by David Macaulay
For anyone who has read my two tutorials on medieval castles on this blog, reading Castle and seeing all David’s wonderful illustrations should do a decent job of filling you (or your children) in on the who, what, why, when and where explanations of the actual process of castle building. Macaulay is a multi-award winning author and artist who received his original instruction at Rhode Island School of Design and specializes in rendering details in Gothic black and white with great success. (If you check out the sidebar you’ll see the date guide for my two entries titled, “So You Want to Know All About Castles” and “Castles 101, Part Two: The Evolution of Castles in England.) His fifth book was published when I was just becoming interested in castles during my teen years and haven’t seen a single castle book since that illustrates and explains this process as well making the subject literally come to life with black and white sketches ! Go figure!
Even though the premise of the illustrations and the story line is about a fictional castle, David briefly chronicles all the rudiments and steps of how castles were built in stone in the 12th and 13th centuries. His model is square concentric and the land mass, township and castle drawing looks suspiciously close to Conwy in Wales, where his story is set. The beauty of this work is embodied in David’s concrete information about how it all came together- even the largest and most complex edifices such as his fictional castle. All is very well drawn with nothing left out, as far as I know. Everyday, it seems, I find out something about castle building I didn’t know before or I’ll see a unique feature to a specific castle, to which I will dig through every resource I have to find out more. Despite what the few detractors say, there is nothing as diverse as castles and often in the same locality.
I applaud David’s inclusion of accurately drawn tools on pages 18 and 55 for castle building and weaponry used during sieges. That aspect has been long overlooked, although I will soon be putting up a few of my own entries to educate my readers on all the details of how sieges were carried off, the weaponry and medieval engineering used. If you read these future tutorials then you will definitely want to obtain a copy of this book so you can see exactly what these tools looked like and I’ll tell you how they were used.
The brief glossary in the back of the book covers nomenclature with 36 words that I have already used in my tutorials so if you’re still unclear about what a term means it will explain in very easy terms. Most of the information comes standard so you can apply this knowledge to most castles I have already covered and those I will be covering in the south of England this year. The details of the insides of towers, walls and gatehouses is especially helpful for anyone who wonders how these outstanding features of a castle came together or why they were built ‘that way’. The most engaging part of this book is that it doesn’t get too heavy into the actual architecture. The illustrations do that for you and most of the text is in captions so you don’t get bogged with too much explanation. The last long sentence and illustration on pages 78 and 79 are almost eerie in their foreboding:
By that time Master James’s mighty castle stood partially roofless and
completely neglected except as a quarry for new buildings,
and his once impressive town wall was now more of a nuisance
to the town fathers than a necessity.
If you truly love the subject of castles then I urge you to check out this book from your local library or obtain it on Amazon in hardback. It was also made into a PBS special back in 2006 and is available on DVD. If you buy the book be sure to leave it out on your coffee table so everyone will take a look. It will hook one and all- I guarantee that !