Saturday, 6 June 2015

Castles in The Swan-Daughter

In the aftermath of 1066 King William built castles to help secure his hold on England. Initially these were Motte and Bailey castles. On his arrival in England he put up a motte and bailey wooden castle at Hastings. The motte held the keep or tower. The bailey was the yard at the bottom of the man-made hill. This early castle can be seen on The Bayeux Tapestry. The castle erected at Hastings was simply a wooden tower constructed atop a man-made hill. Built within weeks of Duke William's arrival on England's south coast, it was as if Duke William had packaged it all up and carried it over the channel with him, like a building kit. There are other early castles shown on The Bayeux Tapestry. These were also constructed from wood. I used the castle at Bayeux in the early chapters of The Swan-Daughter.

Building the Castle at Hastings

I was fascinated by its flying bridge this castle possessed, over which horsemen could gallop into the Keep, the central tower. The bailey below the keep was filled with castle buildings such as stables, a hall, kitchens and herb gardens, pens for animals and so on. I use this concept in later chapters of The Swan-Daughter for the castle I imagined in Brittany by the sea in Ponthieu. 
Horsemen mount a bridge to the castle keep from the Bailey

However there are several other real castles to be discovered in The Swan-Daughter. The first of these is Castle Dol where Count Alan, with whom Gunnhild, King Harold's daughter, elopes and where she overnights on her ride south into Brittany. Here, Alan and Gunnhild face danger from a Breton/English nobleman who challenged William of Normandy's authority and who left England for exile after his rebellion. The rebellion is known to history as The Rebellion of the Earls. It took place in 1075 and was the last real rebellion against King William's authority in England. No spoilers. You will have to read the novel so below I am placing a few free apple download codes to celebrate this book's publishing anniversary.
Castle Dol. See a flying bridge.

Castle Dol, shown above, was also a wooden castle and it, too, is shown on The Bayeux Tapestry. King Harold, then an Earl, saw it in an earlier time when he was in Normandy as William's guest and when he was involved in what was known as The Breton Campaign, illustrated on The Tapestry.

Wooden Castles were quick to build but they could burn to the ground. Already a stone keep existed in Falaise in Normandy and soon the Normans were building with stone in England also. These castles were more sophisticated. When the old Saxon palace in Exeter was pulled down, the castle erected there was known as Castle Rouge-mount. It was built with stone right against the old Roman walls.
Castle Richmond ( British Heritage)

Gunnhild and Count Alan eventually take up residence in England in Yorkshire. Much of the novel's action actually takes place in this castle. I try to imagine its keep as it might have been then. It was called Castle Richmond and if you visit NorthYorkshire it is possible to see the original keep. The castle is currently owned by British Heritage.

As centuries passed castles became much more sophisticated. The greatest era of castle-building was during the 13th century in the reign of Edward 1. Castle Richmond was improved, added onto, made stronger. It became much more fascinating and beautiful than it was in Gunnhild's time.

If you would like to read The Swan-Daughter for free on your ipad or phone here are codes. It is on a first come first served basis. The easiest way to download the book is to google ipad or apple gift downloads and follow the instructions. You will need to input your apple account number but no charge follows. the instructions are also on my face book page The Daughters of Hastings. Just 'like' the page.

Do download asap because once they are released these codes expire quickly though, of course, you can take time to read the book. Equally, The Swan-Daughter is available on amazon and as a paperback.

Happy Reading!



  1. What a wonderful illustration of the flying bridge! Wooden castles and forts must have been vulnerable to attack.

  2. They were vulnerable but easy to throw up and with the bailey there was that barrier before the enemy reached the wooden keep. In this period in Russia and in Japan castles were generally constructed from wood too.

  3. Castle Richmond is one of the most beautiful castles in the world! It looks like the castle in Chernivtsi in Ukraine. Have you even been there? if no, visit this wonderful place! I think, these castles look alike as they were build approximately in the same time. As for me it is interesting, why the architectural styles were the same at those time, people were almost isolated form each other&

    1. Chernivtsi's castle is Romanesque, a style prevalent in Europe from at least the 900s until the rise of Gothic in the 1100s. Romanesque evolved from earlier styles going back to the 500s.

      Richmond castle's design (circa 1070) was based on Caen castle in Normandy which was built circa 1060, that is about a decade earlier. However, Alan Rufus introduced defensive features (for example, for the convenience of archers) that were not in wider use until well into the 1100s. In addition, he adapted some ornamental aspects of abbeys. He, or whoever he employed, was quite a creative architect.

      Stephen of Whitby calls Alan the "constructor" of the once beautiful St Mary's Abbey, a term which I seem to recall was also applied to Gundulf, the designer of the White Tower and the post-1088 Rochester castle.

      King William's men were multi-talented. Odo of Bayeux, for all his notoriety, comes across in Orderic Vitalis's writing as complex, intelligent, and very capable of giving wise advice. Many prominent Canons were educated at Bayeux during his tenure as Bishop: for example, William de St Calais, Thomas of Bayeux (Archbishop of York) and Thomas's brother Samson (Bishop of Worcester).

    2. In the Middle Ages, some people travelled widely.

      Merchants such as Marco Polo's family were prepared to cross two continents to transact their business.

      Carol's protagonist in the third of her novels set in the wake of the Norman Conquest was not unusual among the aristocracy in journeying from England to Scandinavia to Russia, Ukraine or Constantinople.

      Soldiers could be sent hundreds of miles in a week, or thousands in a season.

      When the monk Stephen of Whitby needed to speak to Count Alan about contested land, he walked from York to London.

      Even serfs were assigned missions from one locale to another. The Dere family of Sibton in the early 1200s were "lent" for a price by the Manor to the Abbey to perform certain tasks.

      So no class in society was necessarily tied to a specific job in a particular place. This indicates that direct or indirect communication was much more frequent than isolation.