Advent Calendar of Castles: December 17th: Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke is the first Marcher castle on my list. While it is arguable whether Pembroke actually stands in the Marches it was certainly owned and built by the men who were or became Marcher lords, including one of my favourites William Marshal. As this is a castle I have written extensively about before, I thought I’d provide a link to my previous post rather than a new potted history.

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/11/15/pembroke-castle/

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 12th: Beaumaris

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Beaumaris stands on the Island of Anglesea looking across the Menai Straits and it was to control these straits that Edward I had Beaumaris built in c. 1295. It was the last of his ring of castles and was built largely in response to the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn. It is the largest and the most sophisticated of Edward I’s castles, probably because there was no existing structure on the site to try and build around or on top of. The native population of the area of Llanfaes was forced to move prior to the construction of the castle. It is a concentric castle with walls within walls and, something that is actually quite unusual in medieval castles, a moat that holds water.  The moat was 18 feet wide and actually had a tidal port at one side that would allow for ships to come right up to the castle for trade. The curtain wall around the moat boasts 16 towers and the massive 3 quarters of an acre of the inner ward is guarded by an interior wall boasting a further 6 towers and 2 gatehouses. This castle was virtually impenetrable before the age of cannon.  Ironically the castle is not complete. The towers were intended to be three stories not two.

Beaumaris has actually seen very little battle. Owain Gwndyr’s supporters held the castle for two years, 1403-1405, while the locals in the unwalled town that had developed around the castle suffered immensely in attempts to take the castle. It also did play a small role in the Civil War in the 17th century being held by royalists, then surrendered, then taken, then surrendered again. After that the castle largely stayed out of any historical events.

It is still an almost unbelievable castle to visit, not the least because it does genuinely have a moat. The town of Beaumaris in also home to the tomb of Joan Princess of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn the Great. Her tomb was used as horse trough for a time, but thankfully the sarcophagus survived and can be seen in the Beaumaris parish church. For more on Joan click here.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://www.castlewales.com/beaumar.html

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 11th: Conwy Castle

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Conwy is the first I’ll be discussing of a series of castles built by Edward I in his domination of Wales. Conwy was built in 1283 and remains one of the most impressive surviving medieval fortifications in Britain.

The ring of castles Edward built around Wales, especially in the north, were constructed both to impose his authority on the area and to ensure that any expensive future rebellions was squashed. Edward used the towns and castles he built to import Englishness. He brought in English settlers and English laws and made the towns havens of the English. It wasn’t until the 1700s that the Welsh really had towns they could call their own, the Welsh at the time didn’t really live in towns because they tended to be a disparate agricultural community.

Edward I  took the Conwy valley in 1283 and very quickly began to erect a garrison town and the castle. By 1287 the castle was largely finished. This castle sits on a rock base which provided enough security that it was not necessary for Edward I to have the walls with in walls that are a feature of many of his other Welsh castles.

Edward lavished more money on Conwy than any of this other welsh castles, spending 15 000 pounds, an extraordinary sum for the time. He built the castle and the wall on the site of Aberconwy Abbey, one of the most important Welsh abbeys and the burial place of probably the most important Welsh Prince, Llywelyn the Great. Llywelyn’s body was moved by the monks and his sarcophagus can now be found at Llanwrst parish church.

Edward I was actually held at Conwy under siege by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295, but the castle didn’t fall. Conwy was also taken by the forces of Owain Glyndwr in the 1400s.  Glyndwr came very close to taking Wales out of the hands of Henry IV, but in this particular case it was two of his kinsmen who took the castle. Rhys and Gwilym Tudor, yes those Tudors, took the castle through trickery. They waited till the garrison was at prayer and then, some stories say by pretending to be carpenters, snuck in and took the castle in 1401. They held it for months before it was traded back for funds for the rebellion.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://www.walesdirectory.co.uk/his/cas/conwy.htm

http://www.castlewales.com/edwrdcas.html

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/conwycastle/?lang=en

http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html

http://www.castlewales.com/conwy.html

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 2nd Lincoln Castle.

