Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


10.5.15
  Vikings and Before

The open air museum in Haithabu near Schleswig - on the peninsula that separates the Baltic Sea from the North Sea - has been on my list for some years. Because Vikings. *grin* Actually, the site is of historical interest beyond some reconstruced houses and shiny finds. King Heinrich the Fowler conquered the town, then in Danish possession, in 934, and his sons kept having trouble with the Danes in the years to come not least because of the importance of Haithabu.

The reconstructed Viking village of Haithabu seen from the wall

Haithabu, also known as Hedeby in ancient sources, was a major trade settlement from the 8th to the 11th century. A new settlement evolved on the other side of the river Schlei (the present day town of Schlewsig) after the place was abandonend, so that the remains of Haithabu have never been built over. Excavations take place since the early 20th century and recently some houses have been reconstructed as open air museum.

Open air musem Haithabu, seen from the entrance

There is an exhibition as well, and more finds are on display in the Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Palace in Schleswig. When I was there, some reenactors showed old arts like basket weaving, naalbinding and brass casting, as well as an archery demonstration. It was a lot of fun and half the people were even dressed in Viking garments. Schleswig is not far from the Danish border; and the Danes seem to be even more Viking crazy than the Germans.

Haithabu, interior of one of the houses

Haithabu's situation on an istmus on the peninsula between the Baltic and the North Sea, with only 18 miles of land passage between ther rivers Schlei (flowing into the Baltic Sea) and Treene / Eider (entering into the North Sea), was an ideal spot for a trade center. Once the entire walled in semicircle was full of buildings. No wonder the place was contested between the kings of Denmark and Germany in the 10th century.

Danevirke, remains of Waldemar's Wall

The Danevirke was a set of walls across the isthmus. The first ones date to the 8th century or maybe earlier, while the latest addition was erected under Valdemar the Great in the 12th century, to protect the kingdom of the Danes. The interesting feature is that he used a double set of brick walls filled with ashlar. The wall was again used in the German-Danish war in 1864, when additional redoubts were built.

The famous Nydam Ship

We go back in time a bit. The famous Nydam ship dates to 320 AD. It has been discovered in a bog in the 19th century and is the oldest German seagoing ship to be found so far. It is very well preserved - as are other sacrificial finds in the same bog which can be seen in the museum. That one is a place to get lost in if you're interested in things from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages. And photographing was allowed, yay.

Bog body; the 'child of Vindeby' (Museum Schloss Gottorf)

I remember that I was fascinated with the bog bodies when I visited the museum in Schleswig as kid (the Haithabu musem did not exist back then) and they are still pretty cool, though difficult to photograph because the room is so dark.The finds from the bogs of Nydam and Thorsberg date from the first millenium BC to the 3rd and 4th century AD and were discovered in the 19th century.

3rd century AD ornaments (Museum Schloss Gottorf)

A lot of weapons, ornaments, pottery, and whatever found their way into the bogs as sacrificial donations; for which modern archaeologists are grateful. This set of shiny stuff displays some 3rd century AD ornaments, fibulas, armrings, girdles and such. Some of them show a Roman influence on German arts.

Bronze Age swords (and some replica)

This set is older, dating to the Bronze Age. I won't even count the number of pointy things to be seen in the museum; there is an abundance of swords, daggers and spears to arm a king's host. And quite a bit of horse equipment as well. I had a field day in that musem.

Gottorf Palace (Schloss Gottorf)

Here's a photo of Gottorf Palace (Schloss Gottorf), seat of the State Archaeological Museum and the State Art and Culture Museum. The palace dates to the late 17th century and had once been the seat of the dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp until it fell into Danish possession in 1713. During WW2 it served as home for refugees; in 1948, the castle came into possession of the government of the county Schleswig-Holstein and was eventually turned into a museum.

The harbour in Flensburg

And because it's such a pretty town, here is a photo of Flensburg at the modern Danish border. It is a Medieaval town, but it never was a member of the Hansa League since it was part of the duchy of Schleswig that was held in vassalty by the King of Denmark. Because of its position, the town has seen quite a bit of warfare over time.
 


