The History of British Castles in Four Parts with Dr. Alan Montgomery
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In this four-part course, Dr Alan Montgomery will share some of his favourite British castles and demonstrate how these spectacular historic buildings can tell us much about the development of British politics and society down the centuries. From timber Norman mottes to vast Gothic-Revival mansions, from austere medieval towerhouses to sprawling Royal residences, from gaunt ruins to elegant aristocratic homes, we will discover how castles changed over the centuries and examine the lives of the people who constructed and inhabited these fearsome fortresses and luxurious pleasure palaces.
Featuring internationally famous castles such as Windsor, Edinburgh, and Caernarfon, all witnesses to dramatic moments in history, as well as lesser-known examples such as Smailholm Tower and Nunney Castle, this course will reveal the variety of castles that can be found in the British Isles and examine their far-reaching impact on British culture and national identity.
Led by a historian, writer and self-confessed ‘castle nerd’, these interactive lectures will explore the history and architecture of the most fascinating castles located across England, Scotland, and Wales. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an insight into the evolution of these incredible monuments and the lives and times of the people who built and lived in them.
Part 1: The First Castles
Beginning with a brief look at the fortifications created in the prehistoric and early medieval periods, such as hillforts and brochs, the first seminar will focus on the arrival of the Normans and their use of castles in their conquest of England. From the earliest wooden mottes, which now survive as impressive earthworks, to mighty stone fortresses such as Rochester Castle and the Tower of London, we will discover how William the Conqueror and his descendants employed castles to stamp their authority on their new kingdom.
Part 2: Royal Castles
In the second seminar we will look at some of the many Royal castles that can be visited across mainland Britain today. Including examples such as Windsor, the longest inhabited Royal residence in Europe, Caernarfon, constructed by English king Edward I as he conquered Wales, and Stirling, the virtually impregnable fortress that sits on a volcanic rock in central Scotland, we will learn how royal castles became lavish royal residences but also symbols of power and oppression.
Part 3: Aristocratic Castles
Seminar three will feature the medieval castles built by Britain’s nobles and landowners to assert their status and protect themselves and their property in unsettled times. From compact but well-defended structures such as Smailholm Tower to the imposing crenelated towers of Bodiam Castle, we will learn how such castles combined security with luxury, and how elements of their design clearly reflect the times and locations in which they were constructed.
Part 4: Castles Reimagined
In the fourth and final seminar, we will discover that, although traditional fortified castles would become increasingly redundant as Britain became more peaceful, their legacy would persist into the modern period. As well as exploring how ancient fortresses such as Alnwick and Leeds were converted into elegant modern residences by their wealthy owners, we will discuss later mansions and stately homes designed in the ‘gothic style’, such as Devon’s dramatic Castle Drogo and Floors Castle, the largest inhabited house in Scotland.
Alan Montgomery was born and raised in Scotland but has spent most of his adult life in London. Having achieved an MA in Art History at Glasgow University, he worked for many years in the art world at both an international auction house and an antique dealer. In recent years he has returned to academia, achieving an MA in Classical Civilisation in 2011, and has recently completed a Ph.D. in which he analyzed eighteenth-century attitudes towards the ancient Roman world. In addition to his work for Context Travel, Alan also writes catalog essays on Contemporary Art for a leading auctioneer. Elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2017, his first book, entitled 'Classical Caledonia', was published by Edinburgh University Press in August 2020.