This essay will assess the variability in later medieval unfortified residences by analysing several medieval castles, houses, moated residences and bishop’s palaces, through discussing how castles and houses were a status symbol of power and wealth. It will analyse the moated residences of Ightham Mote, and Oxburgh Hall, the manorial houses of Haddon Hall, Compton Wynyates and Sulgrave Manor and will discuss the bishop’s palaces of Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory, Buckden Palace and Lyddington Palace and will also discuss changes that are made to buildings of these social standing through time and fashion. In conclusion to the essay, it will discuss how elaborate these buildings were displayed, depended on social status and wealth.

Buildings are our primary evidence of society and culture from the past (Fairclough, 1992, 348). Castles and great houses symbolised status and wealth. These great houses were titled ‘castles’ by their builders (Creighton, Higham, 2003, 63) and were a representation of the Lordship, this was where the power of the King was entrusted across the land (Clarke, 1984, 109). Low status houses and tofts were demolished to allow for the site of a manorial estate, this happened at the village of Wick Hamon and Livingstone Lovell (Jones, Page, 2006, 183). The village was built around the manorial estate. Any tenant houses which were along roads leading to the site of the manorial estate were also demolished (Jones, Page, 2006, 162). Castles were concurrently manorial estates across the medieval landscape, these estates collected rents, taxes and produce from the villagers (Creighton, 2005, 89).

Castles and manor houses displayed wealth and status but the grandest of status significance was a licence tocrenellate (Creighton, Higham, 2003, 22). Licence to crenellate was to approach the King to ask permission to fortify an existing residence. This was a demonstration of personal and financial status and in favour of the King, the first crenellation licence was granted in c. 1143 (Hull, 2006, 126-7). These licences were used by the elite as the ultimate status symbol, they were used to rebuild their castles with towers and moats and were used as cultural indicators to make an impression and declare territorial control. These licences were not always used to fortify castles and manors, the licence themselves were a status and wealth emblem (Creighton, 2005, 67), also many applicants did not apply because they regarded themselves high enough as a political and social power (Hull, 2006, 28).

Moated Elite Residences.

The wealthier elite adopted moated residences because this was considered as an apparent status symbol. Moats enclosed farmsteads, castles, tower houses and manor houses; this was to display the power and status of the Lord’s wealth in the community (Coleman, 2004, 160). These moats were a display of affluence and stature and not for defence (Hurst, 1978, 84) and used to reflect the impressive building (Emery, 2007, 122).

Ightham Mote, Kent.

Ightham Mote is a moated hall dating approximately 1330 and is built of solar blocks and timber (Emery, 2007, 14, 15, 56). In the fourteenth century, its fireplaces were low arched and were updated by ‘external projecting stacks’, however, in the thirteenth century, the building’s hall was renovated by placing windows in every bay (Emery, 2007, 50). Inside the enclosure of the building, the subsidiary buildings are of ordinary order and are within the perimeter enclosure (Emery, 2007, 58). A new kitchen was built c. 1470, because a high status bed chamber was added on top of the existing kitchen. Ightham Mote also contained a chapel and provided a shuttered window for the family to attend services without having to enter the chapel (Emery, 2007, 61-2). The three storey tower was built by c. 1480 and replaced the c. 1332 arched gateway; this gatehouse was used to demonstrate the family’s rank and prosperity (Emery, 2007, 122).

Oxburgh Hall.

Oxburgh Hall is dated 1482 and is contained within a square moat and displays a bridge instead of a drawbridge. The gate tower has large windows and the arrow slits would not have provided cover from any attackers, these battlements were for decoration and not for fortification (Phillips, Wilson, 2008, 84). The appearance of the hall was designed to display and to broadcast the power and status of the family, the moat was designed to mirror the building to appear larger and to overwhelm visitors, as this residence was built for the statement of magnificence and spectacle (Emery, 2007, 122, 129). Oxburgh Hall also contained a double courtyard (Emery, 2007, 52) and received a crenellation licence in 1482 (

The Moated Sites Research Group has studied moated manorial sites and research is inconclusive to suggest if moated sites are for water management, fish ponds, a form of fortification or as a status symbol (Le Patourel, Roberts, 1978, 54). It is possible moats were for all of these reasons depending on the location and status of the residence.

