Castles without borders

For a long time I’ve felt that the Gatehouse Gazetteer gives those researching castles an unfair advantage over people in other fields. Philip Davis has done an excellent job on creating bibliographies for every castle, fortified manor house, and fortified church in England and Wales (as well as including rejected sites). The more I’ve learnt about castles, the more important I’ve found this resource to be, not least because it includes links to sources where they are online. Cathcart King’s Castellarium Anglicanum was an index of castles in England and Wales and included key bibliographic items, but print format limits your space. Now everyone can build on that work thanks to Davis and his website.

The Internet has a very important role to play in the exchange of information and breaking down borders. While online translating tools such as Google translate are imperfect, they often let you get the jist of what’s going on and communicate to an extent. The only language I’m fluent in is English, which means a wealth of information about fascinating sites would otherwise be closed to me. Through books such as M W Thompson’s Rise of the Castle I can learn about trends in places such as France, or with Barker and Higham’s Timber Castles even further afield. But excavation reports about individual sites are rarely translated.

A castle on top of a hill

Marksburg Castle in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Image by Tomislav Medak CC-BY 2.0.

All this means that the other week I was able to email the European Castles Institute (Europäisches Burgeninstitut) to ask them a question relating to my research. They’ve been very helpful and have pointed me towards a few potentially useful sources, and brought my attention to a wonderful illustration from a medieval manuscript which I intend to use in my thesis.

I don’t think I was aware of the Institute until a couple of weeks ago, partly because they are based in Germany. In fairness, the website of both the Castle Studies Group and Castle Studies Trust link to the institution and promote other organisations. The CSG newsletter even includes news from across Europe. My interest was piqued by the scope of ECI so I started exploring their website a bit. Importantly they have a database which covers nine countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Netherlands, and Slovakia. It looks to be fully searchable online, which potentially makes it a very powerful tool, and there’s a notice on the site saying that it is regularly updated. It’s interesting to see that France and the UK aren’t included. I don’t know what the reasons are; I sincerely hope that the database keeps expanding as the Gatehouse Gazetteer has been so useful. Collections of data can only be a benefit as it gives researchers hard facts and figures on which to base analysis.

Journals such as Chateau Gaillard do a fine job of drawing together papers from across Europe, as does their bi-annual conference. I hope to attend at some point, but the fact I’m not fluent in other languages limits how much I might get out of it. Hopefully the works found in Chateau Gaillard and the availability of the database of castles in nine European countries means there is scope for exchanging information and approaches between languages.

On the other hand, the European Castles Institute are based in Philippsburg Castle, and the German Castles Association which owns the ECI is itself based in Marksburg (pictured at the top of this page). I’m not jealous, I just don’t think it’s fair they get two castles and I don’t have even one yet.