9.5.15
  Hansa Towns and Brick Architecture

I finally found time to sort through my photos and write the obligatory introduction posts to my latest little journey to the Hansa towns of Lübeck and Wismar, and visiting some Vikings in the open air museum of Haithabu near Schleswig.

Lübeck, Holstentor Gate

The Holstentor IS sagging a bit due to a soft underground; that's not the fault of the photo. It is a fine example of representative brick architecture and shows that the merchants and town council had the money to build in grand style.

Lübeck, St. Mary's Church, main nave

Another building financed by the town is the Church of St.Mary. It was intended as competition to the cathedral that had been started by Duke Heinrich the Lion and later became the church of the bishop. Both churches - as well as the other churches in Lübeck's old town - have been constructed of bricks.

Lübeck, the cathedral seen from the north side

While St.Mary is a purely Gothic church, the cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque elements and Gothic additions, with some Baroque altars and memorials thrown in for bad measure. Unfortunately, the weather was quite dreary the first day - brick architecture looks prettier in sunshine.

Lübeck, warehouses at the Trave

Those warehouses at the Trave river date to the high time of the Hansa. Back then, they would not have had so many windows, though. Today, the buildings are used as appartments and offices.

Lübeck, the Castle Gate

The second remaining gate of the old town of Lübeck, the Burgtor or Castle Gate, protected northern side of the town. The castle which gave the gate ist name had been turned into a monastery already in 1227, but the gate - originally a set of three gates - remained in function long thereafter.

Wismar, St.Nicholas Church, apse

Another fine example of Gothic brick architecture is St.Nicholas' Church in Wismar. It is late Gothic stlye, but much less flamboyant than churches of the same time in England or France. The flying buttresses you can see in the photo are more compact and sturdy, for example.

Wismar, St. George Church, interior

When I visited Wismar in 2004, the Church of St.George, which had been severely damaged during WW2, was still without a roof and in bad repair. I had promised I'd come back when they got the roof done and now I've fulfilled that promise. What I like about this church is the lack of furniture, because that way one gets a much better impression of the size of the interior.

Wismar, St. George, seen from the old harbour

The view from the harbour gives a good image of the size of the church. The planned tower had never been finished. I like the old harbour of Wismar and I had luck with the weather both times I've been there.

Schleswig cathedral, seen from the Baltic Sea firth

The cathedral in Schleswig got a pretty big tower, though. It is another example of Gothic brick architecture. Schleswig was not a member of the Hansa League but it was trade town nevertheless after it took over from Haithabu in the 11th century, and see of a bishop.

And finally....
WANTED


For airborne piracy and theft of a prawn sandwich

Yes, this cheeky gull did steal the better part of a prawn sandwich I was eating in Wismar's old harbour. They sell them directly from the ships and the gulls know that.

 


22.4.15
  Two Fairy Tale Castles - Trendelburg and Sababurg

I'll be away on the little trip to the Baltic Sea I mentioned in the post below until the beginning of May. But I'll leave you with some photos of fairy tale castles connected to the stories collected and retold by the Grimm Brothers.

Castle Trendelburg, photographed on an autumn afternoon

The Trendelburg, situated on a promontory in the Reinhardswald Forest in the western Weser uplands, is connected with the story of Rapunzel or the Maiden in the Tower. The Grimm Brothers lived, studied and worked first in Kassel, later in Göttingen, and part of the oral traditon that was included in their fairy tale collection came from the area around these towns. So it is no surprise that some castles became connected with those tales. The local tourist management is grateful for that. *grin*

Castle Trendelburg, the keep, also known as Rapunzel -Tower

The Trendelburg dates back to the 13th century when it was in possession of the Counts of Schöneberg who lost it to the bishopric of Paderborn. Eventually, the castle fell to Heinrich I Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. (Yes, there's a longer post hiding in that fun bit of history). Another landgrave turned the castle into a hunting lodge in the 1650ies. In the 19th century, the castle held the offices of the forestry administration, and in 1901 it was sold into private hands. Today it is accomodates a hotel and restaurant. And sometimes you can spy Rapunzel walking around.