Manorial Elite Residences.

Haddon Hall.

Haddon Hall is a medieval manor house situated in Derbyshire and is dated c. 11th Century. The house contains a fourteenth century banqueting hall and kitchens. The oldest parts of the house which still remain in situ are the lower section of ‘Peverel’s Tower’, the arches of the chapel and the font, which are dated c. 1100 and also parts of the boundary wall, which was built when a crenellation licence was granted in 1190 but was forbidden to be higher than 12 feet (Phillips, Wilson, 2008, 86). Bays of windows were added to the hall in the fifteenth century and also an impressive stair which provided an entrance to the private apartments. In the fourteenth century, the central hall and service cross wings were renovated into a ‘H-plan’, this was favoured for privacy and for expansion (Emery, 2007, 51, 56-7).

Compton Wynyates.

Compton Wynyates is dated from c. 1481 and is an elegant country residence. The house contains four wings which enclose a courtyard; these wings consist of a magnificent hall and gallery. The house is situated on an earlier moated manor house dating c. 13th Century, the moat was added to Compton Wynyates and a second moat was dug but was left unfilled with water.The courtyard became a primary feature at Compton Wynyates; this was perceived as a symbol of superior status and power (Emery, 2007, 128). The entrance porch to the house contained a royal crest of arms depicting in Latin an alliance to King Henry VIII, who had given Sir William heraldic glass from the ruins of Fulbrooke Castle, for his great bay window, as a reward for his loyal service and bravery (Phillips, Wilson, 2008, 96-7).

Sulgrave Manor.

Sulgrave Manor is situated in Northamptonshire and the site was chosen for Sulgrave Manor because of documentary evidence of Anglo-Saxon origins (Clarke, 1984, 117), (Creighton, 2002, 117). Sulgrave Manor was sited behind the church to be hidden from the settlement and the manorial chapels, which then became the parish churches to serve the lord and also the community (Jones, Page, 2006, 198). Sulgrave Manor was built in approximately c. 15th Century and is a small country house, it contains a great hall and chamber and also two small private chambers. The owner Lawrence Washington added a North wing in c. 1700, which was situated at right angles; this wing contained the Oak Parlour and The Great Kitchen with two chambers above (Phillips, Wilson, 2008, 104-5).

Bishop’s Residences.

Bishops were also fortifying their residences by ‘curtain walls’ and gatehouses within monasteries, it was also possible to apply for a crenellation licence for monasteries and residences (Creighton, 2005, 116).  Bishops had large households and was also expected to welcome and entertain nobility into their dwelling (Richardson, 2003, 377). A bishop residence contained many great rooms with fireplaces and latrines (Thompson, 2003, 623) and also displayed many ‘arabesque ornaments’ and paintings (Schofield, 1995, 171).

Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory.

Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory is a house built to accommodate the five priests serving the Chantry, which was founded by Lord Beauchamp in 1304. The house was modernised in 1444 by rebuilding the porch to open into the hall to allow access to the chapel and the priests rooms at the rear of the building, the house also contained a forecourt which comprised of stables, a cattle shed, a cart shed, two barns and a dovecote (Emery, 2007, 148).

Buckden Palace.

Buckden Palace, Cambridgeshire is a country house and was rebuilt by Bishop Rotherham from 1472 – 1480 and resulted in a tower-house, a gate house and a moat which was to give the illusion of a fortification to the palace (Emery, 2007, 78). Bishops began to settle down and live in rural houses; however, these residences contained more divisions internally than those of ordinary nobles (Richardson, 2003, 382). The bishops had rooms on the three floors of the tower house (Emery, 2007, 135).

Lyddington Palace.

