The term “manor house” or “castle” is often reserved for large, elaborate homes made of fine materials like stone and typically adorned with sculptural details. As such, several of them have been designated as national landmarks. People of means or prominence reside inside. Then, what are the differences between a manor house and a castle?
The Latin “castellum” refers to a fortified military structure, which is where we get our term “castle.” “Seigneurial or royal dwelling; a large and beautiful house,” as defined by the dictionaries.
So, it’s a fort that civilians had been living in for some time. They date back to the Roman Empire (27 BC–476 AD), but the shape we are familiar with today emerged throughout the Middle Ages (5th–15th century AD).
The Latin term “maner,” from which our English word “manor” is derived, refers to a house or residence. It is the dwelling of a fief owner who did not have the right to build a castle with towers and a keep. In the 14th century, when land defense was less of a priority, the first manor houses made their debut.
A historical difference
As the defensive aspects of castles became obsolete and the feudal structure of the Middle Ages crumbled, the line between a castle and a manor house blurred. In times past, castles were built in the middle of towns to protect the locals from any potential invaders. Fortresses were fortified with moats, walls, a keep, ditches, and drawbridges.
All on a grand scale, with features like great defenses and towering structures that conveyed an advanced architectural style that spoke to the wealth and influence of the owner.
From the time of the Renaissance forward, these fortresses were renovated into elegant mansions complete with gardens, turrets, and other architectural flourishes. However, these features were removed over time by the previous owners, so their existence now is not sufficient to warrant the label “castle.”
A big difference
As opposed to the massive castle, the manor house is much more modest. “Gentilhommière” (which means “small manor house” in English) meant that it belonged to a “gentil” in French. Since the nobleman who lived there oversaw the village’s farms, his residence had the highest status in the community. But cheesemaking, livestock breeding, and winemaking were all viable possibilities on these sites.
The owner had to beg the lord to defend him from invasion and conflict, but unlike city rulers, the owner couldn’t build a keep or towers to assert his/her independence. Even now, a manor conjures up images of a stately rural home, one whose grand size is not out of scale with the rest of the property.