Rapunzel Tower and the great hall

The castle retains a number of its old features, like the 38 metres high keep and three other towers, the great hall, the main gate, and parts of the curtain wall. The battlements have been renovated, as well as parts of the towers and other buildings - already when the landgrave of Hessia used the place as hunting lodge, and again when the castle was turned into a hotel. A trench and a earthen wall as additional fortifications have mostly been flattened over time; in the Middle Ages, the main gate could only be reached by a drawbridge.

The bridge spanning the remains of the trench, and parts of the curtain wall

The Trendelburg still gives the impression of a Mediaeval castle, with its bulky towers and the formidable keep.

The Sababurg has been altered more, but even there you can find old parts. The Sababurg is the castle of the Sleeping Beauty (Dornröschen in German), and it too, is a hotel and restaurant today. Complete with a dressed-up prince whom I spotted when we had some smoked trout on the terrace on a sunny spring afternoon.

Sababurg, the castle of the Sleeping Beauty, in early spring

The Sababurg (its older name was Zappaborg) was built in 1334 to protect the pilgrimage church of nearby Gottsbühren, initiated by the bishop of Mainz. Now, the bishopric of Mainz was constantly at cahoots with the bishopric of Paderborn and the landgraves of Hessia, so the castle, while not involved in any military actions as far as I know, became a focus of the quarreling parties nevertheless, changing possession a few times. As a result, it was abandoned and basically a ruin in 1455.

Sababurg, inner bailey with remains of the palas to the left

Those landgraves liked their castle style hunting lodges. Landgrave Wilhelm I of Hessia erected one on the remains of the Sababurg in 1490. The palas which today is a ruin was finished in 1519. The landgraves planted a thorny hedge to protect their animal park (there is still an animal park today, quite a tourist attraction on a sunny spring day). After the Thirty Years War the castle fell into ruins and was so overgrown with brambles that is was easy to imagine it having been the castle of the Sleeping Beauty.

The remains of the palas seen from one of the towers

Well, another landgrave of Hessia, Karl, got rid of the brambles and repaired the castle. But it became less important over time, some of the buildings were taken down, and in the 19th century, it was but the lodgings of the local forester. Today the county of Hessia is charged with the repairs and restorations. The curtain walls and the palace are ruins, but some other buildings, including two of the towers, have been turned into a hotel with restaurant. Rose bushes have been planted in some spots which shall cover part of the walls in the years to come.

Another view of the inner bailey

The castles Trendelburg, Sababurg and Bramburg also feature in a tale not collected by the Grimm Brothers. A giant named Kruko (see Krukenburg) had three daughters, Saba, Brama and Trendula. Saba and Brama were Christians but Trendula remaind a pagan. Saba and Brama wept a lot for her sister, but to no avail; she stubbornly held to the old ways. In the end the sisters decided to build each their own castle. One day Trendula invited Saba for a visit and killed her; Trendula was struck by a lightning and died a grisly death. No prince anywhere in sight in that one.
 


4.4.15
  Happy Easter

I wish my readers a Happy and Blessed Easter.

Spring has been slow in coming, but now the first buds defy the cold nights and decided to sprout. And the pollen have started to attack innocent noses.

The first buds of spring at the Rhume springs

I haven't been out much yet because of the severe storms those last days that left too many unstable branches around in the woods which have to be cleaned out. And before, there always was rain on the weekends. The photo is an older one from my files.

The last traces of snow in the Harz

Though this year there is still considerably more snow left in the higher parts of the Harz mountains than the year I took this photo. Which means the place is also full of tourists who can't drive in winter conditions.

Spring at the Weser river

I plan for a short holiday at the end of April - along the Baltic Sea coast to escape the pollen attacks for a few days. Lübeck, Wismar and Schleswig (including the reconstructed Viking settlement at Haithabu / Hedeby) and whatever else I can squish into the itinerary
 


15.3.15
  Nunnery and Ducal Burial - Wiebrechtshausen

The church in the small village of Wiebrechtshausen near Northeim is another of those pretty Romansque churches you can find in off road corners in Germany. It is one of the sites where I got a bunch of photos but not much information to go with them, in this case likely due to the fact that Wiebrechtshausen never played a significant role in the great historical events.

