Whenever we visualize a castle we see a large stone structure, walled in and having lovely towers. Inside we see feasts, thrones and fair maidens waiting for their noble knights to come along and rescue them from a variety of dangers. Everyone is handsome or pretty and beautifully garbed. The king is fair in his treatment of his loyal subjects from dukes and earls down to the lowest peasants. The queen is benevolent, gracious and regal. The prince and princess are brightly smiling personages. And of course they all live happily ever after.
In actuality the king is cruelly throwing innocent peasants into dungeons, the queen is a mousy little person acquiescing to the kings wishes. (She doesn't want to lose her head after all). Clothing gets dirty, table manners are sloppy and all sorts of unpleasant things occur in those castles of yore. The charming stone walls are slowly constructed at the snail's pace rate of ten feet per year and with much sweat and toil.
In reality the earliest castles were simple structures built without any apparent skill and the materials were earth and wood. Then came the advent of castles of stone. They were most often constructed of rock and stone quarried as close to the building site as possible for obvious reasons. Some were able to take bricks from castles nearby which had fallen into ruin. There are instances of walls being raised using red bricks taken from structures built in that long ago past. But the permanence of stone gives the illusion of fairytale quality beauty as well as permanence. There are castles a thousand years old that stand proudly today.
A large variety of stone was used. Some of the local kinds were sandstone in purple or yellow tones. There was a brown variety of sandstone called Trassic that was quarried in Radyr Wales. The Lias sandstone from Glamoran Wales had a beautiful grayish blue color. These majestic structures could take up to ten years to build. (That's how long it took to construct the impressive Dover Castle).
The mortar they used was a compound of lime, sand and water and might include oxblood, chalk or cockleshells. The latter three ingredients served to strengthen the mix. Bricks were produced as far back as the thirteenth century. By the fifteenth century they were more common. However, there are not many castles built of bricks. Believe it or not, there was plumbing in those times. Lead was used for the pipes. Of course wood was used for framing and scaffolding as well as the furniture to grace the inner castle.
One of these majestic structures could take up to ten years to build. (That's how long it took to construct the impressive Dover Castle). When the Welsh Beaumaris Castle was built the supervising mason (Master James of St. George) presented a synopsis of the workers required and their levels of expertise. He said there were four hundred masons, two thousand workmen with minimal skills, 200 quarrymen, thirty smiths (iron workers) and innumerable carpenters installing things such as floor boards inside the castle. The cost of paying these workers was too high for even a king to afford and their wages were often in arrears. Also, just as construction schedules of modern times are dependent on the weather, the number of years required to finish a castle was dependent on the weather. Some things are timeless.
The Norman invasion in the year 1066 brought the Duke of Normandy to England. Following his victory he was crowned William I. the King of England. He built numerous castles one of the first being the White Tower. It was of a size to inspire fear in his newly conquered subjects which it succeeded in doing. It later was named the Tower of London and is currently one of the most recognized castles in the world.
Dover Castle dates back to prehistory. During the prehistoric "Iron Age" its first ramparts were built. The Romans built a lighthouse there in first century AD. The Anglo-Saxons settled in the area in the twelfth century. Major surviving structures from that era are the square tower (called the keep), the walls of the bailey and a portion of the outer curtain wall. Then during Napoleonic times the famous tunnel system was cut into the cliffs. These tunnels were of great value to the soldiers in World War II. Currently it has no military connections but is a popular tourist attraction.
Each castle used by the Royal Family has portions now occupied for residential purposes which are held in trust to be used by them and their descendants in perpetuity. They also have Private Estates which were inherited by the Queen and will be left to her descendents. Currently the official residence of the Queen is Windsor Castle. It is the largest castle in the world now occupied and designated a "working castle." It has been a fortress for over nine centuries. Windsor Castle is open to the public for tours. In addition to its exterior beauty it is furnished with boundless treasures, paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck and tapestries and displays of armor. It includes St. George's Chapel where Royal Weddings are held and Royal Sovereigns are laid to rest.
There is a stability and permanency in the solid stones of which castles are made. Imagine Windsor Castle's history. Inside those thick walls people have been served feasts, married and lived out their lives raising future generations of Royals with the assistance of nannies and boarding schools. Then existing elegantly through old age and after a grand funeral laid to rest nearby. Their bounteous lives were made possible through the toil and sweat of thousands of individuals who had no other choice but to quarry the stone and carry it to the building site; to work tirelessly for low wages which sometimes were in arrears. The struggles of their lives are not displayed in the great halls of the castles they worked to build. But their hands touched the stone, shaped it and constructed thick walls with it to protect their kings. Let's honor their memory from time to time by thinking of all they too achieved.