Castles, Home and Fortress.
Guest post by Brian Kitchen
Since childhood I have enjoyed visiting castles. There wasn’t one in the town that I was brought up in, but there was one a few miles away from where I lived. This was Tutbury Castle whose history goes back to at least Anglo-Saxon times. Following the Norman Conquest, a motte and bailey type of castle was built and the castle was given to the Ferrers family. From 1266 until the present day the castle has been the property of the Earls and Dukes of Lancaster and their descendants, the Kings and Queens of England in right of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Today, most of the surviving buildings date from the 15th century, although the gateway at the north end is early 14th century. The house which is still inhabited today, is mid-18th century and incorporates some 17th century features. Over the years the castle has had some distinguished visitors, albeit some reluctant ones. Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner at Tutbury Castle for a time and a brewer at nearby Burton upon Trent was a go-between for Mary and those plotting on her behalf.
King James 1, Mary’s son later visited on several occasions, the castle accommodation being improved by the replacement of an old medieval range of buildings, with new ones which became to be known as the King’s Lodging. James’ son, King Charles 1 also visited the castle several times and used the King’s Lodging when he stayed there and during the Civil War, the castle was held for him.
A short, but unsuccessful siege of the castle in 1643 however, was followed by a successful one in the Spring of 1646, leading to the Castle’s surrender. One of the conditions of the surrender was that the castle should be rendered untenable and local men were employed to pull down the buildings. After the Restoration in 1662, some of the rooms of the Castle were repaired, but its days as a fortress were over.
In 1751, a visitor to Tutbury described how he had witnessed the demolition of “an apartment of about three grand rooms, a floor with handsome window-cases and doors of modern Roman architecture.” Around about this time the artificial ruin on the motte was erected, so that Lord Vernon who now leased the castle, would have the view from his mansion at Sudbury improved. In 1832 the Duchy of Lancaster turned down a proposal to turn part of the castle into a local prison. Money was spent on repairs and the castle became a visitor attraction which it remains to today.
Tamworth Castle is also local to where I live and is today one of the best-preserved motte and bailey castles in England. The site of the castle served as a residence of the Mercian Kings in Anglo-Saxon times. Offa of the famous dyke (which formed the border between Mercia and Wales) built a palace there. After the Viking attack in 874ad, contemporary accounts recorded that Tamworth was left “for nearly forty years a mass of blackened ruins”. In 913ad, King Alfred’s daughter, Athelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, is known to have had Tamworth refortified and it was one of the Burghs.
It was the Normans though, who built the Castle and the Marmion family, hereditary Champions of the Duke of Normandy held the Castle for six generations until 1294. It then passed to the Freville family upon Philip Marmion’s death and they held it until 1423. The Ferrers family were the next family to hold the castle. Over the centuries additions were made to the Castle, including the pictured 17th century, Jacobean three storey south range. Although the Castle came under siege in 1643 by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, it survived and fortunately didn’t suffer the fate of Tutbury Castle, being instead garrisoned by Parliament.
In 1715, upon the marriage of Elizabeth Ferrers to the 5th Earl of Northampton, the Castle passed to the Compton family. For most of the 19th century the castle was let out to tenants, until in 1891 the castle was purchased by the then Tamworth Corporation. Today the successors of the corporation, the Tamworth Borough Council still own the castle and it is open to the public between April and September.
It wasn’t until later in my life that I toured the castles of North Wales, which were built to ring the coast, following the successful campaign of Edward 1 to conquer the Welsh. Beaumaris Castle, on the Isle of Anglesey, the last of the royal castles to be built is one of my favourites. Building was commenced in April 1295. Castles are generally designed as fortified residences and this is certainly true in the case of Beaumaris Castle.
At Beaumaris, all the residential accommodation was either in the Inner Ward, or in towers attached to it. Beaumaris also had more accommodation than one would normally find in a castle. This is because when work was first started on the castle it was expected that the castle would need to accommodate the Royal Court, but alas this never came to pass. Unfortunately, the money ran out and in 1331, work on the castle was halted. The front of the Llanfraes Gate was left unfinished, the great towers of the Inner Ward only reached a little above the floor level of their top storeys and the turrets were never begun.
Over the years that followed the castle fell into disrepair. In 1534, it was reported “there was scarcely a single chamber in Beaumaris castle where a man could lie dry.” Four years later all four of the castles in North Wales were reported to be, (to quote in the language of the time) “much ruynous and ferre in decay for lacke of tymely reparacons.” In 1609, Beaumaris Castle was officially classified as “utterlie decayed.” Buildings were dismantled at Beaumaris Castle sometime around the time of the Restoration in 1660.
The castle experienced one more Royal occasion when in 1832 a Royal Eisteddfod was held there and her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and her 13-year-old daughter, the future Queen Victoria attended. Today the castle is in the care of Cadw, Welsh Historic Monuments and is open to the public. I still love visiting there today and indeed all the other castles I have visited over the years. A symbol of our islands’ martial past, or someone’s home, they all have their own magic and mystery.
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About the author
Brian Kitchen lives in Burton upon Trent, England and enjoys walking in the countryside, photography, reading, writing, visiting museums and historic sites & buildings and supporting Burton Albion. He first became interested in the history of Roman Britain as a child and loved the Eagle of the Ninth trilogy of novels by Rosemary Sutcliff. The first of the Flavius Vitulasius novels, Divided Empire is his first published novel.