Wiebrechtshausen, westwork

The most important event connected with the nunnery is the burial of Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen († 1394), first outside the church because he had been excommunicated. After his wife managed to get the ban lifted in 1400, a chapel connected to the church was erected over his tomb. The connection with House Hannover also helped in getting funds for repairs in later times, so the church is in a good condition today.

North side with the burial chapel of Duke Otto

Like in the case of other historical buildings from the earlier Middle Ages, the exact time of the foundation can not be traced; the first mention of a nunnery at Wiebrechtshausen dates from 1245. A hospice predates the nunnery; it is first listed in a charte of the archbishop Siegfried of Mainz for 1216. Dendrochronological dates of the remains of a window sill also point to a time between 1210 and 1240.

The church seen from the northeast with the main apse to the left

There may have been a hospice already in the 11th century, if the citation in Bishop Meinwerk of Paderborn's Vita of a 'Wicberneshusen' refers to a settlement close to the present day village. A hospice likely included a church, but the present one - dedicated to St.Mary - was built in the first half of the 13th century, on the threshold between the Romanesque and the Gothic style. It may have replaced an older building, though.

Interior, view to the altar

The founder of the nunnery was one Herewigus, but nothing more is known about him. The nuns and the abbess came from the nearby chapter in Northeim, as did most of the provosts. There is also no information about the lands given to the nunnery by Herewigus. Later, local nobles and rich burghers would donate lands so that the nunnery became an economic endeavour in its own right.

Interior, view to the nuns' gallery

The nuns in Wiebrechtshausen - on average twelve of them - followed the Cistercian rules which can be summarised by the famous ora et labora. Contrary to Cistercian monasteries like Walkenried, the nuns did not start out in the wilderness which they then cultivated. Instead, their houses were in places that already had a some sort of infrastructure, and they worked as scribes and illuminators. The hard work on the fields was done by lay servants. The nuns were well educated; a teacher is mentioned in 1318, and it is said they all had Latin (in a source from 1542).

Another interior view

In the late 14th century, the dukes of Braunschweig began to take a closer interest in the nunnery. The most visible remain of this interest is the St. Anna's chapel which was erected over the tomb of Duke Otto of Braunschweig-Göttingen. Contrary to the church itself, the style is purely Gothic; a single room of 7,80 x 4,70 metres with three high Gothic windows and a gross grain vaulted ceiling supported by two pillars with buttresses on the outer wall. The material is sandstone for the foundations and sills, and limestone for the walls.

The church seen from St.Anna's chapel

The church itself is mostly constructed of roughly hewn limestone ashlar; the defining elements like window frames, foundations and corner stones are red sandstone. The church has no tower or transepts, but three apsides in the east and a pretty massive westwork with an entrance hall. The Romanesque windows are small but the basilica style with additional windows in the upper main nave gives enough light. The large Gothic window of the chapel stands out from the outside (see photo above).

The main gate

The prettily decorated main gate already has a slightly pointed arch; a sign for the border between the Romanesque and Gothic style. But the overall impression of the interior is Romanesque with its alternating sturdy rectangular columns and more slender pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling. Some of the pillar capitals are decorated with flower and leaves tracework.

The church has a main nave and two lower side naves, but the view is drawn in more by details than by the whole because of the compartmentalisation of the architecture.

Interior, seen from the entrance arcades

The church measures 28,60 x 14,50 metres. The defining architectural elements like the frame of the vaults and windows, the vault support grains and the columns are again highlighted by red sandstone, the rest of the walls is today whitewashed. No traces of murals are mentioned, but there likely were frescoes in the Middle Ages. The westwork hall holds the nuns's gallery (see photo above) and here again you can see that the archs are already slightly pointed, while the apse windows in the altar room are still of the rounded Romanesque variant.

Southern side nave

The Wiebrechtshausen nunnery did well until the later 14th and 15th century when it faced periods of financial troubles, and sometimes had to pawn out land to keep afloat. Its last time of flower was under the provost Bertold Steinbuel (1475-1505) who managed to get the nunnery out of debt, reformed the agriculture and introduced new mills, barns and stables.

