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Title: The archaeology of castle slighting in the Middle Ages
Author: Nevell, Richard
ISNI:       0000 0004 7232 0177
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2017
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Medieval castle slighting is the phenomenon in which a high-status fortification is demolished in a time of conflict. At its heart are issues about symbolism, the role of castles in medieval society, and the politics of power. Although examples can be found throughout the Middle Ages (1066–1500) in England, Wales and Scotland there has been no systematic study of the archaeology of castle slighting. Understanding castle slighting enhances our view of medieval society and how it responded to power struggles. This study interrogates the archaeological record to establish the nature of castle slighting: establishing how prevalent it was chronologically and geographically; which parts of castles were most likely to be slighted and why this is significant; the effects on the immediate landscape; and the wider role of destruction in medieval society. The contribution of archaeology is especially important as contemporary records give little information about this phenomenon. Using information recovered from excavation and survey allows this thesis to challenge existing narratives about slighting, especially with reference to the civil war between Stephen and Matilda (1139–1154) and the view that slighting was primarily to prevent an enemy from using a fortification. The thesis proposes a new framework for understanding how slighting is represented in the archaeological record and how it might be recognised in the future. Using this methodology, a total of 60 sites were identified. Slighting often coincides with periods of civil war, illustrating the importance of slighting as a tool of social control and the re-assertion of authority in the face of rebellion. Slighting did not necessarily encompass an entire site some parts of the castle – halls and chapels – were typically deliberately excluded from the destruction. There are also examples which fit the old narrative that slighting was used to prevent a fortification falling into enemy hands, but these cases are in the minority and are typically restricted to Scotland during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Given the castle’s role in shaping the landscape – acting as a focus for seigneurial power and precipitating the creation and growth of towns – it is important to understand how slighting effected nearby associated settlements. The evidence suggests that larger towns were able to prosper despite the disruption of slighting while smaller settlements were more likely to decline into obscurity. Importantly towns themselves were very rarely included in the destruction of slighting.
Supervisor: Creighton, Oliver ; Rippon, Stephen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: archaeology ; medieval ; Middle Ages ; England ; Wales ; Scotland ; castles ; castle studies ; destruction ; medieval history