slighted castles of the English Civil Wars
My primary research area is destruction: how it was carried out, the motives underlying its use, and its overall impact on societies. In particular, I am interested in the deliberate destruction, or slighting, of castles in the English Civil War, and what it tells us about the shifting power dynamics during this period. Conventional wisdom says that the phenomenon of slighting was simply a fiscal and military policy by Parliament ‘to deny use to the enemy’, but the full picture is far more complex. It reveals that castles were targeted for a variety of reasons, in several different ways, and that destruction was often a tool for social, political, religious, and economic control.
Over the years, this research has taken two equally important forms. The first aspect has been to understand building ruins, and the different methods used to cause destruction. To achieve this, I have consulted widely with a variety of specialist practitioners, including structural and explosives engineers, carpenters, stonemasons, metalsmiths, gun powder experts, and quantity surveyors, to name just a few. Drawing from this specialized knowledge can reveal much about destruction patterns within a building, which in turn can tell us about the life cycle of a castle and the motives of those behind its destruction.
The second important aspect of my work is understanding the conditions that bring about slighting, and its causes and effects in a community. I am especially interested in the role religious identity, gender, social status, and personal vendettas played in how destruction was initiated and executed. This includes how castles defended by women or Catholics fared, and how destroyed castles became pawns for social climbing individuals, feuding families, and local governments. On a broader level, I also examine how destruction is remembered, ignored, or interpreted by communities and academia, and the dilemmas and challenges this presents.