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A Guide to the Medieval Castles of England (Hardback)

Colour Books P&S History > British History P&S History > Royal History Photographic Books

By Malcolm Hislop
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 304
ISBN: 9781399001106
Published: 19th January 2024

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Spread across the medieval kingdom of England in a network of often formidable strongholds, castles, like cathedrals, are defining landmarks of their age, dominating their settings, in many cases even to this day. By representing an essential aspect of our history and heritage, the interpretation of which is constantly being revised, they demonstrate the value of Malcolm Hislop’s compact, authoritative and well illustrated new guide to English castles.

The gazetteer includes an astonishing variety of types, sizes and designs. Individual entries bring out the salient points of interest including historical context, building history and architectural character. The defensive and domestic purposes of these remarkable buildings are explained, as is the way in which their layout and role developed over the course of hundreds of years, from the predominantly earth and timber fortresses of the Normans to the complex stone castles of the later Middle Ages, many of which can be visited today.

Hislop’s experience as an archaeologist specializing in medieval buildings, castles in particular, as well as his eye for structural detail, ensure that his guide is a necessary handbook for readers who are keen on medieval history and warfare, and for visitors who are looking for an accessible introduction to these monumental relics of England’s military past.

Who knew? Who knew just how many medieval castles there were in England and how many of them are still there for the reader to see. Some are ruins but many exist, as they did so long ago. They sure knew how to build back then.

This is an excellent book for someone who wants to explore the past through the buildings. Some are in private hands but many are open to the public and very accessible. They are fascinating to explore, even the ones that have modernized over the centuries.

The pictures are black and white, which works well with the subject matter and there are some maps and diagrams accompanying the descriptions. The author even lists them in alphabetical order and then again by county. Certainly a good guide for those with a fascinating for the medieval. Four purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

A fascinatingly detailed book full of incredible facts and details, Hislop’s book on English medieval castles is a must-read for fans of the era, and readers are sure to enjoy this architectural deep dive into the medieval world.

NetGalley, Lily Amidon

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful and thoroughly engaging read, beautifully written with great accompanying photography, thoroughly recommend to anyone with an interest in history or castles or both.

NetGalley, Tara Keating

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


The book is arranged with a useful glossary and an alphabetical gazetteer with short (paragraph length) descriptions, followed by a listing of the castles (arranged geographically) so the entries can be read in any order (there's a good table of contents, but no content index), and "armchair" travelers can read about the history of the locations they aspire to visit. The author's writing style is impressively engaging and not at all dry or academic and he does a grand job of including interesting tidbits about each castle's history and special characteristics.

The plates include facsimile historical documents, line drawings of floor plans and layouts, modern and archival photos of the buildings themselves, and other interesting minutiae. There's also a solid bibliography which will provide many hours of further reading for keen readers.

Five stars. This would make an excellent choice for public or home library acquisition as well as for fans of travel and history.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

As Hislop states in his introduction, "the sight of a castle...lifts the spirits, stimulates the imagination and allows us to escape". And that's how I felt when I started reading.

Broken into bite-sized, digestible history, this is a fascinating book. The introduction provides great context and background, and the glossary is very useful.

The formatting is straightforward, making it easy to find specific castles or scroll through at leisure. The information is concise, easy to read and reveals glimpses into the past.

The stories behind each castle are exciting, interesting and informative. And it's a great companion for anyone who wants to find out more about the ruins that dot our landscape. It's the ultimate guide to planning a road trip around the castles of England.

NetGalley, Madeleine Mcglynn

A Guide to Medieval Castles of England must be packed in the luggage of anyone embarking on a tour that aims to include some of the most fascinating castles to be found in England. As I am familiar with the Wallingford Castle I thought a good test of the information in this book would be to investigate how this castle was covered. I was not disappointed. The overall assessment of the castle and grounds was honest and unlikely to lead to disappointment. But then, to the detail of the building that remains – what a delight. I felt as though I was back in Wallingford, climbing the uneven stairway, examining the door and its surrounds, looking out over the encompassing fields, and then walking back to the town through the cultivated land that is also part of this delightful spot. Reading this honest account suggests that there will be little to disappoint if this book is retained as guide.

The Guide is alphabetical. This is an approach that, although it results in the amount of information being uneven depending on the state in which the castle is now to be found, provides an easily accessible list of castles to visit. The details provide an honest and clear guide to what will be found – no surprises as I found when visiting a listed castle in another guide and found a few mounds of stones! Such remains can be interesting, but the surprise can be unpleasant. Malcolm Hislop ensures that this will not happen to the person who uses his guide.