Closeup of a capital

In 1584, the Refomation was introduced, and the nunnery was finally secularised in 1615. The land fell to the dukes of Braunschweig who rented out the fields, mills and other sources of income. Today, Wiebrechtshausen is part of the Hannoverian monastery fonds and still a substantial agricultural endeavour. Most of the outer buidlings date to the 18th or 19th century but have been erected on older foundations. Part of the nuns' lodgings south of the west gate still retains some 13th century stonework, though the building has long been used as barn.

Wiebrechtshausen nunnery, outer buildings

Besides the remains of Duke Otto, the church is also said to hold the intestines of Duke Friedrich of Braunschweig-Lüneburg who was assassinated near Fritzlar in May 1400. He is buried in Braunschweig.

Literature:
Th. Moritz, G. Keindorf. Kloster St.Maria zu Wiebrechtshausen, Schriften der Klosterkammer Hannover; Berlin 2009

 


1.3.15
  Chepstow Castle 3: Civil War, Restoration, and Aftermath

We've seen that Chepstow Castle was still considered a fitting accomodation during the Tudor times, albeit with some added comfort. It also continued to be of strategially importance in controlling the crossing of the Severn.

While changes in Tudor times involved the living quarters, later alterations served to adapt the fortifications to modern warfare, like those made to the battlements in order to accomodate cannons.

Upper gatehouse, from a different angle

Chepstow was still in possession of the earls of Worcester at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. At the time it was held by Henry Somerset, the fifth earl (later created 1st Marquess of Worcester) who had converted to Catholicism and declared for King Charles. Henry supported the king - not at least thanks to his enormous wealth by rising regiments and such - while holding a low profile himself, but when King Charles escaped the battle of Naseby and sought shelter in Raglan, another Worcester castle and the earl's main seat, Henry Somerset got actively involved in the war.

(right: Interior of the south-west tower)

The Welshman Sir Thomas Morgan, one of Cromwell's commanders and governor of Gloucester since 1645, untertook to flush out the Royalist resistance pockets in Wales. He laid siege to Chepstow Castle - something another general, Sir William Waller, had tried in vain two years before. Morgan, who had brought some 900 men along, put up heavy artillery on the hill opposite the castle and managed to blow a breach into the curtain wall, though it took him three days of constant fire. The commander of the castle, Irishman Colonel Edmond Fitzmorris, and his garrison of about hundred men surrendered. Morgan likely welcomed the booty of 18 cannons, the barrels of gunpowder and other supplies in the castle storage.

Morgan then moved on to lay siege to Raglan Castle where he was joined by forces under general Fairfax. Henry Somerset Marquess of Worcester stayed at Raglan which he had refortified, but the additions were of no use against the artillery power Fairfax could mount up, so Henry surrendered. The garrison got away, but Henry himself was taken prisoner and died at Windsor shortly thereafter. The castle was partly dismantled and the library, containing some rare Welsh texts, destroyed.

King Charles meanwhile had escaped to Scotand, but he finally surrendered to a Presbyterian Scottish army besieging his last refuge in Newark in May 1646. The Scots unfortunately sold him out to Cromwell; King Charles was tried by a parliament cleansed of everyone not on Cromwell's side, and was executed in January 1649.

Henry's son, Edward Somerset 2nd Marquess of Worcester (also known as Lord Herbert, and as Earl of Glamorgan) was involved in Charles' unfortunate treaty with the Irish and later had to flee to France. His estates were forfeited. Edward returned to England in 1652 and was kept under arrest for some time, but the whole episode is pretty muddled (1). Obviously, he got off lightly albeit financially ruined. All during those events, Edward occupied himself as an inventor who developed a primitive version of a steam engine, among other engineering projects.

King Charles' capture led to another series of Royalist uprisings. We get another obscure bit of history in Sir Nicholas Kemeys, the 'Captor and Defender of Chepstow Castle,' as an epic poem by Dafydd Morgan (1881) styles him. Obviously, Kemeys managed to retake the castle from the Parlamentarians in May 1648 and held if for some months until Cromwell marched west to put an end to the resistance in south Wales centered at Pembroke. He left Colonel Isaac Ewer behind to deal with Chepstow. Ewer must have used the same tactics as Fitzmorris, bombarding the castle from the opposite hillock until he managed to breach a wall. The garrison surrendered and Kemeys was killed. The circumstances of his death are not clear (3).

