Monday, December 26, 2005

Bodiam castle

O. H. Creighton's Castles and Landscapes notes that the study of medieval ornamental landscapes is "still in its infancy", with numerous difficulties in interpreting sites that have been altered extensively over time. However, progress has been made at several locations, for example in understanding the extent to which the grounds of Bodiam castle in Sussex (illustrated with my photographs here) could have been designed for aesthetic effect. The castle is at the centre of a series of small lakes which give the approaching visitor a sequence of imposing views. It may be that the 'Gun Garden' on a 300m high ridge was used as a viewpoint. The castle, licensed in 1385, was later abandoned as a principle residence and thus has retained its general layout. It is now sometimes seen as the ideal of a picturesque castle.

The evidence at Bodiam and at the castles of Kenilworth (with extensive waterworks), Hereford (with a detached water garden) and Ravensworth (with diverse evidence of landscaping) suggest a medieval attitude to landscape that is more often associated with the eighteenth century aristocracy. Creighton concludes by posing three questions for future research. First, how far back in time were castles associated with landscapes designed for pleasure? Second, to what extent would aesthetic considerations have helped determine the siting of a castle? And finally, how widespread was the phenomenon?

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