Castle Learning Center Castle License
Castles of Britain

License

© 1995-2016 by Lise Hull
Under Norman rule, noble men could not build castles without the monarchs's permission. To do so would invite royal displeasure, and leave the impression that the nobleman might be a threat to the crown.

Feudal custom limited the extent and strength of private fortification, and by the 12th century the crenellation or battlementing distinguished a castle from a manor house. A structure would be forfeited to the monarchy if not authorized. In 1150 there were an estimated 1,115 unlicensed castles in Britain.

Formal permission was granted by a "license to crenellate." A license to build a castle was sometimes granted by someone other than the king, such as a bishop. The date of the license is not necessarily the actual date of the castle building.

The first license to crenellate, or build a new castle, was possibly for Bishopton Castle (1143) though earlier licenses gave permission to strengthen an existing castle. The last license was granted to Sir William Fitzwilliam for Cowdray Castle (1533). Afterwards, the age of castles came to an end.

Here is a "Licence to Crenellate" Allington Castle in 1282, written by Edward I.

'Edward, by the grace of God, king of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine, greeting to all to whom these present letters come.
You are to know that we have granted on our own behalf and that of our heirs that our beloved and loyal Stephen of Penchester and Margaret his wife may fortify and crenellate their house at Allington in the County of Kent with a wall of stone and lime, and that they and their heirs may hold it, thus fortified and crenellated, in perpetuity without let or hindrance from ourselves, our heirs, or any of our ministers.
In witness whereof we have caused these our letters to be made public (patent). Witnessed by myself at Westminster on the twenty-third day of May in the ninth year of our reign.'

As time progressed during the medieval time period, kings became more reluctant to grant a "license to crenellate." Edward III issued 181, Richard II - 60, Henry IV - 8, Henry V - 1, Henry VI - 5, and Edward IV - 3.