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8-08-2015, 16:17

SYMBOLIC SETTINGS: WOODS, FORESTS, AND WATER MEADOWS

Royal and baronial castles continued to be built, but in the fourteenth century a new group of newly rich and politically powerful people began to take on the trappings of aristocratic behavior and to build castellated residences. While many castles dominate the countryside from hills and cliffs, these newer castles might also be built in woods, forests, or water meadows. The forest castle served as a hunting lodge for noblemen and noblewomen who engaged in the sport. At first the hunt with horses and hounds (a type of hunting known as the chase) kept hunters and their mounts in good physical condition for battle and incidentally augmented the food supply. Later, professional hunters provided most of the deer, boar, and rabbit meat for the cooks. Eventually hunting, as an exclusively noble sport, was surrounded by elaborate rituals. Even cutting up a deer and dividing the meat became a specialized skill, a ceremony known as “breaking the stag.” Nobles fenced and walled large sections of woodland near their castles for their private use in hunts and severely punished peasants who poached game. The stories of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest reflect the importance and exclusive use of the forests. (Later legends made Robin Hood a nobleman at the time of Richard the Lion Hearted.) Ladies could join in the hunt with falcons, that is, fowling, and the benefits of hunting with hounds versus birds could be the subject of lively discussion. As early as the eleventh century the image of a figure mounted on a horse and holding a falcon indicated noble status. Meadows and wetlands may seem like strange places to build castles, but water was an effective barrier. Lake-bounded castles could be impregnable fortresses—unless the lake was artificial and someone cut the dam or dike. The lake castles put the walls beyond the reach of many war engines and prevented both direct assault and mining or sapping operations. Water-filled moats, ponds, and lakes not only protected castle walls, but also provided a natural sewage system, because garderobes could discharge directly into the water. Moats also provided a place to raise frogs and fish for food. Finally, we should not overlook the sheer beauty of the setting used so effectively at castles like Leeds (see Figure 24), Bodiam (see Figure 26), and Kenilworth (see Figure 27). Reflections doubled the size of the image of the castle. Water also lent enchantment; then as now it had an almost magical appeal. The castles of Leeds southeast of London and Vincennes in the outskirts of Paris are typical of the new architecture and illustrate the forest and water meadow sites.

 

 

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