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Lincoln Castle was begun by William the Conqueror in c.1068 making it one of the first Norman castles built. It was part of the Conqueror’s plan of the domination of England through a network of castles. It was through castles like Lincoln that he administered and controlled his new territory. Lincoln Castle stands on the site of an old roman fort and when it was built 166 Saxon houses were demolished to make way for it.

In the early medieval period Lincoln castle was the site of two decisive battles. The first was in 1141 during the time period known as the Period of Anarchy (1136-1154). King Stephen and the Empress Matilda were fighting for control of the country. It was a time which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described as “people openly said that Christ slept, and his saints.” In 1141 the Earl of Chester and his brother William of Roumare had rebelled against King Stephen and taken Lincoln Castle by deceit. Oderic Vitalis’ version says that they sent their wives in on the pretext of a friendly visit and the Earl arrived to collect the women with only three knights and then, “Once inside the castle they suddenly snatched crowbars and weapons which lay to hand and violently expelled the king’s guards. Then William burst in with a force of armed knights, according to a pre‑arranged plan, and in this way the two brothers took control of the castle and the whole city.”

Regardless of how they took the castle they held it and King Stephen arrived to besiege the castle. The Earl of Chester escaped and alerted Robert of Gloucester, Empress Matilda’s brother and the head of her campaign for the crown. Gloucester arrived in Lincoln with an army and there was a pitched and bloody battle, unusual in a war that was mainly looting and skirmishes, Gloucester’s forces were victorious and King Stephen was captured.

The other key battle at Lincoln was in 1217. It was so bloodless that it was soon known as the Fair of Lincoln. William Marshal headed forces fighting for the newly crowned Henry III. Marshal was the young Henry’s regent. They were fighting the remains of the barons who had forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. The majority of barons had returned to the royal fold after King John’s death, but there were a few hold outs who were still supporting Prince Louis of France as their candidate for king. Prince Louis’ forces were besieging Lincoln which was held by the remarkable Nicola de la Haye (who I hope to write more about later), Marshal’s forces came to relieve the siege. They had help from the inside the castle and the battle was a route. Prince Louis’ forces were demolished and the battle was pretty much the end of the baronial revolt, though it was the Battle of Sandwich and paying off Louis that got rid of him completely.

Outside of these two key battles Lincoln continued to be both a prison and court for centuries to come. It is also the location of one of the only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta as well as a copy of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.

References

Site visit 2012

Lincoln castle information leaflets.

https://www.lincolncastle.com/content/history

Anglo Saxon Chronicle: http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/1137.html

Battle of Lincoln 1141: http://deremilitari.org/2014/03/the-battle-of-lincoln-1141-from-five-sources/

The Fair of Lincoln 1217: Tout, T.F, ‘The Fair of Lincoln in the ‘Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal’, The English Historical Review, 18, 1903, pp. 240-265.

The photos are all mine.

 

Advent Calendar of Castles December 1st: Castle Rising

This year for christmas I’m running an advent calendar of medieval castles. Each day I’ll post three photos of a castle and some information. Today I’m starting with Castle Rising in Norfolk just out of Kings Lynn.

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William d’Albini the Earl of Arundel began having the castle built in c. 1138. It was most likely built for his new wife, who was the widow of Henry I, Adeliza of Louvain. The keep itself was probably envisioned as self-contained accommodation for the lord and his family.  It is curiously domestic in scale, but the massive earthworks make it clear that defence was at least considered. The uppermost levels of the keep were likely added at a later date and this included re-roofing and adding an extra room at the top of the keep. As well as the keep, in the grounds behind the earth works, there are the remains of a Norman church. It most likely predates the castle and would have been replaced by the current parish church in the town of Rising around the time the castle was built.

The d’ Albini family died out in the 13th century and Castle Rising passed into the Montalt family. The Montalt family died out in the 14th century and Castle Rising came into royal hands. It was after this that the castle entered what is probably its best known phase when it became the residence of Queen Isabella, known as the she wolf of England. She was the Queen of Edward II and many argue she had a role in his murder. It has been argued that Castle Rising was her prison, but it is also just as possible that it was the residence she chose in exile. There were certainly buildings erected for her in the grounds of the castle

Castle Rising ultimately came into the hands of the Howard family who still own and manage it today.

