Castle Learning Center Decline of the Castle
Castles of Britain

Decline of the Castle

© 1995-2015 Lise Hull
ruins As military necessity changed in Great Britain there was less emphasis placed on defense and more on comfort.

By the 15th century the majority of new buildings, while having some defensive features, were primarily designed for comfortable living conditions. Earlier strongholds were gradually modified, or abandoned outright and replaced by great houses of a richer and more relaxed style. The construction of fortified houses steadily declined during the 15th and 16th centuries, except for Scotland, where the tower house was popular. In the 16th century, in general, the only new form of castle built were coastal forts, themselves not true castles in the strict sense of the word.

The development of firearms and the increasing use of gunpowder ended the castles' endurance. Even the ones outlasting the pounding of the cannon did not survive the engineers, for it was the policy at the end of the English Civil War to slight all captured castles. By 1650, almost all of the great castles had been rendered useless.

It is surprising how quickly many castles decayed, considering their massive solidity, but records show how swiftly the castle could fall into a state of decay. When abandoned they could quickly be reduced to rubble by local people using them as a source of dressed stone and other building materials.

Despite their decline, the castles of Britain had established themselves firmly in the national mindset, and many wealthy families of the 18th and 19th centuries fed their passions by naming their newly built houses, "castle." This practice had its valuable side...for it was this ill-informed romanticism which eventually led to concerted efforts to preserve and restore many ruined castles.