How Far Can Sherborne Castle be Described as a Typical Castle of it’s Time?

In 1066, William the Conqueror conquered England but he soon realised that he would not hold England until he found a way to keep everyone under control. So he then decided and invented what is now called the castle, a completely new piece of architecture no one had ever seen. William’s castles started off as a motte and bailey and then over time developed into stunning stone made castles. One of the castles William constructed, Sherborne castle is the one I am studying and I am investigating how far Sherborne castle can be described as being a typical castle of it’s time.

Roger de Caen.

Roger de Caen was the original builder of Sherborne castle. His ability was first recognised by Prince Henry, son of William the Conqueror. When Roger became a bishop in 1107 he became extremely powerful. He built Sherborne castle because he needed protection from the many enemies he gained. Though at the time it looked like a less typical castle, as it looked to be more of a religious structure.

Although the castle had religious purposes it was till a very secure place. Built on top of a hill and surrounded by marshland it was only accessible by bridges. Its tall walls were several metres thick with battlements and a wall walk that could b used to defend the castle in the event of an attack. None of these features were at all unusual in a castle of the time as there was much conflict so castles had to be safe, indeed these features were on every castle built at the time. However other features in the castle’s design were less typical, indeed the buildings were more churchlike, with cloister walkways that would be more at home in an abbey than a castle. The central building were more elegant than those of other castles, more palace-like, the design was strikingly original in that the keep was not the central building, merely part of a rectangle of buildings that surrounded a small courtyard that was, again, like that of an abbey. While many, indeed most, castles of the period had a chapel somewhere in their deign, because at the time religion was deeply important to everyone, Roger’s castle had a double chapel. Servants used the lower part while Roger used the upper, and more fanciful part. These features are all uncommon of a castle of the time and show how Roger de Caen’s religious position affected the design of the castle.

As the castle was not designed specifically for defence it incorporated three gatehouses instead of the usual one. While at first this may make the castle seem easier to defend, the reality is quite the opposite. With three entrances the bishop could be attacked from three directions, making the castle a much weaker stronghold than a castle with a single entrance. The North Gate was an elaborate ‘water gate’ and led to a wharf by the lake. This unique idea and the fact that the caste had three gatehouses goes to show that Roger de Caen was more interested in building an impressive home for people to be amazed by than to build a strong bastion for himself, which, s I have already mentioned, was an unusual way of building a castle at the time. Despite these striking differences in the design of the castle, the architecture was very typical of the time. The castle included many arches, the ‘signature’ feature of Norman architecture.

Other features of note in the original design of the castle are the Great Hall and the Great Tower. The Great Hall of the castle was the room where all feasts and banquets and other celebrations took place. Of all the buildings this one was designed to impress the mot. Here Roger would meet other people of importance and entertain them. The Great Hall is not an unusual feature as most castles also had a large hall for celebrations and for the owner to display his great wealth and power. The Great Tower was the closest thing to a keep that Sherborne castle had. In that respect the Great Tower was normal. It had all the features of a keep from a conventional castle, it had storage cellars and living quarters for guests with the Bishop’s rooms at the top. The only thing that set it part from any other keep is that, as I have already said, it was not the central building but one of a group of buildings surrounding a central courtyard.

Over the Next Century.

When King Henry died in 1135,, Bishop Roger’s enemies w it safe to try and dislodge him. After the death of the king a civil war broke out between the new King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, who claimed the throne was hers. Although Roger supported King Stephen, Roger’s enemies persuaded the King that Roger was not to be trusted. In 1139 Stephen arrested Roger and put him in prison, taking possession of Sherborne Castle. King Stephen did not hold the castle or long, however, and after just four years it fell into the possession of the Earls of Gloucester. The Earls of Gloucester made no recorded changes to the castle, s did the next owner, King Henry II, although there is evidence to suggest that he built extra rooms for his military governor, ort one of his sons. These rooms were destroyed in the 13th century.

The First Improvements.

The first major changes to the castle were made by King John between 1208-1216. King John was very unpopular with the barons and therefore spent �1000 (a massive sum of money at the time) upgrading the defences of the castles walls and towers, these improvements included strengthening of the north gate, as King John saw this as a potential weakness. These changes are not unusual because, with the growing political tension in England, there was a chance of civil war and so the King decided to upgrade the defences of Sherborne, as he did to many other castles under his control.

These improvements to the defences continued under the next king, King Henry III who was also unpopular with the barons . In 1267 the king appointed his son Edmund to the castle. Edmund made many changes and built many new buildings on the west side of the Great Tower, including a new stair leading to the Great Tower. These new buildings effectively doubled the size of the castle. These changes, although slightly earlier than in other castles, are a good example of how many castles at the time were being customised so they were easier to live in.