 

References:

Site visit 2012

http://www.castle-rising-history.co.uk/castlecameo.html

http://www.castlerising.co.uk/thecastle.html

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/castle-rising-castle/

The photos are all mine

Winchester Cathedral

IMG_4366IMG_4150Winchester Cathedral has a long history. A Saxon cathedral was begun on this site in c. 648, but was slowly replaced by the Norman Cathedral and finally demolished in 1093 when the old and new building converged. You can see the outline of the original Saxon cathedral laid out below.

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It is possible that there was the intention to later rebuild and extend the western structure in a more ‘modern style’ but the black death in 1348, which halved the population of Winchester and the population of monks, put a stop to any ambitious rebuilding plans. In the late 14th century the three west porches and the great west window were created to close off a cathedral that had been truncated by necessity. Henry IV and Joan of Navarre were married in the cathedral as were Mary Tudor and Phillip of Spain. Henry III may have been baptised there, he was born in the castle, and the ill fated Prince Arthur, the older brother of Henry VIII, certainly was.

Winchester Cathedral contains many fascinating and often surprising historical features and I thought it would be worth exploring a few.

Much of the cathedral was refurbished in the gothic style in the early 1400s though some romanesque elements remain. When you view the interior of the cathedral these remaining romanesque elements are in stark contrast to the gothic majority. The nave below is an excellent example of the gothic majority.IMG_4280IMG_4288The romanesque style of the earlier cathedral can still be seen, specifically in the north transept (see below). The roof, in the Tudor style, in the photos below was inserted in 1819. The figure of Christ you can see in the first photo is by contemporary sculptor Peter Eugene Ball and was gifted to the cathedral in 1990.

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There are other remnants of the earlier style of the cathedral. In fact Winchester has a surprising number of exceptional survivals.

The Holy Sepulchre Chapel retains some of the finest 12th century wall paintings in England. They survived by chance because the vaulting was changed in the 13th century and the paintings were covered by plaster and the design was replicated on the new layer. These new designs did not survive, as is the case with the majority of wall paintings. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when some plaster fell, that the original paintings underneath became visible. In the 20th century modern restoration techniques allowed these paintings to be finally uncovered.  The paintings depict the deposition and entombment of Christ.

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The Holy Sepulcher Chapel is not the only surviving medieval painting in the cathedral. Another is the ceiling of the Guardian Angels Chapel. It was painted between 1225 and 1220 and repainted between 1260 and 1280. IMG_4331Another beautiful surviving element found in Winchester is the font. It dates to c.1150-1160 and is thought to be a result of the patronage of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester.  It’s made of Tournai marble, which is in fact a dark limestone, and is carved with scenes from the life of St Nicholas.IMG_4294IMG_4293

IMG_4287IMG_4292The scene you can see in the image above is thought to depict the story that St Nicholas slipped money into a house to stop a nobleman from being forced to put his daughters onto the street.

Henry of Blois, who probably commissioned the font, was also responsible for commissioning the Winchester Bible, a fantastically decorated illuminated manuscript dating to the early 12th century. It is four volumes and was worked on for twenty years by scribes and illustrators. Bishop Henry of Blois was the younger brother of King Stephen, and it is thought that he is buried in the cathedral.

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The above tomb was for many years thought to be that of William Rufus, but more modern scholarship has argued that it is in fact Henry of Blois. William Rufus’ remains are thought to lie in mortuary chests in the cathedral along with, probably, those of King Canute.

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Winchester Cathedral is also the resting place of the remains of other important figures. These include St Swithun and Jane Austen. St Swithun’s shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII’s men in 1538, but a modern memorial now stands in its place. It was installed in 1962 on the 1100th anniversary of the saint’s death.

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Jane Austen was brought to Winchester in May 1817 by her brother Henry and sister Cassandra in the hope of obtaining help for her fading health. Sadly they were not successful and Jane died in Winchester on July 18th 1817. Her brother Henry used his contacts to have her buried in the cathedral.

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Some of the surviving tombs in Winchester can be found on a remarkable expanse of tiled floor. Medieval tiles don’t often survive in large quantities and I have written about some surviving Welsh tiles here. The tiles in Winchester date to the 13th century and carry a number of designs from the heraldic to the purely decorative. They are the largest area of medieval tiles to survive in England.

