Castles in Distant Lands

The Life and Times of Othon de Grandson

by Robert J Dean

Castles in Distant Lands

Castles, symbols of power and safe havens for fighting men, their weapons and their supporting communities, were key aspects of military power in the middle ages. They were used as physical symbols of dominance and bases from which armed men could control the local countryside and take as tribute the rents and goods required for their sustenance. Castles linked together could be used to control and dominate potentially hostile territory. The well known characteristics of the very lethal mechanical weapons of the age before gunpowder were balanced against the architectural design possibilities, money and time available to defend a chosen site. In the game of chess which has been handed down to us from the middle ages two 'Castles' or 'Rooks' are more powerful than any other single piece on the board.

Books on castles very frequently list and describe buildings in a particular country and ignore the fact that the political divisions which apply in the 21st century are very different to boundaries and national groupings which were in existence when these structures were originally erected. Books, such as the many versions of 'The Castles of England', contain plates and descriptions of castles as different as Bodiam, a fortified palace residence built late in the 14th century by Sir Edward Dallingridge to underline his wealth and status and Dover castle, a genuine fortress developed on a vitally strategic site from the 12th century onward.

The alternative approach which has been adopted here is to describe the castles which were important fortified sites during the life of a single man and therefore use time and personal association as the link rather than a particular geographic area. At the time of the Crusades there were a number of men who fought in Palestine and in Western Europe. One of these men, Othon de Grandson who lived a long, active and well documented life, was involved with castles and fortresses in North Wales, in the Western Alps and in Palestine. Many of the buildings associated with him have survived. We can better imagine the world of seven hundred years ago with the aid of the fragments of castles which remain from his time.