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8-08-2015, 16:10

Fourteenth-Century Changes

Change came to architecture as well as other facets of life in the fourteenth century with the spread of disease, famine, and war. The bubonic plague, called the Black Death, began in 1348 and recurred in following years. Although figures are uncertain, the plagues may have killed a third of Europe’s population in some places. Entire villages disappeared. To add to the misery of the people, France and England engaged in the futile, drawn-out Hundred Years War from 1337 to 1453. Castles were built, destroyed, and rebuilt, but villages and peasants’ fields and orchards were also destroyed (Document 59). Architects and patrons turned to small projects rather than the grand designs of the thirteenth century. Often the builders reverted to the twelfth-century tower, now referred to as a “tower house” to distinguish it from the earlier “great tower.” The building was usually a rectangular block with corner turrets. Improvements continued to be made in the details of castle design, for example, in the operation of portcullises and drawbridges and in the use of barbicans. For those who could afford them, moats and stone machicolations became an even more important part of the defensive scheme. Wall-walks and towers might be expanded with a double set of machicolations. Since machicolations were very expensive, however, they might be built only above the door, like a balcony. Such a feature is called a brattice. As artillery came into general use, elaborate wall tops became less important; in fact, battlements were easily destroyed by the gunners. Cannons and guns were used in Italy in 1304 and 1315, in Rouen in 1338, and at the Battle of Crecy on the August 26, 1346. Crenellated and machicolated walls and towers continued to be built as decorative elements, symbols for a castle rather than functional military elements. The castle’s residential aspects also changed in the fourteenth century as people demanded more comfortable living conditions. Owners added domestic wings to halls and filled the castle’s courtyard with multistoried buildings as well as service quarters. Eventually structures built along the walls reduced the bailey into an inner courtyard. In fine houses large windows filled with elegant tracery and glass replaced some of the wooden shutters and made great halls both pleasant and splendid. Sculptured coats of arms over portals and fireplaces proclaimed the family’s heritage. In short, private castles became palaces. As more emphasis was placed on domestic requirements, moats could be defensive (Document 52) and at the same time ponds for raising frogs and fish. The castle might have a dovecote, the birds providing meat and eggs to eat, and a roost for the trained homing pigeons that provided a rapid messenger service. Many a castle was surrounded by a hunting park since hunting was a popular noble exercise and recreation. The deer, boar, and small game could also be a source of meat and fur. A chapel in the castle provided for spiritual needs of the residents, and the castle might be associated with a parish church or monastery, formed by and dependent on the lord of the castle. The castle and church formed the core of a village (Document 53). As the center of the king’s or the lord’s desmene, the castle normally controlled important public facilities, such as the mill. A mill was essential for both the castle household and the people of the village. Without a mill the bakers could not produce the bread that was the mainstay of the diet—it took an enormous amount of bread to support a household. The mill and ovens provided a handsome income for their owners.

 

 

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