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The Norman Conquest and the Need for Castles

Nowhere in the British Isles is to be found a building so closely associated with the slow creation of the fabric of the nation as the Tower of London.

Over nine centuries have passed since Gundulf laboured to raise for the Conqueror the Norman keep, and during that time many walls and turrets have been added to increase its strength, many swept away, and many names changed.

With gradual changes in the use of the main structures, the old Royal lodgings have been demolished, the Queen's Garden cleared away as completely as the vineyards of the early Constables, and the Mint removed, though such gloomy and terrible prisons as "Little Hell" and the "Rats' Dungeon" continued to serve their purpose long after the palatial rooms ceased to serve theirs.

The Norman Conquest marked the dawn of modern English culture and its permanence and the security of the conquerors in their possessions were ensured by the erection of a series of castles thrown up by the King in the chief cities throughout the country and in the essential centres of Royal power, and by his nobles in the open country.

Generally these early defences were of earthwork and timber only, consisting of a steep mound and an attached court surrounded by a ditch. In certain places, however, of greater importance either from their position in outlying or disaffected districts, like Durham and Exeter, or from the power of the city they held in check, like London, they were, probably from the first built of masonry.

The Conqueror found London still surrounded by its Roman walls, and to secure his control over the City he built two fortresses in the extreme eastern and western angles of these earlier fortifications.

We know very little of the western castle, as it was destroyed when the Black Friars settled in that quarter of the town late in the thirteenth century, but the eastern castle survived and remains one of the most remarkable specimens of medieval military architecture in the world - the Tower of London.

Next page: The Original Tower




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