Tag Archives: Castle

Alnwick – The Windsor of the North

Alnwick - The Windsor of the North

Alnwick has been dubbed the Windsor of the North: I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but it’s obviously to do with the fact that Alnwick has the second largest lived-in castle in England – after Windsor of course, so how does it really compare to Her Majesty’s home down south?

Alnwick (pronounced Annick) is a pleasant market town of around 8,000 inhabitants situated some 5 miles inland from the Northumberland coast, and about half way between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The main attraction is without doubt the magnificent castle, but after arriving in Alnwick, you might want to do the same as we did, and get to know a little bit more about the town which lies next to the River Aln first. It’s not very far to walk, and it will help put everything into perspective, especially where the Percy family are concerned, who are not only inextricably linked with Northumberland, but have lived in the castle for over 700 years.

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Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the rocky headland overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne would have been a natural place for the Romans to build a fort to guard the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall, but they didn’t: Instead, they chose to build one on the opposite side of the river at South Shields which they called Arbeia. What their reasons were I’m not sure, but although remains of an Iron Age settlement have been found on Pen Bal Crag, the first written records didn’t appear until the 8th century when monks established a community here on the north side of the river.

The precise date when this first monastery was built isn’t known for sure, but history detectives have pinned it down to around the mid-700s. It seems as though Tynemouth was one of four monasteries in this part of the country at the time, the other three being Wearmouth, Lindisfarne and Jarrow, which was located just across the river.

One of Jarrow’s monks was the Venerable Bede (c673-735) who, in around 731, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, considered by most experts to be the first ever historical account of the people who lived in the land we now call England. Those in the know will tell you that he never mentioned a monastery at Tynemouth, so it’s assumed that there wasn’t one here during his lifetime. By 792, there was definitely a monastery here because this became King Osred II of Northumbria’s final resting place.

The 9th and 10th centuries saw the Vikings being attracted to the riches of the monasteries of the North-East, and Tynemouth’s monastery was on their list of targets. Around 875 they raided and destroyed the (wooden) buildings, after which it seems, they were content to stay put for a while.

The picture below shows the remains of Jarrow’s monastery which was rebuilt during medieval times. Part of the old Anglo-Saxon monastery still survives in the chancel of the adjacent St. Paul’s church.

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Wolvesey Palace and the Bishops of Winchester

Wolvesey Palace and the Bishops of Winchester

In my recent post about London Bridge City and The Shard, I spoke about the area’s early history and why there were several large houses belonging to important religious figures lining the southern bank of the Thames – and the most imposing of these was Winchester Palace, the remains of which can still be seen in Southwark’s Clink Street.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Southwark was in the county of Surrey and part of the Diocese of Winchester, one of the most important religious centres in the country, but not only that, Winchester was also the capital of England.

Being an astute and religious man, William the Conqueror not only engaged the services of the bishops to help him keep religious order, he also used their influence and power to advise him on state affairs.

Two of my earlier posts, Winchester – the First Capital of England, and Winchester Cathedral – From the Saxons to the Normans, may help to explain why the city and cathedral of Winchester were so important to the new King of England.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 4 – Whatever happened to it?

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 4 - Whatever Happened to it?

This is the final instalment of my blogs on Bristol Castle and it describes events leading up to its demise. It makes sense therefore, if you haven’t already done so, to read the previous three blogs first, the links to which you can find at the end of this post.

With the death of Edward III, a new era started to emerge, and the importance of Bristol Castle started to decline as the focus of attention shifted north with the onset of the Wars of the Roses.

Edward III outlived his son, the Black Prince, and so it was the prince’s son Richard, who became the next king of England at just ten years old. The guardian of the boy king was Edward III’s oldest surviving son, John of Gaunt, and it was his son, Henry Bolingbroke the Duke of Lancaster, who became king as Henry IV when Richard was forced to give up the throne in 1399.

After the death of Henry IV, his son extended the Lancaster side of the Plantagenet family’s hold on the crown as Henry V. His skill on the battlefield, notably at Agincourt, is well documented, and helped him to gain large chunks of French territory. After his death in 1422 his 9-month-old son became Henry VI, the youngest ever King of England. Unfortunately, he had none of his father’s attributes where fighting was concerned and duly lost all his father’s territorial gains.