Interior of one of the twin gate towers

After the war, Chepstow Castle came into Cromwell's possession. Parliament granted him £ 300 to repair the castle. It was converted into a military barracks and a prison for political dissidents. Despite two successful sieges, the castle obviously was still deemed a worthy bulwark to spend money on repairs and additional fortifications.

(left: Hall in the Great Tower with the niches probably built by William the Conqueror and remains of the arcades separating the hall (at the wall to the right) which were added under the Marshal sons; see first post)

Lordship and town of Chepstow were returned to the marquess of Worcester upon the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. But the castle remained in possession of the king who kept it as fort. The garrison was raised and commanded by the marquess' son, Henry Lord Herbert (he would succeed to the titles of his father in 1667, and in 1682 became the first Duke of Beaufort). Henry spent an additonal £ 500 on improving the fortifications. The south-west tower and one of the middle bailey towers were filled with earth so they could support cannons. Cannon platforms were also built on the main gatehouse; the southern curtain wall was lowered and thickened and equipped with lines of musketloops. An inventory from the time lists several hundred muskets, but not all of them were in working shape.

Chepstow Castle continued to serve as prison. The most famous of those was Henry Marten († 1680) one of the men who signed King Charles' death warrant, who got away lighly with lifelong imprisonment; most of the other men on the list were executed. Marten lived in the tower that would take his name quite comfortably with his mistress and servants, and he was allowed to visit the local gentry.

Duke Henry did not live in Chepstow, though, he prefered town houses and modern country manors like Badminton House. His wife liked Chepstow even less. The garrison was finally disbandend in 1685; everything of value, including floors and fittings, removed to Duke Henry's other places.

It was the end of the castle as castle and fort, as well as living quarters for a lord, but not the end of the use of the buildings in Chepstow Castle. Some of those were used as industrial estates in the 18th century. We can find a glass blower' retort to make wine bottles in the great hall, and a nail manufactory in the middle tower. The baileys were cluttered up with timber buildings for the workers; there were a malting kiln and dog kennels, and I suspect some not fully legal use of the sea gate to the Wye river.

Cellar vault under Bigod's hall

The late 18th century saw an increasing interest in the historical aspect of old castles. Visitors started taking tours of the remains of Chepstow Castle (the Marten Tower was still intact then and could be climbed to get nice view, though the parts of the castle not longer in use were overgrown) and nearby Tintern Abbey.

The 8th Duke of Beaufort († 1899) cleared out the industrial works and the shrubs and ivy, and turned the baileys into some sort of picturesque park with trees and rustic seats. The Beaufort Estate also began with the conservation of the remaining substance in the late 19th century. Chepstow Castle became the meeting place for Mediaeval pageants and set for films (the 1913 version of Ivanhoe, fe.). The last owner, the Lysagh family, gave the castle into guardianship of Cadw, the historic division of the Welsh Assembly Government, in 1953. Cadw maintains the place until today.

Great Tower seen from the vale

Footnotes:
1) I only did a brief research but found some contradictory information about Edward having spent time as prisoner in England either after a capture in Ireland 1646 (well, if he was commander of the Confederate forces in Ireland that date would not work at all, dear Wikipedia) or 1648, or from 1652-54 upon his return from exile in France. Some websites don't mention the captivity at all. The 1652 date seems the most likely though I wonder why he would return, with his lands confiscated and Cromwell still in power.
2) There is an ebook edition of the poem, and a book about Keymes from 1923, which also mentions a poem by one R. D. Morgan in the title, but I could not find out more about that obscure poet.
3) The memorial plaque in the castle says he 'was slain'. The Cadw guidebook has 'shot peremptorily'. Considering the fact Colonel Ewer was among the men to sign King Charles' death warrant, I won't put it beneath him to accept the surrender of Kemeys and then have him shot peremptorily.

 


15.2.15
  Chepstow Castle, Part 2: From Edward II to the Tudors

There are a few notes about historical events and persons connected with Chepstow Castle in the guidebook, so I've tried to find additional information to connect those local events with the larger historical picture. But this post still remains a collection of historical vignettes instead of an in-depth essay; most of it is just too far outside my areas of research (and book collections).

