The English law that says a man’s home is his castle is now even more relevant as the UK descends into further restrictions, locking us up in our homes. Luckily, I was able to take a couple of side trips to real castles, that were for many centuries homes as well.
Before I left the relative safety and sanity of Canada for two weeks of quarantine on arrival in UK, followed by a joyous week of freedom in the virus-free Cotswolds, followed by another week of isolation in South Yorkshire which went into Tier 3 lockdown, I had been reading the delightful autobiography of Lady Anne Glenconner. Her book, Lady in Waiting, is a must-read for anyone who watches The Crown, or follows the activities of the British Royal Family, and has been shortlisted for a non-fiction award. She was Lady in Waiting to the late Princess Margaret, her husband turned the island of Mustique into a paradise for the rich, and her ancestor Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook) wrote in The Institutes of the Laws of England in 1628: “For a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge.”
In our tiny village, where Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire meet, no one has had Covid-19. Yet our adjacency to heavily infected Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster have forced the inhabitants into another round of lockdown. We are hoping the pub will survive. As I write this article, I am safely back in Canada, but in another two-week quarantine period. At least the isolation gives me time to write from a safe refuge.
In my one week of freedom, I was able to spend quality time with my daughter who lives in the Cotswolds. We also had a memorable visit with my 100-year-old uncle, and I was able to fit in lunch with cousins and reunions with several old school chums, two of whom I had not seen in 61 years. Personal calls aside, I satisfied my love of castles with a return trip to Sudeley Castle and a first visit to Warwick Castle.
I wrote about Sudeley Castle in A Hidden Gem. On this occasion our visit was limited to half an hour and only the two permanent exhibitions were open, somewhat of a disappointment. As we exited the building we came into the Knot Garden, framed by the ruins of the great hall. Much of the estate was damaged as a result of the conflict between Royalists and Parliamentarians during the Civil Wars. After the castle was used as a garrison by Prince Rupert (a cavalier leader) the Royalists were defeated and the head of the New Model Army, Oliver Cromwell, ordered the roof removed in retribution. It was many centuries before the ruined site was restored.
The most fascinating aspect of Sudeley Caste is its relationship with Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII. She spent time there with the young Princess Elizabeth. After he died, she retired back to Sudeley, married a former lover (her fourth husband) and then sadly died in childbirth in 1548. Her coffin went missing during the Civil Wars but was rediscovered in 1782. Much later the chapel was rebuilt and a canopied tomb erected with a beautiful recumbent marble figure carved by John Birnie Philip.
As far as I can recall, I had never even been to Warwickshire, let alone visited the castle that towers over the River Avon and the county town of Warwick. Yet there’s been a fortification on this site since 914 AD, when Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, built a fort. Obviously, I hadn’t been paying attention to my history lessons. The Normans built a motte and bailey with a stronger wooden palisade on the site in 1098, and over the years various bits and pieces were replaced by stone walls and halls. The remains of the motte are named Ethelfleda’s Mound. When the façade opposite the town was fortified in the 14th-Century, it became an outstanding and recognisable example of defensive military architecture.
Sir Fulke Greville was granted the property by James I in 1604 and converted it to a country house. It was owned by his descendants, who later became Earls of Warwick, for the next 350 years, until it was bought by an entertainment group in 1978.
Because of that ownership, I was concerned that the venue might have become a bit touristy and that turned out to be so. However, since school was out on the day of my visit, and the site was crawling with hundreds of children, I was very glad of the kids’ distractions which included a maze with a wizard show and knights, archers and sword fighting scattered about. There was a massive queue for the Great Hall and State Rooms and the Castle Dungeon, so we amused ourselves with a climb up to the original fortress, a stroll around the grounds and a visit to the largest trebuchet in the world down by the river.
I enjoyed seeing the ubiquitous Canada geese cowering on the riverbank during the falconry show with magnificent birds of prey. I can imagine the geese hoping the raptors weren’t hungry! After our visit we ambled through a light drizzle to the nearby and aptly named Rose and Crown for a tasty late lunch. It was closer than the car parked in a distant muddy field.
NOTE: The Crown, Series 4, launches on Netflix November 15, 2020. I will undoubtedly be in front of my telly, binge-watching. British actress Nancy Carroll plays Lady Glenconner.
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This is Nigel’s 293rd blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.