Wilney Street Burford
Castles have played a prominent part in the making of England. Many towns owe
their existence to the protecting guard of an old fortress. They grew up beneath its
sheltering walls like children holding the gown of their good mother, though the
castle often proved but a harsh and cruel stepmother, and exacted heavy tribute in
return for partial security from pillage and rapine. Thus Newcastle-upon-Tyne
arose about the early fortress erected in 1080 by Robert Curthose to guard the
passage of the river at the Pons Aelii. The poor little Saxon village of Monkchester
was then its neighbour. But the castle occupying a fine strategic position soon
attracted townsfolk, who built their houses 'neath its shadow. The town of
Richmond owes its existence to the lordly castle which Alain Rufus, a cousin of the
Duke of Brittany, erected on land granted to him by the Conqueror. An old rhyme
tells how he
Came out of Brittany
With his wife Tiffany,
And his maid Manfras,
And his dog Hardigras.
He built his walls of stone. We must not imagine, however, that an early Norman
castle was always a vast keep of stone. That came later. The Normans called their
earliest strongholds mottes, which consisted of a mound with stockades and a deep
ditch and a bailey-court also defended by a ditch and stockades. Instead of the great
stone keep of later days, "foursquare to every wind that blew," there was a wooden
tower for the shelter of the garrison. You can see in the Bayeux tapestry the
followers of William the Conqueror in the act of erecting some such tower of
defence. Such structures were somewhat easily erected, and did not require a long
period for their construction. Hence they were very useful for the holding of a
conquered country. Sometimes advantage was taken of the works that the Romans
had left. The Normans made use of the old stone walls built by the earliest
conquerors of Britain. Thus we find at Pevensey a Norman fortress born within the
ancient fortress reared by the Romans to protect that portion of the southern coast
from the attacks of the northern pirates. Porchester Keep rose in the time of the first
Henry at the north-west angle of the Roman fort. William I erected his castle at
Colchester on the site of the Roman castrum. The old Roman wall of London was
used by the Conqueror for the eastern defence of his Tower that he erected to keep
in awe the citizens of the metropolis, and at Lincoln and Colchester the works of
the first conquerors of Britain were eagerly utilized by him.
One of the most important Roman castles in the country is Burgh Castle, in North
Suffolk, with its grand and noble walls. The late Mr. G.E. Fox thus described the
"According to the plan on the Ordnance Survey map, the walls enclose
a quadrangular area roughly 640 feet long by 413 wide, the walls being
9 feet thick with a foundation 12 feet in width. The angles of the
station are rounded. The eastern wall is strengthened by four solid
bastions, one standing against each of the rounded angles, the other
two intermediate, and the north and south sides have one each, neither
of them being in the centre of the side, but rather west of it. The
quaggy ground between the camp and the stream would be an excellent
defence against sudden attack."
Burgh Castle
Burgh Castle, according to the late Canon Raven, was the Roman station
Gariannonum of the Notitia Imperii. Its walls are built of flint-rubble concrete, and
there are lacing courses of tiles. There is no wall on the west, and Canon Raven
used to contend that one existed there but has been destroyed. But this conjecture
seems improbable. That side was probably defended by the sea, which has
considerably receded. Two gates remain, the principal one being the east gate,
commanded by towers a hundred feet high; while the north is a postern-gate about
five feet wide. The Romans have not left many traces behind them. Some coins
have been found, including a silver one of Gratian and some of Constantine. Here
St. Furseus, an Irish missionary, is said to have settled with a colony of monks,
having been favourably received by Sigebert, the ruler of the East Angles, in 633
A.D. Burgh Castle is one of the finest specimens of a Roman fort which our earliest
conquerors have left us, and ranks with Reculver, Richborough, and Pevensey,
those strong fortresses which were erected nearly two thousand years ago to guard
the coasts against foreign foes.
