Saturday, 17 September 2016

Ludlow Castle: from Conquest to Comus

Location and approach
   Ludlow is halfway along a line drawn from Bristol and Chester and on the course of the medieval road from Chester to Gloucester. The town and castle are situated on a ridge protected on 3 sides by rivers at the very centre of the Welsh March.
  As you approach the castle from the town - noting the absence of the usual chain stores as you go - you are looking over the fence to the Outer Bailey and a large lawn, at one time used as a tilt yard and later in WWII by American servicemen for baseball whilst the tower was a lookout post for the Allied forces.
  The original and more fascinating Norman castle lies beyond and comprises the Inner Bailey plus another innermost structure. Altogether it measures about 5 acres and has been described by English Heritage as "one of England's finest castle sites" and a "remarkably complete multi-phase complex."

   Because of the long history of the castle and its involvement in many strifes and hostilities, it has changed ownership so many time that its vicissitudes would fill up this article. I will therefore summarise.
   Not mentioned as such in the Domesday Book, Ludlow Castle was probably founded by Walter de Lacy after the Conquest, circa 1075, as one of the first stone castles in England. During the 12th century war between Stephen and Matilda it became a pawn in the political game. The next most important owner was Roger Mortimer who acquired it in 1301 and whose family held it for over 100 years. Henry IV was the possessor when the war with Owain Glyndwr broke out.
   In 1425 Richard, Duke of York, inherited it and it became an important symbol of Yorkist authority during the Wars of the Roses, although it was more of a safe retreat than a central player. On his death it passed into crown ownership with Edward IV, 1461. Hosting the Council of the Marches of Wales, it became virtually the capital of Wales and, by the seventeenth century, was luxuriously appointed. It never quite recovered from the effects of the Civil War and the degeneration of the Council, although partial restoration and landscaping were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Layout
  In the Outer Bailey are the Castle House, the Beacon Tower, the 16th century Porter's Lodge, prison, stable block and the 13th century Mortimer's Tower. The walls are linked to the medieval town walls and you will see different types of stone throughout ranging from Norman greenish-grey siltstone rubble to ashlar and quoin features carved from red sandstone.

The remains of the chapel

   The Inner Bailey has a gatehouse bearing the coats-of-arms of Elizabeth I and Sir Henry Sidney and 4 other towers. Passing through the gatehouse you will see the most striking feature: the 12th century chapel nave of St. Mary Magdalene, a circular Romanesque structure of sandstone inspired in design by the shrine at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is very unusual, there being only 3 other examples in the country - such round churches are usually connected to the Templars. Here you will find also: the Solar block, the Great Hall, the Great Chamber block (the latter built by Mortimer and forming the popular tripartite arrangement of the 14th century), the kitchen, gardrobe (loo) block and Tudor Lodgings. The carved corbel heads may be Edward II and Queen Isabella.

Main events in order of importance - in my opinion
   Edward IV abolished the ancient office of Warden of the Marches and established instead, in 1472, the Court of the Lord President and Council of the Marches of Wales which became much more efficient in enforcing authority than the previous system. This dominated the district in which Mortimer had held power and Edward reinforced this by sending his eldest son, now termed Prince of Wales, to the castle in order to win the affections of the locals. The Council existed in some splendour until 1688 and had a number of dignitaries with imposing titles such as a Clerk of the Signet. After the Restoration it became corrupt and scandalous and was closed down by William III on 25th July 1689.
   Other residents were Edward, Prince of Wales, heir to Edward IV, and his mother in 1483 before Edward and his brother Richard were imprisoned in the Tower of London and vanished from the record. It was in Ludlow Castle that the young prince received the news on 14th April 1483 of his father's sudden death five days earlier.
   Prince Arthur (so named after King Arthur by his father) elder brother of Henry VIII was married at 15 to Catherine of Aragon first and went to Ludlow in 1501 for his honeymoon and to live in state before his death there.
   Walter de Lacy I original owner and builder was rewarded by William fitzOsbern, the Conqueror's right hand man, with 163 manors, 91 in Herefordshire alone but died by falling from scaffolding while superintending the building of St Guthlac's church in Hereford in 1085. This goes to show it does not pay to take too close an interest in construction projects.
   In the seige of  1139, the Beacon Tower was in legend the scene of an act of bravery and promptitude by King Stephen: a grappling hook had caught on the coat of the son of the King of Scotland, Henry, and would have hauled him off his horse into captivity but Stephen leaped to the rescue.
   Mary Tudor lived here for 19 months between 1525 and 1528 overseeing the Council of the Marches and a small sum of £5 was spend in restoration to prepare for her.

An exciting tale
   Son of another Hugh de Lacy, Walter, set off to reclaim Ludlow Castle but Joce de Dinan with 500 knights and archers plus loyal townsfolk fell upon them and drove them back. Joce himself pursued but was accosted by 3 knights and was in deadly peril. Enter his ward, Fulk le fitzWarin, who had been left behind in the castle, teased by Hawise, de Dinan's daughter, as a coward: protected by a rusty helmet and armed with a huge Danish axe, he rode to the rescue on a clumsy cart-horse. He cut through the skull of one knight and the backbone of the other. Joce sprang up and together they seized Walter de Lacy and the surviving knight Arnold de Lisle and imprisoned them in a castle tower.

   Joce was an unduly lenient jailor and allowed them to receive visits from the ladies of the household: Marion de la Bruere fell in love with the handsome de Lisle and helped them escape using a rope made of towels and napkins. Hawise married her hero but Marion, feigning illness, did not go with the bridal party to Hereford. She let her lover in through the same window of previous escape but de Lisle, with a friend, climbed a leather ladder to the trysting place with a different motive. Beneath were horsemen and foot-soldiers - and 100 men mounted up the ladder and threw the sentinel into the ditch. Marion learned of this at dawn and, overcome with remorse, killed her lover and jumped from the window, breaking her neck in the fall. The town was burned by the invaders and many inhabitants were massacred.
  This tale is unencumbered by too many dates (or facts?) and comes from only one source that I have found but it is a juicy one and I suspend any disbelief in excitement.

Less thrilling but important
   In 1634 at Michaelmas, Milton's masque Comus, was performed in the Great Hall for John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater. It celebrates chastity, a virtue embodied in the Lady who debates it with her wicked captor, Comus. He would seduce her by any devious means if he possibly could. Yet, as Milton has said of chastity: "She that has that is clad in complete steel," and nothing untoward happens - unfortunately. Astute readers will have noticed that this statement is both untrue and sexist - though beautifully expressed.

Your visit
   Those same canny readers will also have perceived that you cannot get to Ludlow on a Monmouthshire bus but we are extending our microadventures by the train which goes regularly from Newport station through attractive countryside to Ludlow. For opening hours click here. There is an audio guide available and Ludlow is famous as a gastronomic centre with plenty of CAKE and other calorific opportunities.
   Another monument with many links to English history is Goodrich Castle.  Chepstow Castle and nearby Raglan Castle are both stunning and on Monmouthshire bus routes.


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