It wasn’t just in foreign fields that he was a failure, he wasn’t any better at controlling his feudal barons back home either – and it certainly didn’t help that he also suffered from bouts of madness. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising therefore that another member of the family, Richard Duke of York, eventually thought it might be as a good a time as any to stake his claim for the throne, and on 22nd May 1455 he defeated the king at the Battle of St Albans – and the Wars of the Roses had begun.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 3 – The Three Edwards

King Edward II

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 3 - The Three Edwards

In the previous article (which you can find here) I recounted how Prince Edward had found himself besieged in Bristol Castle by the local population. You would think therefore that when he became king after his father died in 1272, it would be pay-back time, but fortunately for the citizens of Bristol, Edward I had enough on his plate fighting the Scots and Welsh – and perhaps remembering his own experience there, he found use for the castle as a prison for a few of his enemies. Even so, his attention was mainly drawn elsewhere and he gave the castle to his wife, Eleanor of Castille, who in turn rented it out to the mayor of Bristol.

Edward I was actually a good king for Bristol because trade flourished and the city prospered, but on July 7th 1307, Edward died on his way to yet another showdown with the Scots, and his son became Edward II. Whilst Edward I (known as Longshanks thanks to his height) was a powerful man in more ways than one, his son was anything but. He may have been good looking, brave and intelligent, but he was also lazy, frivolous and arrogant with a tendency to look after his favourites before anyone or anything else.

In 1308 he married Isabella of France, but if you believe some medieval chroniclers, the real love of his life was his favourite, Piers Gaveston. Modern-day historians are divided over the question regarding his sexuality, but whatever the truth, Gaveston’s influence on the king tested the patience of the barons to such an extent that when they got hold of him, they came to the conclusion that it would be best if his head was separated from the rest of his body. Obviously, this displeased His Majesty very much, but it had the opposite effect on Queen Isabella who forgave him, or at least for long enough to produce an heir to the throne.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 2 – The First Plantagenets

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood - Castle Park

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 2 - The First Plantagenets

In this second part of a series of posts about Castle Park, I’m going to try and unravel what happened at Bristol Castle when the first Plantagenets took over from the Normans after the Anarchy.

If you haven’t read the first part yet, or just want to refresh your memory you can read about it here; and if you cast your mind back, the man responsible for providing Bristol with one of the country’s biggest castles at the time was the 1st Earl of Gloucester, and after his death in 1147, his son William Fitz Robert became the 2nd Earl. You may also remember that King Stephen, who was victorious over Matilda in the civil war known as The Anarchy, died in 1154 without an heir and signed an agreement to hand the crown over to his adversary’s son, Henry.

Henry II was the first Plantagenet king, the name deriving from his father, Geoffrey of Anjou who wore a sprig of broom in his hat. Botanists will tell you that the Latin name for this shrub is Planta Genista which in French was known as Genêt, but where the English name Broom came from, I have no idea.

King Henry II spent much of his young life during the Anarchy under the protection and guidance of the 1st Earl of Gloucester at Bristol and even though his 34-year reign started well enough, it didn’t quite end that way, and he’s probably best remembered for the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. He died on 6th July 1189 and was buried in France.

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Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 1 – The Normans and The Anarchy

Castle Park

Where Bristol Castle Once Stood Pt 1 - The Normans and The Anarchy

You wouldn’t know it, because there’s hardly anything left to see, but Bristol once had an impressive Norman castle. A lot of water has passed under the drawbridge since then, and where the castle once stood, there is now an open recreational green space occupying the land between the River Avon, the Old City and the shopping quarter.

In my post From Brycgstowe to Bristol I briefly explained the city’s origins, and in this first part of a series of posts about the area now called Castle Park, I want to talk about what happened when the Normans arrived after the Conquest of 1066.

Brycgstowe had been built by the Anglo-Saxons on the high ground between the Rivers Avon and Frome, which not only provided them with access to trading routes, but also afforded good protection on three sides. To supplement this natural protection a wooden palisade was also built around the town.

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Dunster Village

Dunster Village

Dunster is a village of just over 800 people lying on the north-eastern edge of Exmoor National Park, close to the Bristol Channel. Its main attraction is the castle which has been here for a thousand years, and for 600 of those, it belonged to the Luttrell family who gave it to the National Trust in 1976.