In early days, ere Norman and Saxon became a united people, the castle was the
sign of the supremacy of the conquerors and the subjugation of the English. It kept
watch and ward over tumultuous townsfolk and prevented any acts of rebellion and
hostility to their new masters. Thus London's Tower arose to keep the turbulent
citizens in awe as well as to protect them from foreign foes. Thus at Norwich the
castle dominated the town, and required for its erection the destruction of over a
hundred houses. At Lincoln the Conqueror destroyed 166 houses in order to
construct a strong motte at the south-west corner of the old castrum in order to
overawe the city. Sometimes castles were erected to protect the land from foreign
foes. The fort at Colchester was intended to resist the Danes if ever their threatened
invasion came, and Norwich Castle was erected quite as much to drive back the
Scandinavian hosts as to keep in order the citizens. Newcastle and Carlisle were of
strategic importance for driving back the Scots, and Lancaster Keep, traditionally
said to have been reared by Roger de Poitou, but probably of later date, bore the
brunt of many a marauding invasion. To check the incursions of the Welsh, who
made frequent and powerful irruptions into Herefordshire, many castles were
erected in Shropshire and Herefordshire, forming a chain of fortresses which are
more numerous than in any other part of England. They are of every shape and size,
from stately piles like Wigmore and Goodrich, to the smallest fortified farm, like
Urishay Castle, a house half mansion, half fortress. Even the church towers of
Herefordshire, with their walls seven or eight feet thick, such as that at Ewias
Harold, look as if they were designed as strongholds in case of need. On the
western and northern borders of England we find the largest number of fortresses,
erected to restrain and keep back troublesome neighbours.
The story of the English castles abounds in interest and romance. Most of them are
ruins now, but fancy pictures them in the days of their splendour, the abodes of
chivalry and knightly deeds, of "fair ladies and brave men," and each one can tell
its story of siege and battle-cries, of strenuous attack and gallant defence, of
prominent parts played in the drama of English history. To some of these we shall
presently refer, but it would need a very large volume to record the whole story of
our English fortresses.
We have said that the earliest Norman castle was a motte fortified by a stockade, an
earthwork protected with timber palings. That is the latest theory amongst
antiquaries, but there are not a few who maintain that the Normans, who proved
themselves such admirable builders of the stoutest of stone churches, would not
long content themselves with such poor fortresses. There were stone castles before
the Normans, besides the old Roman walls at Pevensey, Colchester, London, and
Lincoln. And there came from Normandy a monk named Gundulf in 1070 who was
a mighty builder. He was consecrated Bishop of Rochester and began to build his
cathedral with wondrous architectural skill. He is credited with devising a new style
of military architecture, and found much favour with the Conqueror, who at the
time especially needed strong walls to guard himself and his hungry followers. He
was ordered by the King to build the first beginnings of the Tower of London. He
probably designed the keep at Colchester and the castle of his cathedral town, and
set the fashion of building these great ramparts of stone which were so serviceable
in the subjugation and overawing of the English. The fashion grew, much to the
displeasure of the conquered, who deemed them "homes of wrong and badges of
bondage," hateful places filled with devils and evil men who robbed and spoiled
them. And when they were ordered to set to work on castle-building their impotent
wrath knew no bounds. It is difficult to ascertain how many were constructed
during the Conqueror's reign. Domesday tells of forty-nine. Another authority, Mr.