Another disappointment that can be overcome by using this guide, is its useful information about whether castles are open to the public, or in private hands. Although it is necessary to search for further details, as open times in many buildings depend upon the season, to have general knowledge about accessibility makes an ideal start to research on a tour of medieval castles in England.

And, if touring castles is not on the agenda? A Guide to Medieval Castles of England is such a fun read anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book for this review and anticipate dipping into it every so often in the future. So, it is indeed a guide, and a good one. However, Hislop also provides a delightful armchair trip through a world of medieval castles with his descriptive text making this part of English history accessible for travellers and non-tourists alike.

NetGalley, Robin Joyce

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love castles and I like to visit as many of them - or the sites at least - as I can. So it was with great pleasure that welcomed this book compiled by the archaeologist Malcolm Hislop.

It is very much a reference book with the most significant English castles listed alphabetically. Under the listing is brief historical information about the style of castle, its current condition, who owns it, whether it is open to the public and so on. Backed up by lots of photographs and floor plans with just over a dozen stunning colour plates at the end.

The introduction justifies the choice of castles included (there are over four hundred) and why some regions are more represented than others. There is an extensive glossary to the architectural terms and a section on the purpose of the book and how to use it. Although highly detailed within the symbols and abbreviations, this is a very accessible book. It's rather like reading a map when deciphering what features are on the landscape and castle features.

It is a tad too large to keep in the glove compartment of my car, but is is invaluable when going castle hopping. All the information needed is there in a compact format and when cross-referenced with castles familiar to me, everything is there. An essential book for anyone interested in history or architecture and the beautiful cover will grace any book collection. Highly recommended.

NetGalley, AJ Sefton

An excellent research guide for someone writing about castles in the medieval time period, or reading about specific people or places and wanting just a bit more about specific castles, "A Guide to the Medieval Castles of England" covers 400 castles across the country in alphabetical order. With some pictures and diagrams to break up what would otherwise be a very text heavy book, you can get a good sense of certain styles of buildings. The focus is very much the architecture of the buildings and the glossary of terms in the beginning was a big help since there were a lot of terms I didn't know and had to keep checking.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

Malcolm Hislop's "A Guide to Medieval Castles" is a brief but comprehensive journey through the architectural marvels that defined an era. This engaging non-fiction work serves as an excellent, informative historical guide for enthusiasts and casual readers alike. In this meticulously researched book, Hislop takes readers on a tour of medieval castles, through their history and how each castle is constructed.

NetGalley, Katy Page

This is a book for those who are architecture aficionados, castle nerds, medieval academics, and those who want to explore the ruins of England’s past. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read, “A Guide to the Medieval Castles of England” by Malcolm Hislop.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Spread across the medieval kingdom of England in a network of often formidable strongholds, castles, like cathedrals, are defining landmarks of their age, dominating their settings, in many cases even to this day.

Hislop displays a vast knowledge of his subject and this new book by him on Medieval Castles of England is a worthy addition to the genre. This book is extremely well collated, featuring a handy glossary of the various elements which make up a castle, fort,manor and other defensive structures. He traces their history through the period they were originally built and follows them to their sometime demise and continued existence in some instances. Richly illustrated with fine quality pictures of each structure, Hislop provides excellent descriptions and snippets of information on the families who lived and died in these buildings. A highly enjoyable book for any medievalist, student of these structures or interested lay person. It is an easy read and I recommend it highly.

NetGalley, Carol Elizabeth Keogh

What an informative book. The story and history behind of all these castles were perfectly researched.

This book introduces the castles in alphabetical order - private or open to public, from the gate to the tower, from the window to the interior. It covers the most design of the castle, surely it also tells you who and when the castle was built.

While you think all the castles look the same, the book provides you various designs of the castles, the map, the floorplan and the outlook. They are fabulous!

I also appreciate the book shares with us the Castles by County in the last part of the book, which makes it very clear when you are looking for a specific area to explore.

If you are interested in understanding the Medieval castles in England, this is the book you should land in.

NetGalley, Miranda Yeung

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am a massive historical nerd and am deeply in love with the medieval era and castles. I was very interested to read this book as it delves into what I'm interested in. I wasn't disappointed; it was clearly set out and very informative. The photographs added a lovely touch as did the floor plans to a selection of the castles. It was well set out in alphabetical order. I have visited a few of the castles in this book myself ... and now I want to visit many more!

NetGalley, Quinn 1066

About Malcolm Hislop

Malcolm Hislop is an independent researcher and author, with a background in the archaeology of buildings and a special interest in the medieval period. His early research was based around the career of the Durham master mason John Lewyn, one of the most prolific castle builders of the fourteenth century. He maintains a keen interest in the process of medieval building design and construction. His previous books include Medieval Masons, John Lewyn of Durham, How to Build a Cathedral, How to Read Castles and Castle Builders.

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