housed the entire court and lesser houses often time only had room for the King and a few choice companions. But is that all the seperates them? Also is a lesser house also considered a manor?

I also did some reading that mentioned when Greenwich was built it was considered revolutionary for it's time because it was the first royal household that was first and foremost a residence. Is castle just a greater household with fortifications? Did the rooms and apartments differ in a castle?

Sorry I know that that's really more than one question!

Thanks :D

1 comment:

Maruilyn R said...

This is a very big question you can only answer by looking at pictures and reading round the subject. I’m hardly scratching the surface here, but I’ll have a go!

The castles came first, dating from the Norman Conquest – the Tower of London being the prime example - and were essentially defensive structures. Some were Royal castles to enable the King’s representative or constable to keep tabs on the local nobility, just in case somebody fancied taking his job; the king would not necessarily live in these, and some he would never even visit in his lifetime. Other castles were built by nobles, often as defences against each other, who had to have permission to extend or strengthen them – again to stop anybody getting too powerful. All these castles could be used in the defence of the realm, usually against the Welsh and Scots.

Their foremost purpose was defensive, with some accommodation which, naturally, over the centuries became more comfortable. Dover Castle has recently been decorated and furnished as it was in the time of Henry II, late 12th century, and the luxury and brightness is a real surprise. By the end of Queen Elizabeth’s time the use of artillery and gunpowder, and the fact that the country was more stable, had made these expensive to maintain buildings vulnerable and largely obsolete. Castles became unfashionable and unnecessary and great stylish ‘modern’ houses like Greenwich Palace, Longleat House and Burghley House, with no fortifications, were what the royalty and nobility wanted. Hardwick Hall is a brilliant example of the new fashion, as it is ‘more glass than wall’ and could never have defended itself. The magnificent suites of rooms we find today in some of the castle survivors such as Arundel, Alnwick and Windsor were eighteenth and nineteenth century alterations or additions in a sort of romantic revival, while Castle Howard is really a great house, and never was a real castle.

As far as the Court goes, there was a palace, rather than a castle, at Westminster even before the Tower of London itself was built; it was largely destroyed by fire early in the reign of Henry VIII. Greenwich was a palace, and both Whitehall and Hampton Court, houses taken from Wolsey, were palatial dwellings rather than fortifications – but the strength of the Tower was only a short distance away, to flee to in case of emergency.

Henry VIII favoured Greenwich and Whitehall, although he had about 55residences in total, ranging from Windsor Castle, and quirky Nonsuch, which was built in the Italian Renaissance style, to small hunting lodges. Even though only a few courtiers could be under the same roof with him on some occasions, the rest of his large entourage would be accommodated locally or in magnificent tents.

Some of his properties were manor houses. A manor was a piece of land, some large, some small, with buildings and usually a dwelling of some sort, called the manor house. Some of these were very small, not at all the mansions that we think of today when we hear of manor houses; the little manor house at Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire, where the great scientist Isaac Newton was born, and Sulgrave Manor, associated with George Washington’s family, are very small. The title Lord of the Manor is nothing to do with a noble title, although many Lords of the Manor were nobles or royalty.

There was a question about Henry VIII's palaces on this site in May 2009.