Book Review: Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History is a very interesting book.  I picked it up because we had a three hour bus ride to get to my son’s football game and my wife was using my Kindle.  I am certainly glad I did.

This is a well written 330 page book.  It includes an index and bibliography, both unfortunately short.  The book is organized chronologically in five chapters covering fortification and castles from the 5th to the 16th century A.D.  Each chapter is further subdivided geographically and covers both eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East. There are many illustrations, both ground plans and sketches that help to illuminate the text. This is a very good introductory volume to medieval fortification.

I found the book to be both entertaining and informative.   The author has a very readable writing style and except for using the unavoidable specialist vocabulary of fortification is easy to understand.   For someone like me who finds the military aspects of castles fascinating it was quite illuminating to read.   I already knew quite a bit about castles but I learned a few things myself.   Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the development of the Trace Italienne fortifications of the 15th and 16th centuries.   I was not aware that many of the elements of that style were not really developed in Italy, but instead were only perfected there. One of the most interesting things about this book is that the author deliberately chose to focus most of this work on less famous castles and forts.   Everyone has heard of Carcassonne, Beaumaris, and Krak des Chavaliers.  Most people have not heard or seen descriptions of such equally important castles as Helmond Castle in the Netherlands or Bellver in Spain.   Many of these lesser known castles are fascinating in their own right and the descriptions cause me to add some of them to my bucket list of places to visit.

The only complaint I have about this book is that it does not include a glossary of terms which I feel would be extremely useful, especially for people unfamiliar with the technical terms for the parts of fortification   It can become pretty confusing to keep the different elements in mind when the author continually throws around such terms as enciente, ravelin, keep, donjon, burgfried, bastille, bastion, etc. Overall this well-written and illustrated work about medieval European and Middle Eastern castles and frost is well worth reading.   I highly recommend this work to anybody interested in European castles and how they developed over time.