Naturally, many of the visitors come to see the castle, and I intend to write a separate post about it later; but for now, I just want to write a short introduction to the village, which is worth a visit in itself.

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St. Michael’s Mount

St. Michael's Mount

I’ve got a painting at home of St. Michael’s Mount under a moonlit sky, and to me it represents a classic Cornish seascape. I can almost hear the monks at prayer in their monastery and the sound of waves gently lapping the shore, but I can also imagine the Spaniards attacking the coastline and the smugglers offloading their barrels of brandy.

This painting was conceived from the artist’s imagination of course, but if you can be here when all the other visitors have gone, then it’s still possible to get a feel for the centuries of history that lie behind this evocative Cornish landmark.

Being Cornwall, it’s inevitable that this small rocky island half a mile offshore from Marazion, has attracted its fair share of myths and legends: Tales of seafarers being lured onto the rocks by mermaids were followed in the 5th century by an apparition of the Archangel Michael by local fishermen.

St. Michael (who is regarded as a protector from evil) is, amongst other things, the patron saint of fishermen, and his ‘appearance’ was seen as a vision to help keep the fishermen safe from harm.

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Pendennis and St. Mawes – Twin Castles on the Fal Estuary

St Mawes Castle with Pendennis in the Distance

Pendennis and St. Mawes - Twin Castles on the Fal Estuary


Falmouth Harbour is a deep natural expanse of water that has provided anchorage for centuries, and traditionally, like other coastal communities around the country, protection against any threat of foreign invasion was left in the hands of local lords, but the 16th century saw these simple defences become inadequate when the threat of invasion became more serious after King Henry VIII upset the Pope and his Roman Catholic friends.

The failure of Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, to provide a male heir prompted Henry to do something about it, and under normal circumstances, it would have been easy enough for the king to do what he wanted, and that was to divorce Catherine and marry the new love of his life, Anne Boleyn – but these weren’t normal circumstances. When Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage he refused, due in no small part to the fact that he was under the thumb of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who had taken control of Rome – and Charles was Catherine’s nephew.

In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn, and left the Pope with no option but to excommunicate him from the Catholic Church. The following year Henry forced through the Act of Supremacy which made him the Supreme Head of the Church of England thus leaving the Pope with no religious authority at all in England. Henry then wasted no time in divorcing Catherine – but he must have known that there would be trouble ahead.

The Pope was eventually compelled to act, and in 1538 issued an order to depose the King of England. Francis I of France, and Charles V, (who was also king of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperor) posed the main threats, and to deal with them Henry needed to improve his vulnerable defences along the south coast – and the entrance to the Fal Estuary was one of them.

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Falmouth Harbour

Falmouth Harbour

I don’t know how many hours I’ve wasted trawling through facts and figures about the smallest this and the largest that, and now here’s another one. Some people claim that Falmouth is the third largest deep water natural harbour in the world. There are so many variables about what constitutes the criteria for that claim, that I’ve given up trying to get to the bottom of it (the claim I mean, not the harbour).

There’s a difference between a harbour and a bay for instance, and I think it’s fair to say that Sydney Harbour is the most likely candidate for being the largest. The other contenders will have to fight it out because it’s not clear cut. Falmouth however, does qualify as being a natural harbour because it’s really a tidal drowned river valley, or ria, to give it the proper name – and it is deep.

Several rivers merge to provide fresh water for the harbour and they all end up in Carrick Roads, the main body of water in Falmouth Harbour. Its unusual name comes from the Karrek Ruen (Black Rock) which is a potential hazard at the mouth of the estuary between St. Anthony Head and Pendennis Point.

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Berry Pomeroy Castle – Romantic Ruin, or Just Plain Spooky?

Berry Pomeroy Castle - Romantic Ruin, or Just Plain Spooky?

Berry Pomeroy Castle has been described as one of the most picturesque and romantic ruins in England, but it has also been described as one of the most haunted castles in England as well!

The village of Berry Pomeroy lies just a couple of miles east of Totnes and gets its name from the Pomeroy family whose first owner was Ralf de Pomaria, a Norman knight from La Pommeraye near Falaise. He was given the manor by William the Conqueror, but it was another four centuries before the castle was built. Neither the precise date, nor the reason for its construction is really known, but it was most likely at the end of the 15th century, and possibly because of the family’s involvement in the War of the Roses. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty certain that it never saw any real military action.

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