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The medieval tiles border an exceptionally interesting area of Winchester; the crypt. Unlike most cathedral crypts Winchester’s has never really been used to house bodies or monuments. This is due to the fact that since the cathedral was built the crypt has flooded regularly. Today you can see the contemporary sculpture Sound II by Antony Gormley reflected in the flooded crypt. It is a surprisingly haunting place. It feels in an odd way as if the silence has seeped into the stone. IMG_4302

Winchester Cathedral’s survivals from the early medieval period are all the more remarkable because it has suffered attack on a number of occasions.

Henry VIII’s men for example destroyed all the sculptures depicting the cathedral’s benefactors, old testament saints and the crucified Christ which was originally populated the Great Screen. The Screen was constructed in the late 15th century. The sculpture you can see on it now dates to the 19th century.

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The Puritans also did extensive damage to the cathedral when they came through Winchester. They stole all the treasures and used the bones of kings and prelates to break the main windows. The west window was, unusually, not reconstructed with a new image or a replica of the destroyed image. In fact the remnants of the broken glass were used, creating a fascinating mosaic affect which survives today.

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These are by no means the only treasures of Winchester Cathedral. It is well worth a visit, if possible, to see these and the other treasures. The Winchester Bible is worth it alone, unfortunately photos aren’t possible. Even after having visited a significant number of cathedrals Winchester remains one of my favourites largely because it holds so many remarkable survivals of an earlier time.

Source: Winchester cathedral booklet. ISBN: 9781857593990

http://www.janeausten.org/jane-austen-biography-page-2.asp

For more information: http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/

The photos are all mine.

Who am I? Medieval edition

Simple rules:

  1. There are four clues
  2. To see the next clue scroll down
  3. If you guess on the first clue you get four points, second clue three points etc.
  4. The fourth clue is always pictorial
  5. Some are harder than others and there is no particular order. Each question is weighted the same
  6. There are ten questions.
  7. The answer is after the final pictorial clue
  8. If you see the next clue you don’t get the point.

 

1.

a) Married twice

 

 

b) A patron of Fontevraud

 

 

c) A great heiress and Duchess in her own right

 

 

 

 

 

d)eofa

Answer: Eleanor of Aquitaine

 

2.

a) Born to the daughter of the Earl of Salisbury

 

 

 

b) Once won a pike

 

 

c) Regent of England.

 

 

d) IMG_3421

Answer: William Marshal

 

3. 

a) Died in Rouen

 

 

 

b) Ordered what is known as an early census

 

 

 

 

c) Was a bastard in many senses of the word.

 

 

 

d) Bayeux Tapestry 7JPGAnswer: William I

 

4. 

a)  Known as a great writer and thinker of the early medieval period

 

 

 

b) Had a son called Astrolabe

 

 

c) Was castrated for his great passion for one of his students (it’s a little more complicated, but that’s the gist)

 

 

 

d)IMG_7444

Answer: Abelard 

 

5.  

a) The illegitimate daughter of a king of England

 

 

 

b) Married to a foreign Prince

 

 

c) Helped broker a peace between her husband a Prince of Wales and her father King John

 

 

 

 

d)joanna close

Answer: Joan of Wales

 

6. 

a) An Irish lord

 

 

 

b) Buried in Ferns

 

 

c) The reason the Normans came to Ireland

 

 

 

 

d) Diarmut grave

Answer: Diarmait mac murchada

 

7.

a) The second oldest son of a King.

 

 

 

 

b) Died in 1183

 

 

 

c) Known as reckless and crowned in his father’s life time.

 

 

 

 

d)IMG_7222Answer: Henry the Young King

 

8.

 

a) A medieval writer who liked to travel

 

 

 

 

b) Descended from Nest, a well known Welsh princess.

 

 

c) Known for his descriptions of Wales and Ireland

 

 

 

 

d)IMG_5579Answer: Gerald of Wales

 

9.

a) 12th child

 

 

 

 

b) Knight of the Garter

 

 

 

 

c) Arguably the last Plantagenet.