Pearson, mentions ninety-nine, and Mrs. Armitage after a careful examination of
documents contends for eighty-six. But there may have been many others. In
Stephen's reign castles spread like an evil sore over the land. His traitorous subjects
broke their allegiance to their king and preyed upon the country. The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle records that "every rich man built his castles and defended them against
him, and they filled the land full of castles. They greatly oppressed the wretched
people by making them work at these castles, and when the castles were finished
they filled them with devils and evil men. Then they took those whom they
suspected to have any goods, by night and by day, seizing both men and women,
and they put them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured them with pains
unspeakable, for never were any martyrs tormented as these were. They hung some
up by their feet and smoked them with foul smoke; some by their thumbs or by the
head, and they hung burning things on their feet. They put a knotted string about
their heads, and twisted it till it went into the brain. They put them into dungeons
wherein were adders and snakes and toads, and thus wore them out. Some they put
into a crucet-house, that is, into a chest that was short and narrow and not deep, and
they put sharp stones in it, and crushed the man therein so that they broke all his
limbs. There were hateful and grim things called Sachenteges in many of the
castles, and which two or three men had enough to do to carry. The Sachentege was
made thus: it was fastened to a beam, having a sharp iron to go round a man's throat
and neck, so that he might noways sit, nor lie, nor sleep, but that he must bear all
the iron. Many thousands they exhausted with hunger. I cannot, and I may not, tell
of all the wounds and all the tortures that they inflicted upon the wretched men of
this land; and this state of things lasted the nineteen years that Stephen was king,
and ever grew worse and worse. They were continually levying an exaction from
the towns, which they called Tenserie,18 and when the miserable inhabitants had no
more to give, then plundered they and burnt all the towns, so that well mightest
thou walk a whole day's journey nor ever shouldest thou find a man seated in a
town or its lands tilled."
More than a thousand of these abodes of infamy are said to have been built.
Possibly many of them were timber structures only. Countless small towns and
villages boast of once possessing a fortress. The name Castle Street remains,
though the actual site of the stronghold has long vanished. Sometimes we find a
mound which seems to proclaim its position, but memory is silent, and the people
of England, if the story of the chronicler be true, have to be grateful to Henry II,
who set himself to work to root up and destroy very many of these adulterine
castles which were the abodes of tyranny and oppression. However, for the
protection of his kingdom, he raised other strongholds, in the south the grand
fortress of Dover, which still guards the straits; in the west, Berkeley Castle, for his
friend Robert FitzHarding, ancestor of Lord Berkeley, which has remained in the
same family until the present day; in the north, Richmond, Scarborough, and
Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and in the east, Orford Keep. The same stern Norman keep
remains, but you can see some changes in the architecture. The projection of the
buttresses is increased, and there is some attempt at ornamentation. Orford Castle,
which some guide-books and directories will insist on confusing with Oxford
Castle and stating that it was built by Robert D'Oiley in 1072, was erected by
Henry II to defend the country against the incursions of the Flemings and to
safeguard Orford Haven. Caen stone was brought for the stone dressings to
windows and doors, parapets and groins, but masses of septaria found on the shore
and in the neighbouring marshes were utilized with such good effect that the walls
have stood the attacks of besiegers and weathered the storms of the east coast for
more than seven centuries. It was built in a new fashion that was made in France,
and to which our English eyes were unaccustomed, and is somewhat similar in plan
to Conisborough Castle, in the valley of the Don. The plan is circular with three
projecting towers, and the keep was protected by two circular ditches, one fifteen
feet and the other thirty feet distant from its walls. Between the two ditches was a
circular wall with parapet and battlements. The interior of the castle was divided
into three floors; the towers, exclusive of the turrets, had five, two of which were
entresols, and were ninety-six feet high, the central keep being seventy feet.19 The
oven was at the top of the keep. The chapel is one of the most interesting chambers,
with its original altar still in position, though much damaged, and also piscina,
aumbrey, and ciborium. This castle nearly vanished with other features of
vanishing England in the middle of the eighteenth century, Lord Hereford
proposing to pull it down for the sake of the material; but "it being a necessary sea-
mark, especially for ships coming from Holland, who by steering so as to make the
castle cover or hide the church thereby avoid a dangerous sandbank called the
Whiting, Government interfered and prevented the destruction of the building."20
In these keeps the thickness of the walls enabled them to contain chambers, stairs,
and passages. At Guildford there is an oratory with rude carvings of sacred
subjects, including a crucifixion. The first and second floors were usually vaulted,
and the upper ones were of timber. Fireplaces were built in most of the rooms, and
some sort of domestic comfort was not altogether forgotten. In the earlier fortresses
the walls of the keep enclosed an inner court, which had rooms built up to the great
stone walls, the court afterwards being vaulted and floors erected. In order to
protect the entrance there were heavy doors with a portcullis, and by degrees the
outward defences were strengthened. There was an outer bailey or court surrounded
by a strong wall, with a barbican guarding the entrance, consisting of a strong gate
protected by two towers. In this lower or outer court are the stables, and the mound
where the lord of the castle dispenses justice, and where criminals and traitors are
executed. Another strong gateway flanked by towers protects the inner bailey, on
the edge of which stands the keep, which frowns down upon us as we enter. An
immense household was supported in these castles. Not only were there men-at-
arms, but also cooks, bakers, brewers, tailors, carpenters, smiths, masons, and all
kinds of craftsmen; and all this crowd of workers had to be provided with
accommodation by the lord of the castle. Hence a building in the form of a large
hall was erected, sometimes of stone, usually of wood, in the lower or upper bailey,
for these soldiers and artisans, where they slept and had their meals.
