( Originally Published 1915 )
There is no kind of building that appeals to the imagination more than the castle. It is the building of fairy-story and of romance, for here dwelt the princes and princesses of our early dreams, and here the heroes of the days of chivalry.
By day the tourney, and by night. The merry dance, traced fast and light, The maskers quaint, the pageant bright, The revel loud and long.Here to the harp did minstrels sing: There ladies touched a softer string.
Of, if not of revel, we think of war, when " the Bloody Heart was in the field," or of siege, when opposing nobles stormed the gate. " Dungeons deep, those castles held, whose prisoners drew our tears; dungeons where liberty brightest shines," as Byron said in describing the Prisoner of the Castle of Chillon. We call to mind the Prisoners in the Tower, those two beautiful boys whose eyes were put out with red-hot irons, and many other strange happenings of those times of kingly cruelty and knightly chivalry.
We think of the castle Sir Walter Scott described in Marmion, where:
The warriors on the turrets high, Moving athwart the evening sky,
Seemed forms of giant height;.
Their armor, as it caught the rays, Flashed back again the western blaze, In lines of dazzling light.
To picture to ourselves what lives were lived in those buildings, we must go back to those feudal times when the barons ruled the land. The castle was built for defense, often upon a great rock or high hill, near a river or beside the sounding sea, as where:
The turret held a narrow stair,
Which, mounted; gave you access where A parapet's embattled row
Did seaward round the castle go.
Above the booming ocean leant The far-projecting battlement: The billows burst in ceaseless flow Upon the precipice below.
We say that " every man's house is his castle," because now we all feel safe in our houses. In those days the whole world was chiefly in the hands of a comparatively few men; and these barons, or lords, were so often at war with one another that great castles were built and fortified. Here the great men held dominion over hundreds, often thousands, of serfs. Sometimes the barons paid allegiance to their king or emperor ; sometimes they defied the world. Many of them were robber-barons indeed.
Nearly every city and town was then surrounded by a wall, and commanded by a castle or citadel.
The castles of the early Norman period were some-times of earth and wood; but in a few instances, as at Richmond in Yorkshire and the Peak in Derbyshire, the earlier defenses were stone walls inclosing a naturally elevated site. During the long agony of Stephen's reign castles sprang up all over England. The people had good reason to hate them and to dread them, for they all had their torture chambers and dungeons. No fewer than 1117 of these robber castles are said, by Daniel, the chronicler, to have been razed.
Among the very famous castles we can all think of a few. There are the Drachenfels and many other ruined castles along the River Rhine, each with its wonderful tales of early times. There is the great castle of Sant' Angelo upon the Tiber, in Rome near St. Peter's, where Benvenuto Cellini was imprisoned, the most ancient of all the great castles. There is the much smaller castle of Chillon, upon Lake Geneva in Switzerland, of which, and its famous prisoner, Byron has sung so beautifully. And there is the Tower of London, full of thrilling history. But, the greatest of all is the one which we have in the picture, Windsor Castle. It exists to-day as a great royal residence, while many another is unkept or gone to ruin. Windsor is a sort of national institution, and represents English history since the Conquest. Its history is, in brief, the history of England. The times of terror and carnage, which caused its great keep to be built, have passed away, and it now stands amid the beauties of the English landscape, itself a part of the picture of grace and security. Its long walk is an avenue of elms three miles long, while its chapel is larger than many of the great cathedrals of England and France.