...in which I share some of my favorite medieval research resources and methods for the benefit of others interested in also writing about the Middle Ages

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Castle Explorer’s Guide, Part II

In my last post, I shared but a single example of how I used The Castle Explorer’s Guide, by Frank Bottomley, to create a scene in my medieval novel, Loyalty’s Web.

I simply cannot express strongly enough how valuable I have found The Castle Explorer’s Guide (hereafter referred to as TCEG) to my writing of “things medieval”. Not only will this book describe (frequently with accompanying drawings) the physical “outer” aspects of castles such as: the barbican, the gatehouse, the portcullis and drawbridge, the curtain wall, the bailey, the stables, etc, as well as “inner” aspects such as the great hall, the kitchens, the chapel, the bower, even fireplaces and chimneys, but you will also find entries for nearly every aspect of castle life you have ever wondered about, as well as those you have never thought to wonder about before you discovered this book!

I had wondered about the castle garrison. I knew basically what a garrison was (the defenders of a castle), but how exactly were they set up and how many men commonly made up a garrison? I had always thought of a garrison as being made up only of knights, but thanks to TCEG, I now know that these knights were supported by “men-at-arms” (men who fight with lance, sword and shield, but who have not obtained the rank of knight), crossbowmen and archers. How many men made up a “typical” garrison? According to TCEG: “Rochester held out against King John in 1215 with some 100 knights and ‘many men-at-arms’, while in the same war Odiham held out for a fortnight with only three knights and ten men-at-arms….. At Burton in Lonsdale the garrison was a knight, ten sergeants, a watchman and a porter…. Walton had a peacetime strength of four men and two servants.” (“Garrison”, TCEG, p 71)

I’d always envisioned much larger forces whenever I’d read the term “castle garrison”. Prior to discovering this entry, I’d had no idea how small, yet effective, medieval garrisons might be.

Other items of interest in TCEG:

How much were garrison members paid? Look under the entries for “wages” and “income”.

How did castle occupants amuse themselves? Look under the entry for “entertainment”.

There are entries on “Knightly Career”, Ladies Favour”, “Heraldry”, “Robber Barons”, “Furnishings”, even “Salt”.

Of course, most of these subjects are addressed in other research books, and as I said last time, I always advise a writer to seek out a secondary source to confirm any information you decide to use from TCEG. Also, you should be aware that despite the plethora of information contained in TCEG, the size of the volume necessarily limits the degree of detail each entry can address. But for a single, “starting source”, whether for small “touches of authenticity” or to point you towards deeper research on a given castle subject, The Castle Explorer’s Guide by Frank Bottomley can’t be beat!

(Note: I must remind you that The Castle Explorer’s Guide is currently out of print. Amazon offers used versions, but the ones I’ve seen listed there come at a steep price. However, if you Google “frank bottomley castle explorers guide”, you can find used copies for as low as $4.12. In fact, looking further down my “google” list, I just discovered several copies selling for $1.99 at Alibris! (See http://www.alibris.com/search/books/isbn/0517421720) If you’re serious about medieval research, once you get a copy in your hands, I’d suggest you never let it go!)


Elizabeth Chadwick said...

The Castle Explorer's Guide is a good one. I bought my copy while it was in print from Oxbow Books (David Brown(e?) Books in the USA. Frank Bottomley also wrote a similar book that's very useful for churches: The Church Explorer's Guide.

Joyce DiPastena said...

I just got Bottomley's The Abbey Explorer's Guide in the mail. I have his The Inn Explorer's Guide on order, now.