Amongst other castles which arose during this late Norman and early English
period of architecture we may mention Barnard Castle, a mighty stronghold, held
by the royal house of Balliol, the Prince Bishops of Durham, the Earls of Warwick,
the Nevilles, and other powerful families. Sir Walter Scott immortalized the Castle
in Rokeby. Here is his description of the fortress:--
High crowned he sits, in dawning pale,
The sovereign of the lovely vale.
What prospects from the watch-tower high
Gleam gradual on the warder's eye?
Far sweeping to the east he sees
Down his deep woods the course of Tees,
And tracks his wanderings by the steam
Of summer vapours from the stream;
And ere he pace his destined hour
By Brackenbury's dungeon tower,
These silver mists shall melt away
And dew the woods with glittering spray.
Then in broad lustre shall be shown
That mighty trench of living stone.
And each huge trunk that from the side,
Reclines him o'er the darksome tide,
Where Tees, full many a fathom low,
Wears with his rage no common foe;
Nor pebbly bank, nor sand-bed here,
Nor clay-mound checks his fierce career,
Condemned to mine a channelled way
O'er solid sheets of marble grey.
This lordly pile has seen the Balliols fighting with the Scots, of whom John Balliol
became king, the fierce contests between the warlike prelates of Durham and
Barnard's lord, the triumph of the former, who were deprived of their conquest by
Edward I, and then its surrender in later times to the rebels of Queen Elizabeth.
Another northern border castle is Norham, the possession of the Bishop of Durham,
built during this period. It was a mighty fortress, and witnessed the gorgeous scene
of the arbitration between the rival claimants to the Scottish throne, the arbiter
being King Edward I of England, who forgot not to assert his own fancied rights to
the overlordship of the northern kingdom. It was, however, besieged by the Scots,
and valiant deeds were wrought before its walls by Sir William Marmion and Sir
Thomas Grey, but the Scots captured it in 1327 and again in 1513. It is now but a
battered ruin. Prudhoe, with its memories of border wars, and Castle Rising,
redolent with the memories of the last years of the wicked widow of Edward II,
belong to this age of castle-architecture, and also the older portions of Kenilworth.
Pontefract Castle, the last fortress that held out for King Charles in the Civil War,
and in consequence slighted and ruined, can tell of many dark deeds and strange
events in English history. The De Lacys built it in the early part of the thirteenth
century. Its area was seven acres. The wall of the castle court was high and flanked
by seven towers; a deep moat was cut on the western side, where was the barbican
and drawbridge. It had terrible dungeons, one a room twenty-five feet square,
without any entrance save a trap-door in the floor of a turret. The castle passed, in
1310, by marriage to Thomas Earl of Lancaster, who took part in the strife between
Edward II and his nobles, was captured, and in his own hall condemned to death.