The Return of the Bishops.

Almost hundred years later in 1355 the castle was given back to the Bishops of Salisbury. They held it for the next two hundred years and made several alterations. A new courtyard was made on the south side of the Great Hall, designed to looked imposing to visitors. This was an unusual development in the castle’s history and is mainly because, as with Roger de Caen, the bishops used the castle more to impress visitors than scare them off.

In the 1380’s the Bishops of Salisbury changed the North gate from a goods courtyard into a heavily defended barbican with a portcullis. This was because of the growing unease in the upper class as during the same decade the peasants revolted against their so-called betters. The same thing happened to many other castles whose owners saw themselves at risk from the working class so the strengthening of the North Gate was nothing unusual.

Further changes to the castle were made by Thomas Langton, the Bishop of Salisbury in the 1480’s. He made more rooms overlooking the park and refurbished the great hall incorporating kitchens and pantries. Again these changes were happening in other castles as the tension in England lessened and strong castle defences were now seen as less important than having somewhere comfortable to live.

Finally in 1542 when Dorset was moved from the care of the Bishops of Salisbury, to those of Bristol, the bishops left the castle and leased it to the Duke of Somerset and, soon after I 1578, it passed into the ownership of Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth had many enemies and therefore greatly rewarded her faithful courtiers. So, in 1592, she gave the castle to one of the most famous Knights in the history of England. Sir Walter Ralegh.

Sir Walter Ralegh.

Sir Walter Ralegh was famous courtier and adventurer. Like many others of the time he had great hopes of finding gold in the Americas. Elizabeth I gave him Sherborne Castle as a reward for faithful service but later that year, after he had married without her permission, he lost her favour but kept the castle. After Elizabeth died in 1603 he had many powerful enemies and was put in prison. After 13 years he was released but after another failed expedition he was re-arrested and executed.

Big Changes.

From its builder, Roger de Caen, Sir Walter Ralegh was perhaps the most influential individual in the development of Sherborne Castle. Whilst he was out of favour in Court he saw the castle as his project. However in renovating the castle, Ralegh destroyed s much as he built. Before he started any new buildings he had the Great Hall, the buildings around the West Courtyard and Bishop Langton’s rooms on the south side of the Great Tower, torn down. He remodelled the southern side of the Great Tower in style fashionable at the time and replaced many of the windows with rectangle Tudor Windows, also fashionable at the time..

These changes were all designed to make the castle look as impressive and magnificent as possible, as well as being comfortable to live in. By this time nearly all castles had been adapted in this way as now a castle was a symbol of status and something to show off instead of just a defensive building, so these changes, as will all others made by Sir Walter Ralegh were very normal for an Elizabethan castle.

Civil War.

Once Ralegh was back in favour in Court he soon lot interest in his project and when he was executed in 1618 his project was unfinished. The castle passed into the hands of King James who sold it to Sir John Digby. Digby Enlarged the Hunting Lodge in the gardens and used it to live in whilst the old castle looked attractive from the windows. Not long after, in 1640, war broke out between King Charles I and parliament and, as supporters of the crown, the Digby family thought it would be safer for them to take refuge inside the thick walls of the old castle. Gun banks were built to retaliate against gunfire, the new weapon of choice, one to the west of the castle, and one to the north east, replacing a small chapel. These banks were similar to those built on several other castles whose owners supported the crown as, with war approaching, extra defence was needed, so the building of the gun banks was a typical development for a castle during the English Civil War. During the Civil war the castle was siege twice, once for 18 days in 1642, where the owners held out and held off the parliamentarian forces and again in 1645 when it was taken by the parliamentarian forces. A week later Parliament ordered the destruction of all the key defences so the castle could never be used for warfare again. This final development in the castle’s history was perhaps the most typical as 150 other castles suffered the same fate. The Digby family were given back the castle grounds where they lived in the new castle and kept the ruins of the old castle as part of their expansive gardens.

In Conclusion.

Sherborne Castle is a very interesting landmark to investigate the typicality of because, in castle terms, it is practically unique. It was not only built by Roger de Caen, a priest, a chancellor and an unlikely castle owner, but has been owned over the years by several monarchs and possibly the most famous Knight ever, Sir Walter Ralegh. It comes as no surprise then that the history of Sherborne Castle is very unlike most other castles. While at first everything about it was unusual, its owner, design and layout, over the next five centuries the changes wrought upon it became more and more typical for changes made during their respective periods before, finally, in the present day the castle has the same fate as almost every other castle, it is a ruin owned by the National Heritage. Therefore I must com to the conclusion that the typicality of Sherborne Castle increased over time so from unique root it grew and grew in typicality until it has today became the same as every other castle.

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