Early Modern Period essay

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A castle is a group of buildings or constructions fortified with thick walls, towers and battlements mainly for protection against external attacks. The study of castles rests on romanticism (Hawkes 1931). The challenge, however, lies not on becoming too emotional with these iconic structures, as, for many, castles present ideals of a chivalrous past. When gazing upon a castle without knowing its background history, there is an option to remain impartial. However, situation will change if the observer learns that someone, such as Vlad Tepes (Dracula), had, at one time in history, resided within it. While this should not change the way one interprets the castle, the emotional connection almost certainly forces one to view the structure in a completely new and biased manner, based on internally applied mythology (Tuan 2001).

Archaeology is ideally suited to engage such a subject,since it isa synthesis of archaeology. Archaeology is the study of material remains. History, on the other hand, refers to textual research. In this way, both human and non-human agencies will have their due consideration. Furthermore, historical archaeology has access to many sub-disciplines, like the battlefield archaeology, which can apply unique perspectives (Campillo et al. 2011). Additionally, many of the castles that remain today owe their thanks to historical archaeologists and governmental policies, involved in curtailing the destruction of castles through the agency and non-agency forces, helping archaeologists understand the shearing layers at work on these strongholds better (Brand 1995).

Castles have been in continuous construction and reconstruction up to the early modern period as statements and/or residences. For example, in the case of Ishiyama Honganji, this site was initially a temple and later was fortified, becoming a castle in all but name (Turnbull 2009). In many cases, the location of a castle, as far as defensive purposes of a country are concerned, holds little relevance since large forces could still pass through lands with ease, regardless of what lay between their point of entry and goal (Painter 1935). Therefore, castles were built to serve multiple purposes beyond their imperative as a fortification. While many originate from the elite society, there are various motivations for their construction. In the early modern period, for example, castle construction was in line with the church administration under Norman rule (Wheatley 2001).

Recently, the plan of concern with such studies has changed from one that was originally more concerned with a castle’s militaristic station to one, in which archaeologists seek to gain a greater understanding of castles, as residences and their symbolic station upon the landscape. Castles or more succinctly fortified houses continued to be fortifications, evidenced by newly quarried stone, throughout the 15th century, of which Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire is a prime example (Hoskins 1977).

Castles were symbols of power and authority, and this led to the continuous construction of such edifices long after their usefulness as military strongholds had waned (HAE 2012). In many instances, castles may have served as a refuge. Some sites, such as Bolsover and Wollaton Hall, were clear expressions of capitalism and an overt show of opulence in order to inspire admiration in the beholder.

Of course, much of the reconstruction or construction of castles fulfilled the desires of owners, who had only recently reached a privileged status (Newman and Cranston et al. 2001). In some instances, construction of residences was around an idealized version or fantastical representation of what they believed a castle structure should represent. Castles, such as the 19th century revival palace Neuschwanstein in Bayern, are recognizable symbols of this practice.

During the Great Rebuilding from 1570 to 1640, there began a revolution in the construction of iconic medieval residences (Hicks 2006). Hoskins (1953 p. 34) points out that modernization of these buildings not only lay in the outward appearance of the structure but also within changes in furniture and amenities. Documentary resources can be of great aid in substantiating such alterations. This creates a connection between outer and inner realities to the observer. Eventually, many castles took on a less fortified position as they added comforts (HAE 2012). Many low-lying castles ultimately evolved as seats of manorial administration when defensive functions were no longer required (Creighton 1997).

These structures had a continuous recreation in response to the need of the time. Therefore, one can clearly see an effort, at least internally, to a more Georgian order of architecture as the need for privacy and segregation of sexes became of paramount importance. Such design alteration took place in the architecture of the urban poor in 18th century (Newman et al. 2001). This move from the more vernacular to academic way has been a decision towards creating not only a more modern venue but also an impressive architectural display (Johnson 2006).

Such uniformity in design helped these structures to become symbols of elite status and facilitated in legitimizing territorial control over a region through conformity of self-expression (Creighton 2005). Even during the re-construction, if a site held no real military value, associations to a medieval martial past were a part of the overall architecture (Newman et al. 2001). Even by the late 15th century, the language of military architecture was still noticeable throughout the castle constructions. In any case, while a castle can serve a functional purpose, in the early modern period, to construct a castle was, at its core, a clear form of hubris. When Abbot Gaucelin (1005-1029) built a tower at Fleury, his orders were simply for the constructors to build it in order to be pleasing France (Tuan 2001). Whether for defense or not, castles served as clear icons of symbolic power for the upper classes.

Even in its heyday, many architectural choices in castle design had transformed over a period on whether to defend through walls and crenellations or to impress through caponiers. Progressing into the modern period, reconstruction relied heavily on splendor, ostentation, and comfort. This combined defensive and administrative capabilities, as well as agricultural function (Challis 2002).

There was also the change in the cultural identity, especially in case of the elites. From 1500 to 1750, one begins to see a transition from the medieval to the industrial style (Courtney 2001). This transition, of course, was pivotal in stylistic changes to architecture and landscape among the elite society. It is important to understand how architecture expressed the culture identities of the elite. Architecture is an expression of changing cultural identity (Johnson 1999).

Architecture is, on its own, an artifact of great complexity (Buchli and Lucas 2001). It combines the study of structures and artifacts. It is also a well-explored area of archaeological study. Of course, different individuals will view landscapes in quite desperate ways depending, quite strongly, on their social-station (Creighton 2005).

There was a move by the elite to create structures with a strong sense of privacy that the upper classes had become accustomed to after the Middle Ages. Each room would be devoted to a specialized use; for example, a kitchen, a bedroom, servant chambers and so on. Palaces better served the needs of the elite in the post-medieval period, as opposed to castles. This explains their greater survival up to the modern times (Newman 2001). 

As castles were to withstand palaces for comfort and needs of a central and strong government, there was a need for constant vigilance against aggressors’ diminution. For instance, Thronbury Castle was one of the last constructed castles (1511-1521), though it had never been completed. Its purpose was of complete domesticity, and it was an illusion of the actual castle (Hoskins1977). In some instances, nobles cannibalized castles in order to construct more functional structures and homes. The Duke of Bedford, who created a park using bricks from a castle at Compton Wynyates, was a good example (Hoskins 1977).

Finally, elites held various homes, which served both domiciliary functions, as well as possessed a symbolic status related to the desires of the landowner. These changes became more apparent by the 16th century as new elite families had arisen due to opportunities made available through the Tudor court. Moreover, the creation of castles harkened back to the medieval era and aided newly minted elites with the opportunity to claim a heritage and status they did not legally possess. Only Scotland still was holding true to the classic building styles for needs of defense through the 16th century. It is not until the 18th century that we begin to see a gothic revival in this area (Newman 2001). Of course, rebuilding of castles by this period had little to do with defensive capability and its location, and had milled around accessibility and use for entertainment purposes.

Castles, situated near large village centers, took new roles as icons of cultural heritage. The castles could now represent both the harmony of the ideal city and the social and political tensions of the everyday urban experience (Wheatley 2001). They no longer were just a representation of elite status; these megaliths of architecture became cultural identity markers and financial beacons of tourism, as well as emblems of authority in many instances in the modern era (HAE 2012).


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