The castle is always associated with the murder of Richard II, but contemporary
historians, Thomas of Walsingham and Gower the poet, assert that he starved
himself to death; others contend that his starvation was not voluntary; while there
are not wanting those who say that he escaped to Scotland, lived there many years,
and died in peace in the castle of Stirling, an honoured guest of Robert III of
Scotland, in 1419. I have not seen the entries, but I am told in the accounts of the
Chamberlain of Scotland there are items for the maintenance of the King for eleven
years. But popular tales die hard, and doubtless you will hear the groans and see the
ghost of the wronged Richard some moonlight night in the ruined keep of
Pontefract. He has many companion ghosts--the Earl of Salisbury, Richard Duke
of York, Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers and Grey his brother, and Sir Thomas
Vaughan, whose feet trod the way to the block, that was worn hard by many
victims. The dying days of the old castle made it illustrious. It was besieged three
times, taken and retaken, and saw amazing scenes of gallantry and bravery. It held
out until after the death of the martyr king; it heard the proclamation of Charles II,
but at length was compelled to surrender, and "the strongest inland garrison in the
kingdom," as Oliver Cromwell termed it, was slighted and made a ruin. Its sister
fortress Knaresborough shared its fate. Lord Lytton, in Eugene Aram, wrote of it:--
"You will be at a loss to recognise now the truth of old Leland's
description of that once stout and gallant bulwark of the north, when
'he numbrid 11 or 12 Toures in the walles of the Castel, and one very
fayre beside in the second area.' In that castle the four knightly
murderers of the haughty Becket (the Wolsey of his age) remained for
a whole year, defying the weak justice of the times. There, too, the
unfortunate Richard II passed some portion of his bitter imprisonment.
And there, after the battle of Marston Moor, waved the banner of the
loyalists against the soldiers of Lilburn."
An interesting story is told of the siege. A youth, whose father was in the garrison,
each night went into the deep, dry moat, climbed up the glacis, and put provisions
through a hole where his father stood ready to receive them. He was seen at length,
fired on by the Parliamentary soldiers, and sentenced to be hanged in sight of the
besieged as a warning to others. But a good lady obtained his respite, and after the
conquest of the place was released. The castle then, once the residence of Piers
Gaveston, of Henry III, and of John of Gaunt, was dismantled and destroyed.
During the reign of Henry III great progress was made in the improvement and
development of castle-building. The comfort and convenience of the dwellers in
these fortresses were considered, and if not very luxurious places they were made
more beautiful by art and more desirable as residences. During the reigns of the
Edwards this progress continued, and a new type of castle was introduced. The
stern, massive, and high-towering keep was abandoned, and the fortifications
arranged in a concentric fashion. A fine hall with kitchens occupied the centre of
the fortress; a large number of chambers were added. The stronghold itself
consisted of a large square or oblong like that at Donnington, Berkshire, and the
approach was carefully guarded by strong gateways, advanced works, walled
galleries, and barbicans. Deep moats filled with water increased their strength and
improved their beauty.
We will give some examples of these Edwardian castles, of which Leeds Castle,
Kent, is a fine specimen. It stands on three islands in a sheet of water about fifteen
acres in extent, these islands being connected in former times by double
drawbridges. It consists of two huge piles of buildings which with a strong gate-
house and barbican form four distinct forts, capable of separate defence should any
one or other fall into the hands of an enemy. Three causeways, each with its
drawbridge, gate, and portcullis, lead to the smallest island or inner barbican, a
fortified mill contributing to the defences. A stone bridge connects this island with
the main island. There stands the Constable's Tower, and a stone wall surrounds the
island and within is the modern mansion. The Maiden's Tower and the Water
Tower defend the island on the south. A two-storeyed building on arches now
connects the main island with the Tower of the Gloriette, which has a curious old
bell with the Virgin and Child, St. George and the Dragon, and the Crucifixion
depicted on it, and an ancient clock. The castle withstood a siege in the time of
Edward II because Queen Isabella was refused admission. The King hung the
Governor, Thomas de Colepepper, by the chain of the drawbridge. Henry IV retired
here on account of the Plague in London, and his second wife, Joan of Navarre, was
imprisoned here. It was a favourite residence of the Court in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries. Here the wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was tried for
witchcraft. Dutch prisoners were confined here in 1666 and contrived to set fire to
some of the buildings. It is the home of the Wykeham Martin family, and is one of
the most picturesque castles in the country.
