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