Tag Archives: English History

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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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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A Journey Back in Time

A Journey Back in Time

One of the positive things to come out of this pandemic – and there aren’t many – is that people have come to appreciate their own backyard a bit more, and I mean that metaphorically not literally.

Ever since I was let loose on an unsuspecting world I’ve been accused of all sorts of things, but one thing I can’t really be accused of, is being blind to what’s on my own doorstep: I’ve always had an inquisitive mind at what’s around me, and  during the time I was living in North Somerset, I was always exploring the local area – places that people know well, places that people have probably never heard of, and places I probably shouldn’t have gone to at all.

It was quite a long time ago now since I lived there, and although it’s often said that you should never go back, I think it depends on why you want to, and going back down memory lane to re-kindle those salad days is something I really enjoy doing, even if times have changed.

Although Bradford-on-Avon is in Wiltshire, it wasn’t much more than half an hour’s drive away from where I used to live, but it’s much further from where I live now, and last year before Covid arrived, we took the train(s) from Paignton back up to the Avon Valley for a brief visit to see if it had changed very much.

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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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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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Wandering Through Totnes

Wandering Through Totnes

Totnes has a reputation for being one of the country’s quirkiest towns, and even its foundation has a mythical story attatched to it. According to legend, after being defeated in the Trojan War, the Trojans sailed off to find another home, and one of them, a prince by the name of Brutus, landed at Totnes, where he proclaimed “Here I stand and here I rest, and this town shall be called Totnes”.

Thanks largely to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century account Historia Regum Britanniae, Brutus was regarded as the founder of the Britons and therefore the first King of Britain. If you subscribe to this part of our island’s history, and want to embrace it even more, then there’s a granite slab in Fore Street called the Brutus Stone, which is supposed to be the spot where he came ashore. Seeing that it lies several hundred yards uphill from the river, either the stone or the river has moved since then, but I suppose that wouldn’t bother anyone who has magic mushrooms on toast for breakfast.

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