In the same neighbourhood is Allington Castle, an ivy-mantled ruin, another
example of vanished glory, only two tenements occupying the princely residence of
the Wyatts, famous in the history of State and Letters. Sir Henry, the father of the
poet, felt the power of the Hunchback Richard, and was racked and imprisoned in
Scotland, and would have died in the Tower of London but for a cat. He rose to
great honour under Henry VII, and here entertained the King in great style. At
Allington the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt was born, and spent his days in writing prose
and verse, hunting and hawking, and occasionally dallying after Mistress Anne
Boleyn at the neighbouring castle of Hever. He died here in 1542, and his son Sir
Thomas led the insurrection against Queen Mary and sealed the fate of himself and
his race.
Hever Castle, to which allusion has been made, is an example of the transition
between the old fortress and the more comfortable mansion of a country squire or
magnate. Times were less dangerous, the country more peaceful when Sir Geoffrey
Boleyn transformed and rebuilt the castle built in the reign of Edward III by
William de Hever, but the strong entrance-gate flanked by towers, embattled and
machicolated, and defended by stout doors and three portcullises and the
surrounding moat, shows that the need of defence had not quite passed away. The
gates lead into a courtyard around which the hall, chapel, and domestic chambers
are grouped. The long gallery Anne Boleyn so often traversed with impatience still
seems to re-echo her steps, and her bedchamber, which used to contain some of the
original furniture, has always a pathetic interest. The story of the courtship of
Henry VIII with "the brown girl with a perthroat and an extra finger," as Margaret
More described her, is well known. Her old home, which was much in decay, has
passed into the possession of a wealthy American gentleman, and has been recently
greatly restored and transformed.
Sussex can boast of many a lordly castle, and in its day Bodiam must have been
very magnificent. Even in its decay and ruin it is one of the most beautiful in
England. It combined the palace of the feudal lord and the fortress of a knight. The
founder, Sir John Dalyngrudge, was a gallant soldier in the wars of Edward III, and
spent most of his best years in France, where he had doubtless learned the art of
making his house comfortable as well as secure. He acquired licence to fortify his
castle in 1385 "for resistance against our enemies." There was need of strong walls,
as the French often at that period ravaged the coast of Sussex, burning towns and
manor-houses. Clark, the great authority on castles, says that "Bodiam is a
complete and typical castle of the end of the fourteenth century, laid out entirely on
a new site, and constructed after one design and at one period. It but seldom
happens that a great fortress is wholly original, of one, and that a known, date, and
so completely free from alterations or additions." It is nearly square, with circular
tower sixty-five feet high at the four corners, connected by embattled curtain-walls,
in the centre of each of which square towers rise to an equal height with the
circular. The gateway is a large structure composed of two flanking towers
defended by numerous oiletts for arrows, embattled parapets, and deep
machicolations. Over the gateway are three shields bearing the arms of Bodiam,
Dalyngrudge, and Wardieu. A huge portcullis still frowns down upon us, and two
others opposed the way, while above are openings in the vault through which
melted lead, heated sand, pitch, and other disagreeable things could be poured on
the heads of the foe. In the courtyard on the south stands the great hall with its
oriel, buttery, and kitchen, and amidst the ruins you can discern the chapel, sacristy,
ladies' bower, presence chamber. The castle stayed not long in the family of the
builder, his son John probably perishing in the wars, and passed to Sir Thomas
Lewknor, who opposed Richard III, and was therefore attainted of high treason and
his castle besieged and taken. It was restored to him again by Henry VII, but the
Lewknors never resided there again. Waller destroyed it after the capture of
Arundel, and since that time it has been left a prey to the rains and frosts and
storms, but manages to preserve much of its beauty, and to tell how noble knights
lived in the days of chivalry.
