Of castles and kings

Once, long long ago, in the darker parts of history, castles were not castles as we know them today. They were fortresses, strongholds, walled areas of space where people could find shelter and protection in times of danger. Just by looking at ruins and archeological sites you can imagine how large these places must have been.
And they had to be, because seeking shelter was not to be understood as hiding from the rain or something like that. These fortresses were meant to harbor whole clans, tribes, townships, including chickens, cows, goats and what have you.
Moreover, in a worst case scenario – famine, war, siege – this situation could last for weeks, even months. Evidently all sorts of facilities should be provided for, and they should be in tune with the numbers and the needs of the people seeking shelter.
Firstly there had to be water, a well within the walls. Furthermore large supplies of food and firewood were needed. All sorts of specific things to tend the sick, the wounded, the young. And of course people to carry out these various services, from bakers to blacksmiths, from midwives to herbalists.
Understandably these amenities – stables, storage rooms, workshops and such – added up to the most basic layout of a castle, which consisted of the private quarters of the lord and his family and the spaces with legal, political en military functions.
All in all these castles were complex organizations, both in their physical structure as well as in the way they were operated. And it took men and women of outstanding insight and courage to build and run such places.
That’s how nobility originated, with individuals wise and strong enough to take care of a whole group of people. Chieftains, lords, kings and queens. Their first and foremost responsibility was to shelter, protect and defend their people and they could ultimately be held accountable if they failed. Leader serves group, that was the order of things.
Only, it didn’t stay that way. Over time we see the original concept of castles and fortresses evolve into something completely different, and even quite the opposite. And naturally these physical changes reflect the uprise of different kinds of leadership. Unfortunately not always for the better.
Whoever visited the famous palaces in European cities, like Versailles, Schönbrunn in Vienna, Buckingham palace, the Hermitage, will instantly get what I am pointing at.
Whereas the thick walls of castles were once built to protect the people seeking refuge inside, the palaces are meant to protect the high and mighty and in keep the common people out. The enormous gardens, the gilded gates and the guards at those gates are all put there to keep the masses and the king, or emperor, or czar, as wide apart as possible.
At best there is a balcony where he will appear once in a while and wave at the commoners. They in turn, can only wave back and hope that the little puppet on the balcony has indeed their best interest at heart, despite the distance.
Nine times out of ten however, this king or lord is actually very much a puppet with a palace mob at the other end of the strings. Instead of a king serving the people, the people is now serving this apparatus that is mainly keeping itself busy maintaining the status quo. One might ask what the use of such leadership is, since it does not function as it should. It does not serve and protect the people, it only serves and protects itself.
At multiple moments in time – and rightly so, I dare say – this kind of leadership has been questioned, criticized and overthrown. By prophets in ancient biblical times all the way to the great revolutions of the twentieth century, this questioning and revolting has been done against the most diverse backgrounds. But whatever the decor, it was always triggered by the same cause: the falling short of proper leadership. Corruption, indifference, greed, injustice, the lack of wisdom and moral integrity. But worst of all the lack of actual love and care.

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