Castles: Britain's Fortified History

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Instruments of Invasion

Series 1 - Episode 1 Instruments of Invasion



Castles were the Death Stars of the Middle Ages: immense demonstrations of power, wealth and technological sophistication, designed to keep the locals awed and under control. Sam Willis tracks the development of the castle from William the Conquerer, who brought his first fortresses over the Channel as flat-pack kits, through motte-and-bailey encampments to splendid vanity projects.

The buildings are as impressive as you would expect, but Willis also points out some smaller examples of Middle Ages ingenuity, from the giant hamster wheels prisoners used to draw water from a well to the meticulous hammering of the weapon smith. Apparently swords could be tempered in the urine of a “ginger virgin boy”. I was clearly born in the wrong era.


Historian Sam Willis charts the stories of Britain's castles and their roles in the country's history, art and literature. He begins by looking at the structure's first appearance during Norman rule in 1066, and then at the siege of Kenilworth Castle 200 years later, revealing how it was initially used as an instrument of invasion, but soon became a weapon with which unruly barons challenged the crown. He also visits Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, the place where King Arthur is said to have been conceived.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Sam Willis
Executive Producer Michael Poole
Series Director Ben Southwell
Series Producer Ben Southwell
Documentary History