Lyddington Palace in Rutland is a 14th Century audience chamber of the Bishop of Lincoln and was rebuilt towards the end of the fifteenth century. New windows and inset were installed with painted glass and a beam. A panel ceiling was also installed to provide an attic room above; the ceiling was embellished with a ‘cornice of tracery fans and a vine-trail frieze’ below it (Emery, 2007, 85). The most prestigious bishops controlled several palaces and houses. The Bishop of Winchester controlled two palaces and six castles in the 12thCentury; however, the Archbishop’s of Canterbury had approximately twenty one palaces (Hull, 2006, 135).

Space and large rooms became fashionable and necessary for the elite because more rooms and larger rooms signified wealth and power; long galleries were built, which ran the length of buildings (Harwood, 2006, 42). Flemish tapestries, wainscots and commissioned mobile furnishings were also a status of title; there were various ranking of splendour depending on wealth (Schofield, 1995, 129). Rebuilding these houses also developed into a status symbol of wealth (Hull, 2006, 129), by adding a chamber tower at one side of the residence and a kitchen placed at the opposite side (Fox, Raglan, 1951, 49). Public and private rooms of the house also became necessary for the display of riches and societaleminence (Richardson, 2003, 136), (Fradley, 2006, 166). Courtyards were a status display; the less wealthy placed their courtyards towards the rear of the house (Schofield, 1995, 61). Double courtyards were limited to the higher eminence elite of medieval society (Grenville, 1997, 101). The function of smaller elite houses are extremely hard to interpret and also the status of the family because there is very little difference between them (Grenville, 1997, 78-9), however, there is a vast difference between the smaller houses and the great manorial residences in social rank, wealth and magnificence. Societalimportance is interpreted by the amount of space used within these houses and the changes of the spatial arrangement within the elite residence from the 11th Century, by analysing the changes of social structure within society (Grenville, 1997, 21). The highest elite houses obtained a higher status representation by containing an entire church within the residence; this was a display of tremendous prosperity (Hull, 2006, 141). The parlour and great chamber were located at the upper section of the hall in great houses, some contained ‘returnes’ covered in coloured cloth and fringed with silk. There were also large pictures ‘wrought in alabaster’ and guilt frames within some houses.Most parlours contained a dresser; however,medium to small houses rarely contained a parlour(Schofield, 1995, 66, 233-234) and were possibly sparingly furnished.

Elite residences were built as a position representation (Perriam, 2008, 39). The size of these houses displayed social and symbolic significance and was displayed in many different techniques depending on circumstances and the owner’s social ranking (Creighton, 2005, 65). The size of the residence displayed the size of the owner’s power and title; size mattered and was a symbol of achievement (Hull, 2006, 125). It is also possible that the size of a moat at a moated residence could possibly signify a family’s wealth, the larger the moat, the higher prominence of the owner (Clarke, 1984, 55). Bishops also desired high status residences with the requirements for space within the social elite (Richardson, 2003, 377). Doorways also signify status by displaying ornate carving where the elite pass and plain on the outside where servants pass. Ornate doorways were absent inside the gallery because this was not regarded as part of the house; it was regarded as outside the house (Fairclough, 1992, 354). The amount of doors within a residence also signifies elitestanding (Grenville, 1997, 18). Large windows were to indicate that the owner was not afraid of attack and unfortified residences were mostly for comfort and grandeur (Phillips, Wilson, 2008, 8).


This essay has assessed the variability in later medieval elite residences by discussing several houses and analysing various features within them through discussing several chosen moated residences, manorial houses and bishop’s palaces and also discussing a variety of status displays within elite houses. To conclude this essay, the variability within early medieval elite residences is apparent by the size of the house and estate. The prevalent, grandest house displays great power and social standing than that of a smaller house. The elite were dependent on the display of wealth and social ranking by the presentation of the building and the amount of rooms, therefore, the magnificence of a house signified the greatest of prosperity and importance and a moat could also possibly be used to reflect this magnificence.


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