The double-towered main gate

Edward II gave Chepstow Castle to his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton in 1312. Thomas left the actual management of the pace to a constabler who disappeared for an unknown destination two years later, taking the money chest with him.

(left: Remains of Bigod's buildings)

Obviously, already Bigod had cared much more for his new, handsome lodgings than keeping the rest of the place in good repair, and Thomas' constabler didn't improve things by selling all sorts of moveable goods. Though it didn't look fully as bad as in this picture. :-)

Edward eventually gave Chepstow to his friend Hugh Despenser the younger in 1323, and say what you want about Hugh, but he made sure the castle was put in order. He repaired the buildings and leaky roofs, replenished the armoury and had new springalds (1) set up on the battlements (the ones Bigod had put there were in storage and no longer useable). Hugh garrisoned the castle with 12 knights and 60 footmen, and kept the larder well filled.

With Chepstow Castle, also known as Striguil at the time, Hugh Despenser got another nice chunk to add to his possessions in southern Wales where he already was Earl of Glamorgan and also held the lands of his wife, Eleanor de Clare, among them Caerphilly Castle.

The regarrisoned and refurbished Chepstow Castle would come handy when the marriage between King Edward II and Isabella of France turned sour and Isabella invaded England, where she gathered a rather large bunch of nobles who were unhappy with Edward and even more so with the influential Despensers. Edward and Hugh Despenser fled to Chepstow (while Hugh's father held another important castle with Bristol). They may have hoped for Welsh support, but the Welsh who might have been willing to support Edward, loathed Hugh, and I suppose that is the reason succour was slow in coming. So Edward and Hugh, accompanied by a few retainers, left Chepstow through the sea gate (on the photo in the first post), trying to sail for Ireland. Bad weather forced them to land at Cardiff and flee to Caerphilly Castle which was held by Hugh's son, another Hugh.

Edward and Hugh the younger were captured outside Caerphilly Castle when they returned from failed negotiations taking place in nearby Neath Abbey (2). Hugh was gruesomely executed as traitor (hanged, drawn and quartered) in November 1326; his father had already been hanged when Bristol was taken. Edward abdicated in favour of his son Edward III and died at Berkeley Castle September 21st, 1327 (3). Hugh Despenser the even younger survived.

(right: Interior passage in Bigod's quarters)

I could not find out anything about the castle in the years to follow until it passed to Thomas Mowbray 4th Earl of Norfolk. He was ordered to garrison the castle against an assault by the Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dŵr whose rebellion against King Henry IV of England had gathered considerable support. But Owain never came that far south.

Still it was a difficult time for Henry IV, after Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland and the Marcher Lord Edmund Mortimer joined the rebellion instead of fighting Owain. Not sure what exactly happened but likely King Henry had managed to alienate those men by not paying Mortimer's ransom when he was captured by the Welsh, and not paying his debts to the Percys, either (4) In 1403, Owain, Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy of Northumberland negotiated the Tripartite Indenture where they basically split England among the three of them: Wales and the Welsh marches for Owain, southern England and the kingship for Mortimer, the north for Percy. Which didn't leave much for King Henry IV. :-)

At that time Thomas of Norfolk seems to have stood with the king, or he would not have been asked to fortify Chepstow. The rebellion failed, Henry Percy's son and leader of the rebel forces, Harry Hotspur, was killed in the battle of Shrewsbury, Mortimer fled with Owain back to Wales, Henry Percy lost his offices though he kept his lands. Owain Glyn Dŵr's rebellion in Wales lost impact, but it would still take several more years until it petered out.

Henry Percy of Northumberland was back to rebelling in 1405, and this time Thomas of Norfolk joined him and Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, though I could not find out the reason. Norfolk and Scrope were captured - in disregard of safe conducts promised to join a parley- at Shipton Moor and beheaded in June 1405. Percy fled to Scotland; he died in another battle in 1408.

(left: Marshal's Tower)

Chepstow Castle keeps getting connected with rebels and fallen favourites. We're right in the midst of the War of the Roses this time: In May 1464, King Edward IV (House York) had married Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Richard Woodville Earl of Rivers (he was Baron Rivers since 1448 and then still a supporter of the Lancastrian King Henry VI) who turned his cloak in time. The marriage made him earl and treasurer; his son John married Katherine Neville Duchess of Norfolk, about 45 years his senior, but with some nice lands and castles, Chepstow among them.