Caister Castle
Caister Castle is one of the four principal castles in Norfolk. It is built of brick, and
is one of the earliest edifices in England constructed of that material after its
rediscovery as suitable for building purposes. It stands with its strong defences not
far from the sea on the barren coast. It was built by Sir John Fastolfe, who fought
with great distinction in the French wars of Henry V and Henry VI, and was the
hero of the Battle of the Herrings in 1428, when he defeated the French and
succeeded in convoying a load of herrings in triumph to the English camp before
Orleans. It is supposed that he was the prototype of Shakespeare's Falstaff, but
beyond the resemblance in the names there is little similarity in the exploits of the
two "heroes." Sir John Fastolfe, much to the chagrin of other friends and relatives,
made John Paston his heir, who became a great and prosperous man, represented
his county in Parliament, and was a favourite of Edward IV. Paston loved Caister,
his "fair jewell"; but misfortunes befell him. He had great losses, and was thrice
confined in the Fleet Prison and then outlawed. Those were dangerous days, and
friends often quarrelled. Hence during his troubles the Duke of Norfolk and Lord
Scales tried to get possession of Caister, and after his death laid siege to it. The
Pastons lacked not courage and determination, and defended it for a year, but were
then forced to surrender. However, it was restored to them, but again forcibly taken
from them. However, not by the sword but by negotiations and legal efforts, Sir
John again gained his own, and an embattled tower at the north-west corner, one
hundred feet high, and the north and west walls remain to tell the story of this brave
old Norfolk family, who by their Letters have done so much to guide us through the
dark period to which they relate.
Defaced Arms. Taunton Castle
We will journey to the West Country, a region of castles. The Saxons were obliged
to erect their rude earthen strongholds to keep back the turbulent Welsh, and these
were succeeded by Norman keeps. Monmouthshire is famous for its castles. Out of
the thousand erected in Norman times twenty-five were built in that county. There
is Chepstow Castle with its Early Norman gateway spanned by a circular arch
flanked by round towers. In the inner court there are gardens and ruins of a grand
hall, and in the outer the remains of a chapel with evidences of beautifully groined
vaulting, and also a winding staircase leading to the battlements. In the dungeon of
the old keep at the south-east corner of the inner court Roger de Britolio, Earl of
Hereford, was imprisoned for rebellion against the Conqueror, and in later times
Henry Martin, the regicide, lingered as a prisoner for thirty years, employing his
enforced leisure in writing a book in order to prove that it is not right for a man to
be governed by one wife. Then there is Glosmont Castle, the fortified residence of
the Earl of Lancaster; Skenfrith Castle, White Castle, the Album Castrum of the
Latin records, the Landreilo of the Welsh, with its six towers, portcullis and
drawbridge flanked by massive towers, barbican, and other outworks; and Raglan
Castle with its splendid gateway, its Elizabethan banqueting-hall ornamented with
rich stone tracery, its bowling-green, garden terraces, and spacious courts--an ideal
place for knightly tournaments. Raglan is associated with the gallant defence of the
castle by the Marquis of Worcester in the Civil War.
Another famous siege is connected with the old castle of Taunton. Taunton was a
noted place in Saxon days, and the castle is the earliest English fortress by some
two hundred years of which we have any written historical record.21 The Anglo-
Saxon chronicler states, under the date 722 A.D.: "This year Queen Ethelburge
overthrew Taunton, which Ina had before built." The buildings tell their story. We
see a Norman keep built to the westward of Ina's earthwork, probably by Henry de
Blois, Bishop of Winchester, the warlike brother of King Stephen. The gatehouse
with the curtain ending in drum towers, of which one only remains, was first built
at the close of the thirteenth century under Edward I; but it was restored with
Perpendicular additions by Bishop Thomas Langton, whose arms with the date
1495 may be seen on the escutcheon above the arch. Probably Bishop Langton also
built the great hall; whilst Bishop Home, who is sometimes credited with this work,
most likely only repaired the hall, but tacked on to it the southward structure on
pilasters, which shows his arms with the date 1577. The hall of the castle was for a
long period used as Assize Courts. The castle was purchased by the Taunton and
Somerset ArchŠological Society, and is now most appropriately a museum.
