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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On How to Hide a Castle

As a child, I liked nothing more than to surreptitiously sneak my favourite cat into the bedroom at night, something that my father did not look upon favourably. I often managed to do so without too much bother, and to make it as unobtrusive as possible when my father came to check up on us (I shared the room - and the crime - with my little brother). Unfortunately, the cat did not always appreciate the delicacy of the situation, and sometimes made its presence known by emitting a loud and untimely meow, or by jumping out from where I had attempted to conceal it.

Almost every visitor I take to Montfort Castle asks the same question - why was it built in what appears to be an entirely inappropriate location? It is situated on a low hill, to which one descends when approaching from the east, and is surrounded by considerably taller hills to both the north and south. This would have put it at a distinct disadvantage when an enemy approached from higher ground, and it meant that the castle would have had little strategic value, as its view over the surrounding countryside was limited to the area of the two converging valleys to the north and south. Most castles, even quite small ones were built overlooking vast areas and could be seen from great distances. It was clear to everyone living in the shadow of a well-placed fortress, who was the overlord. The question of why the German order chose this untypical location to build their principal fortress has long been debated. The only answer that seems to carry any weight is that their aim was mainly to hide it, as far as possible, from their rivals, the two great military orders, the Templars and Hospitallars. For the Germans, these older, wealthier and more powerful orders were, if not as formidable adversaries as were the Muslims, certainly a challenge to their continued independence.

Of course, a vast stone fortress is rather more difficult to hide than a cat. Probably this was really a matter of "out of sight, out of mind". The castle was there and everyone knew that it was there, but it was not like many of the other great military order fortresses that you could not avoid seeing. By building it in a position that did not constantly call attention to its presence, the Germans hoped to avoid their castle from becoming a red rag to a bull for their rivals.

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