Castles in medieval Europe were not only for royalty. More often they were occupied by the nobility, who used them to control the surrounding countryside. In this activity students will read about medieval castles in England and learn about the complex relations between castle dwellers and those who lived outside the castle walls.
Students will go to the Castles of Britain Web site to read about various facets of castle life. They will answer four questions about castles. In a short essay, students will compare and contrast life in medieval Europe with that in early Japan.
- Students will be able to explain the symbolic as well as the strategic importance of castles in medieval life.
- Students will be able apply their knowledge of castles and political life in early Japan and in Britain to compare the two societies.
Student Web Activity Answers
- England's first castles were built by the Norman (from Normandy) knights and barons who were followers of William the Conqueror. Many others were built by William and later kings and queens.
- Castles were built as a way to defend conquered territory. They were also designed to intimidate local people and to keep them from regaining control of their own lands. Castles served as places of refuge and as residences for the lords who occupied them. Finally, they were highly desirable symbols of wealth and prestige. For this reason, some people continued to build castles even when they were no longer important militarily.
- Most castles were inhabited by loyal subjects of the king or queen. Starting with William the Conqueror, kings and queens gave their loyal knights vast estates and permission to build castles. In return, the king would expect these men (earls or lords) to control their lands, to put down local rebellions, and to collect rent from local residents.
- Even if the king or queen had not ordered the construction of a particular castle, he or she still had the ability to seize any castle. A lord might lose his castle if the king or queen was displeased with him or if the castle was needed.
- Students' essays will vary, but students should include information on the feudal system in Europe, the decentralized system of rule in early Japan, and the role of women in both societies.
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