Taunton has seen many strange sights. The town was owned by the Bishop of
Winchester, and the castle had its constable, an office held by many great men.
When Lord Daubeney of Barrington Court was constable in 1497 Taunton saw
thousands of gaunt Cornishmen marching on to London to protest against the king's
subsidy, and they aroused the sympathy of the kind-hearted Somerset folk, who fed
them, and were afterwards fined for "aiding and comforting" them. Again, crowds
of Cornishmen here flocked to the standard of Perkin Warbeck. The gallant defence
of Taunton by Robert Blake, aided by the townsfolk, against the whole force of the
Royalists, is a matter of history, and also the rebellion of Monmouth, who made
Taunton his head-quarters. This castle, like every other one in England, has much
to tell us of the chief events in our national annals.
In the principality of Wales we find many noted strong holds--Conway, Harlech,
and many others. Carnarvon Castle, the repair of which is being undertaken by Sir
John Puleston, has no rival among our medieval fortresses for the grandeur and
extent of the ruins. It was commenced about 1283 by Edward I, but took forty years
to complete. In 1295 a playful North Walian, named Madoc, who was an
illegitimate son of Prince David, took the rising stronghold by surprise upon a fair
day, massacred the entire garrison, and hanged the constable from his own half-
finished walls. Sir John Puleston, the present constable, though he derives his
patronymic from the "base, bloody, and brutal Saxon," is really a warmly patriotic
Welshman, and is doing a good work in preserving the ruins of the fortress of
which he is the titular governor.
We should like to record the romantic stories that have woven themselves around
each crumbling keep and bailey-court, to see them in the days of their glory when
warders kept the gate and watching archers guarded the wall, and the lord and lady
and their knights and esquires dined in the great hall, and knights practised feats of
arms in the tilting-ground, and the banner of the lord waved over the battlements,
and everything was ready for war or sport, hunting or hawking. But all the glories
of most of the castles of England have vanished, and naught is to be seen but ruined
walls and deserted halls. Some few have survived and become royal palaces or
noblemen's mansions. Such are Windsor, Warwick, Raby, Alnwick, and Arundel,
but the fate of most of them is very similar. The old fortress aimed at being
impregnable in the days of bows and arrows; but the progress of guns and artillery
somewhat changed the ideas with regard to their security. In the struggle between
Yorkists and Lancastrians many a noble owner lost his castle and his head. Edward
IV thinned down castle-ownership, and many a fine fortress was left to die. When
the Spaniards threatened our shores those who possessed castles tried to adapt them
for the use of artillery, and when the Civil War began many of them were
strengthened and fortified and often made gallant defences against their enemies,
such as Donnington, Colchester, Scarborough, and Pontefract. When the Civil War
ended the last bugle sounded the signal for their destruction. Orders were issued for
their destruction, lest they should ever again be thorns in the sides of the
Parliamentary army. Sometimes they were destroyed for revenge, or because of
their materials, which were sold for the benefit of the Government or for the
satisfaction of private greed. Lead was torn from the roofs of chapels and
banqueting-halls. The massive walls were so strong that they resisted to the last and
had to be demolished with the aid of gunpowder. They became convenient quarries
for stone and furnished many a farm, cottage and manor-house with materials for
their construction. Henceforth the old castle became a ruin. In its silent marshy
moat reeds and rushes grow, and ivy covers its walls, and trees have sprung up in
the quiet and deserted courts. Picnic parties encamp on the green sward, and
excursionists amuse themselves in strolling along the walls and wonder why they
were built so thick, and imagine that the castle was always a ruin erected for the
amusement of the cheap-tripper for jest and playground. Happily care is usually
bestowed upon the relics that remain, and diligent antiquaries excavate and try to
rear in imagination the stately buildings. Some have been fortunate enough to
become museums, and some modernized and restored are private residences. The
English castle recalls some of the most eventful scenes in English history, and its
bones and skeleton should be treated with respect and veneration as an important
feature of vanishing England.