 

 

 

d)IMG_5855

Answer: Richard III

 

10.

a) Married at a very young age

 

 

 

b) Daughter of Alice de Courtenay

 

 

c) Remarried when her husband died and her children with her second husband reaped great benefits at the court of Henry III

 

 

d)Richard IAnswer: Isabel of Angouleme

 

 

So how did you do?

1-10: Not too bad, maybe read a little more

11-20: Absolutely getting there, excellent effort

21-30:  Brilliant, you really know your medieval figures!

31-40: Are you sure you didn’t check the next clue? No? Didn’t just have a pile of lucky guesses? No? Well then, exceptional effort!!

 

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 24th of December

So this is the last one. It’s been fun. I hope these quotes have been enjoyed. I’ve had fun ransacking my books and lots of other sources.

I thought I’d finish with one more William Marshal quote. This is the description an incident during the siege of the castle of Milli in 1197 under Richard I when the almost fifty-three year old Marshal ran up a scaling ladder in full armour.

“At this point many of those involved in the attack began to retreat, for they were much dismayed and in fear. Left behind on one of the ladders was Sir Guy de la Bruyere, a knight from Flanders who did his all, with intense vigour, to perform great deeds. Those defending the town had caught him with their spiked pikes between his chin and his chest, so overpowering him that he could in no way help himself with either hand. The Marshal, fully armed, was on the moat, and he was filled with pity and anger about the plight of that knight, whom he saw in such torment, so, fully armed as he was, he jumped down into the bottom of the ditch and climbed, I assure you, sword in hand up the other side, and kept his footing until he reached the ladder on which the knight was held by those who sought to kill him. He dealt such blows with his sword as to fully repay each of them individually for the harm they had done to the knight. He dealt so many blows right and left with the sword that he held in his right hand that those inside fell back and left him the sole occupant of the battlements. Those men, who had no taste for the games he played, left him in sole charge of the field as they all went on their way. The Marshal did not care who witnessed it. And when the King saw him leap forward to climb the wall and mount an attack, he was very angry and wanted to do likewise, without delay, but the high ranking men present advised against this course and prevented it. Once the Marshal had entered the castle by force, our men were so filled with glee that they all shouted as one man: ‘The castle is taken, let’s help him!’ Those in the castle took fright as out men leapt onto the battlements. This did not appear to be a laughing matter to Sir William de Monceaux, the constable of the castle. He would not stand still anywhere, but ran straight at the Marshal with the intention of doing all within his power to do him harm and injury, but he was unable to do so, the Marshal proving too much for him now that he had freed himself from the others as a result of the blows he had dealt them, blows which had cost him so much effort that he was somewhat out of breath. The constable came at him with his sword. The Marshal dealt such a blow at him that he cut right through his hauberk and piercing his flesh so that all he could do was come to a halt. He fell down quite unconscious, battered and stunned by the blow he received from the Marshal, and he stayed motionless on the ground. The Marshal, now weary, and who had done more than enough, sat on him to hold him firm.”

From History of William Marshal Volume II. pgs 61-63. ISBN: 0905474457

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 18th of December

Extract from a letter from Heloise to Abelard.

“I have your picture in my room; I never pass it without stopping to look at it; and yet when you are present with me I scarce ever cast my eyes on it. If a picture, which is but a mute representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it.

We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us. Let us not lose through negligence the only happiness which is left us, and the only one perhaps which the malice of our enemies can never ravish from us. I shall read that you are my husband and you shall see me sign myself your wife. In spite of all our misfortunes you may be what you please in your letter. Letters were first invented for consoling such solitary wretches as myself. Having lost the substantial pleasures of seeing and possessing you, I shall in some measure compensate this loss by the satisfaction I shall find in your writing. There I shall read your most sacred thoughts; I shall carry them always about with me, I shall kiss them every moment; if you can be capable of any jealousy let it be for the fond caresses I shall bestow upon your letters, and envy only the happiness of those rivals. That writing may be no trouble to you, write always to me carelessly and without study; I had rather read the dictates of the heart than of the brain. I cannot live if you will not tell me that you still love me; but that language ought to be so natural to you, that I believe you cannot speak otherwise to me without violence to yourself.”

From the love letters of Abelard and Heloise.

http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aah/aah04.htm