One family's rise is other families' loss, and in particular the Nevilles John Earl of Northumberland, and his brother Richard Earl of Warwick, were in a really bad mood (not the least because Warwick had tried to negotiate a marriage between Edward and a daughter of the King of France). They were joined by John de Vere Earl of Oxford, and George Duke of Clarence, a younger brother of King Edward IV, and did what discontent nobles liked to do: start a rebellion. John of Northumberland stirred trouble in the north while the others came to England via Kent. King Edward was at Nottingham at the time, awaiting reinforcements from the earls of Pembroke and Stafford, to deal with the troubles. But the rebels from the north marched south and met with the troops of Pembroke at Edgecote Moor in Oxfordshire (July 26th, 1469). Pembroke held the field in hope Devon, who was only some miles off, would join him, but when Warwick's army arrived from the south, morale broke and Pembroke's men fled. The earl and his brother were captured and executed; Devon met the same fate some days later. King Edward was taken prisoner.

Warwick partisans had already started to plunder Rivers' lands the year before. With the rebel victory at Edgecote, the star of the Woodvilles was falling. Richard and his son John were taken prisoners at Chepstow (obviously, the garrison handed them over to Warwick), and taken to Kenilworth where they were executed on August 12, 1469 (5). Chepstow as last refuge didn't seem to work out, its formidable fortifications nonewithstanding.

Warwick would not really earn the fruits of his rebellion. New skirmishes between Yorkists and Lancastrians broke out; Warwick could not get enough support in such unruly times and had to reinstall the popular King Edward, who pardoned him.

Lower bailey, view towards Marshal's gate and Bigod's house (left)

Charles (Beaufort) Somerset, the first earl of Worcester, rose to prominence under Henry Tudor, the later King Henry VII, and managed to keep his head and possessions under Henry VIII as well. He married Elizabeth Somerset (in 1492), daughter of William Herbert Earl of Pembroke, and Mary Woodville, sister to Elizabeth Woodville who had married King Edward II. She brought him Chepstow, together with the other lands of her father. Charles was made lord chamberlain by Henry VIII and was in charge of the negotiations with France, leading to the tournament at the Field of the Cloth of Gold on 1520.

(left: Marten's Tower)

Chepstow was not Charles' main seat (that was Raglan) but when he took a close look at the 200 years old Bigod buildings in the lower bailey, he found them outdated. He brought the whole set up to modern standards, with larger windows and more comfort, and turned the place into a great court suitable for a Tudor nobleman. He also added windows and new fireplaces to Marten's Tower. And for one, there are neither sieges nor beheadings to report.

That would change with the Civil War, of course. Chepstow was still well enough fortified to play a role in those fights, though it got damaged by canon fire. But I will leave that for another post.


Footnotes:
1) A springald is the unholy offspring of a small trebuchet and a large crossbow. They could fire bolts or in some cases rocks. They're best comparable with the portable, tripod-mounted torsion ballistae the Roman army used in the field.
2) Anerje recently wrote about the negotiation and flight from the abbey in her blog about Piers Gaveston and his time.
3) Kathryn Warner has written an article about the conspiracy to free Edward II from captivity at Berkeley Castle after his postulated death, and the possible inclinations of his survival. But whether or not he died in 1327, the red hot poker is definitely a myth.
4) There is a little video about the Percy family at Alnwick Castle (their main seat until today) where it is said that money definitely played a role in the growing dissatisfaction of the Northumberland earls with the king. Earl Henry and his son, nicknamed Harry Hotspur, had put a lot of effort into fighting raisings in Scotland and Wales and got less thanks and financial compensation than they expected.
5) That left the Duchess of Norfolk a widow for the fourth time; she would live to the ripe old age of 83 († 1483). As far as I know no one tried to foist another husband on her.


Middle barbican with a watch tower seen from the valley

There will be one last post to come, because I still have some cool photos left. :-)

Literature:
Rick Turner: Chepstow Castle, revised edition 2006. Part of the series of Cadw Guidebooks

 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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