Castles: Britain's Fortified History

Watch Castles: Britain's Fortified History

  • 2014
  • 1 Season
  • 7.8  (29)

Castles: Britain's Fortified History is a thrilling historical series produced by BBC Four in 2014. The show explores the history, design, and construction of medieval castles in Britain, as well as the role they played in society and warfare. Hosted by historian and archaeologist Sam Willis, the series features expert guests such as archaeologist Oliver Creighton, military historian Jeremy Black, and art historian Janina Ramirez.

The series is divided into six episodes, each of which explores a different aspect of castle history. The first episode, "Conquest," explores the origins of castles in Britain, from their early days as simple motte-and-bailey structures to their role as status symbols of Norman lords. Willis and Creighton explore some of the earliest remaining castle sites in the country, including the castles of Dover, Arundel, and Tonbridge.

In the second episode, "Stone," the focus shifts to the development of stone castles, which were built to withstand sieges and attacks. The episode covers the construction of castles such as Caernarfon, Warwick, and Carisbrooke, and explores the various defensive features that were developed during this era, including crenellations, arrow slits, and machicolations. Expertly shot footage shows viewers some of the most impressive castles in Britain, from towering turrets to winding staircases, as well as the natural landscapes that made them so strategically valuable.

Episode three, "Might," investigates the military strategies that castles facilitated during the Middle Ages. Throughout history, castles were not just symbols of power, but also key military assets. The episode focuses on some of the most famous and brutal battles to have taken place around castles, including the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 and the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Willis and Black provide insightful commentary on the tactics and technologies that were used in medieval warfare, while the expertly shot reenactments and computer-generated imagery (CGI) bring the action to life.

The fourth episode, "Splendour," looks at the impact that castles had on the cultural and artistic life of the Middle Ages. Along with being defensive structures, castles were also artistic and cultural centers, with some of the most impressive examples of medieval art and architecture being found within their walls. The episode examines some of the most beautiful castles in Britain, including Caernarfon and Windsor, and delves into the art and architecture that made them so special.

Episode five, "Decline," explores the decline of castles as military fortifications at the end of the Middle Ages. By the 14th and 15th centuries, advances in siege technology and artillery meant that castles were no longer impregnable fortresses, and their military significance began to wane. This episode looks at the changing role of castles during this period, showing how they gradually became more ornamental and less martial. Willis and Creighton explore the design and architecture of castles such as Bodiam and Herstmonceux, which are known for their beauty rather than their defensive capabilities.

Finally, episode six, "Survival," looks at how a select few castles managed to survive into the modern era. Despite the decline of castles as symbols of power and military might, a handful have managed to endure in some form to the present day. This episode looks at the various ways that castles were repurposed over time, from being used as stately homes to being turned into tourist attractions. The episode also examines the challenges of maintaining these historic structures in the modern era, focusing on the work being done to preserve and protect castles for future generations to enjoy.

In conclusion, Castles: Britain's Fortified History is an engaging and informative series that offers a fascinating glimpse into one of the most iconic and enduring symbols of the Middle Ages. With stunning visuals, expert commentary from leading historians and archaeologists, and a rich and varied range of topics covered, this series is a must-watch for anyone interested in medieval history or architecture.

Castles: Britain's Fortified History
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Defence of the Realm
3. Defence of the Realm
December 18, 2014
Sam Willis explores how, by the Wars of the Roses, castles were under attack from a new threat - the cannon - but survived into the Tudor era only to find their whole purpose challenged. What had once been strategic seats of power now had to keep up with the fickle fashions of the court and become palaces to impress monarchs such as Elizabeth I. Just as castles seemed to have lost their defensive function, the English Civil War erupted. The legacy of that tumultuous period resulted in castles no longer being associated with protection. Rather, their ruins took on a unique appeal, embodying a nostalgia for an age of chivalry that became a powerful part of the national psyche.
Kingdom of Conquest
2. Kingdom of Conquest
December 11, 2014
Sam Willis tells the story of the English ruler who left the most indelible mark on the castle - the great Plantagenet king, Edward I, who turned it into an instrument of colonisation. Edward spent vast sums to subdue Wales with a ring of iron comprised of some of the most fearsome fortresses ever built. Castles like Caernarfon and Beaumaris were used to impose England's will on the Welsh. But when Edward turned his attention to Scotland, laying siege to castles with great catapults, things didn't go so well for him.
Instruments of Invasion
1. Instruments of Invasion
December 4, 2014
Sam Willis looks at the history of the castle from its first appearance with the Normans in 1066 to the longest siege on English soil at Kenilworth Castle 200 years later. The castle arrived as an instrument of invasion, but soon became a weapon with which unruly barons challenged the crown. Tingtagel Castle, the place King Arthur is said to have been conceived, is also on the itinerary. It remains one of the most evocative of castles to this day, drawing visitors from around the world with its tales of myth and legend.
  • Premiere Date
    December 4, 2014
  • IMDB Rating
    7.8  (29)