Castles in the landscape

Medieval castles were once thought of as simply military structures, but today we also consider their role as high-status residences, symbols of power, and administrative centres that influenced urban development.

Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, was built in the 14th century on the site of an Iron Age promontory fort. Early interpretations focused on its defensive features, but it is now clear that it was positioned within a large designed landscape that included a deer park and three artificial lakes that would have reflected its walls and towers.

In similar fashion, the prominent 13th-century round tower at at Launceston Castle in Cornwall (photo 2) would have been striking to visitors approaching from Devon, and may also have been used to view the deer park below. The castle still dominates the town today.

In contrast, Dolforwyn Castle (photo 3), is in an isolated spot overlooking the valley of the river Severn in Powys. The small town that its founder, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, established at its gate was suppressed after the castle was taken by the English in 1277, and a new settlement created a few miles away at Newtown.

Further information

Dunstanburgh Castle (English Heritage)

Visit Dolforwyn Castle (Cadw)

Launceston Castle (English Heritage)

Creighton, O. H. (2005) Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox. View on Google Books

Liddiard, R. (2005) Castles in context: power, symbolism and landscape, 1066 to 1500. Windgather Press. View on Google Books

Creighton O. (2009) Castle studies and the European medieval landscape: traditions, trends and future research directions, Landscape History, 30:2. View at Taylor & Francis