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Does it have the “it” factor?: Understanding how local landscapes influenced castle-siting decisions

Recorded on 7 February 2024

Speaker: Alison Norton (Canterbury Christ Church University)

Traditionally, when analysing rural castle siting patterns in Norman England, scholars understand location within the landscape as a secondary factor in the overall decision-making process, often applying generalisations to the castle’s siting narrative. For example, castles sited within hills and moorland often equate with the narrative of castle builders seeking natural defensive elements or prioritising visibility over the surrounding landscape. This approach results in the misidentification of a castle’s function within its surrounding community. In addition, it diminishes and ignores the uniqueness of local landscapes, the needs of individual castle builders and communities, and the impact rural settlements and communities had on castle-siting decisions. As established and recognised places within the landscape, these localities provide unique and critical information regarding how people engaged with and understood their environment. 

This paper explores how landscapes influenced castle siting decisions within rural Devon and Dorset, using digital modelling (namely GIS and LiDAR) methods. When paired with historical and archaeological evidence, these methods provide empirical data and platforms for understanding, analysing, and examining landscape data, such as place-name evidence and their patterns on a variety of scales. The comparative regional analysis between Devon and Dorset allows for a more comprehensive exploration of how similar and contrasting landscapes influenced castle-siting decisions.  

Alison Norton is a Ph.D. candidate in medieval history and archaeology at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her research focuses on rural Norman castles in the English South-West, where she applies historical, archaeological, and GIS methods to answer questions regarding how movement, visibility, and accessibility within local landscapes influenced castle-siting patterns. 

IHR Seminar SeriesPeople, Place and Community

Does it have the “it” factor?: Understanding how local landscapes influenced castle-siting decisions