Culture May 14, 2017
Sure, Queen Elizabeth II might live in Buckingham Palace, but across the British Isles there are many more castles to see. From Ireland to Wales, Scotland to England trace the United Kingdom’s history through the stunning castles that dot the maps of the country.
This was the very first castle by the Norman William the Conqueror. Some may think that stone stands the test of time, but Castle Gwent boasts the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe, which are now preserved in an exhibit inside the castle. The bridge across the River Wye offers a stunning view of the castle on its perch.
Warwick Castle has been the heart of the English stronghold since it was built by William the Conqueror. Much like William’s takeover of England, Warwick Castle has a bloody history, changing hands between Dukes, reverting to the crown after treason, and even been the site of the murder of the King Edward II’s lover.
William the Conqueror was a busy man in 1068, building castles across England to fortify his new country. When the original timber tower was burned to the ground, the town set about to rebuild it in the fashionable stone of the thirteenth century. On first glance Clifford’s Tower appears to be the only part of the castle, but laid out behind the tower is the castle complex.
One of the last standing motte-and-bailey castles, Mitford Castle in Northumberland is a crumbling ruin of beauty. Different from every other castle, it is the only one built with five sides. Burnt to the ground by King John I, the castle was rebuilt by Henry III, and later pillaged by Robert the Bruce of Scotland.
A restored Roman citadel, Ludlow Castle carries all of the charm of a medieval castle, towers, hidden rooms, river views, markets, and fairs. In 1483 two young princes went missing, widely believed to have been killed by their uncle, King Richard III. But before they were a missing persons case, they lived in Ludlow Castle, learning how to be the kings they were destined to be.
Perhaps more a complex than a castle, the Tower of London has been home to some of the biggest scandals in British History. Now home to the crown jewels of England, it was once a notorious prison for some of the countries most treasonous citizens. Within the Tower’s walls, Anne Boleyn slept before her coronation. Little did she know that she would sleep in the same exact room three years later while awaiting her death sentence. Not to mention two princes somehow went missing (were murdered?) within the walls of the tower. The main suspects are Richard III, their uncle, Henry VII, the conqueror, and Henry Duke of Buckingham, the kingmaker and breaker. The longest occupants of the tower are the ravens that have lived there for centuries. Usually an ill omen, these ravens are the protectors of the United Kingdom.
Recognizing the strategic value of the former Roman fort, the Normans once again set out to build a castle to fortify their borders. Despite it’s old age, the castle was used as a bunker for the citizens of Cardiff during WWII, protecting them from repeated air strike attacks. After the war, the Marquess of Bute, owner of the castle, returned the castle rights to the people of Cardiff.
Restormel, Launceston, Tintagel, and Trematon are the four castles of Cornwall and are home to the Arthurian legends. Built by the sea, these castles offer a beautiful view of the famed English countryside. Trace Arthur’s history from Tintagel and beyond. But Arthur isn’t the only legend here too. Merlin and fated lovers Tristan and Isolde have their history entwined with the castles of Cornwall.
Most people might recognize Stirling Castle as the backdrop for Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but the castle’s history goes much further back. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here when she was just six days old, making her the youngest ruler of Scotland. An avid lover of sports, found in Mary’s closet is the world’s oldest football (soccer ball).
The keep, or stone tower, of Rochester Castle is the best preserved in England or France. When the Barons of England became disenchanted with King John I, they holed up inside the castle, thinking of ideas to keep their king in check. In an epic siege, John underestimated the strength of the outer wall, and used 40 pigs to burrow under the wall. Even then, his barons were unwilling to give up.
Built on top of a 700 million year old extinct volcano called Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is built around Edinburgh’s oldest building. Because of wars between the English and the Scottish, the castle changed hands many times throughout history and has been home to many royal people, including Mary Queen of Scots who gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England. During WWII, the crown jewels were buried in a bunker inside the castle complex, for fear that they would be stolen otherwise.
Carrickfergus Castle built in Northern Ireland was not meant to display anything other than the impressive might of the Norman conquerors. It was built in a strategic military position, surrounded by the sea on three sides. Despite it’s fortified appearance, the castle did little to defend the Norman interests and changed hands throughout history.
When William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at Dover, he burnt the town to the ground and rebuilt fortifications around it. One hundred years later, King Henry II rebuilt the castle, spending a hefty sum of money, the most on any castle project at the time. The castle sits on the White Cliffs of Dover overlooking the English Channel, warning when invaders are entering. As you stand at the castle, you can see France across the sea.
Home to one of the most powerful and dangerous families of the sixteenth century, the notorious Anne Boleyn spent her childhood exploring the grounds of Hever Castle. After Anne’s fall from King Henry VIII’s graces, the house passed to his fourth wife, also an Anne (of Cleves). Once in disrepair, the castle has since been restored and has sprawling gardens to walk through.
Since 1283 the Princes of Wales have ruled from Caernarfon Castle. The castle was built on the roots of a Roman forts and Norman motte-and-bailey castles. The massive fortress would intimidate any army, surely King Edward I’s intention when building it.
To take in the breathtaking beauty of Conwy Castle, head for the battlements to see the mountains and sea. It’s often considered Edward I’s most impressive Welsh castle, with its two barbicans, eight towers, and bow-shaped grand hall. But the outside isn’t the only extraordinary part of the castle. When you step inside, it’s easy to see that it was built for royalty.
Spiral staircases, battlements, and even a portcullis, paint a romantic picture of the architectural ruins. Bodiam Castle is considered the perfect English castle, but appearances can be deceiving. Historians can’t seem to agree whether or not it was meant to be a beautiful country home or war-hardened fortress.
From romantic ruins to sprawling estates, the castles of the United Kingdom grace the countryside. The castles are a testament to the United Kingdom’s royal history, and each castle tells a different story about a different time in a different place. While some of the castles have fallen into disrepair, the majority have been maintained throughout history, preserving a snapshot of the lives that once lived there.
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