Monday, 30 June 2014

Castles of the Welsh Marches

The borderland between England and Wales was a "wild west" for most on the Middle Ages. Wales was conquered by Edward I in the late 13th century, though there was a major rising under Owain Glyndwr, who proclaimed himself Prince of Wales in 1400, but was driven from his strongholds and died around 1415. Because of the turbulence and lawlessness, the great noble families who dominated the borderland, Bohun, Clare, Mortimer, Montgomery and others, known as the "Marcher Lords", were given extraordinary powers. Later, under the Yorkist kings, the Council of Wales was set up, usually under a member of the royal family, to try and impose some law and order. It was only in the 1530s that the Marcher lordships were abolished, with Wales fully integrated with England and Welsh M.P.s elected to the Westminster Parliament. The borderlands remain thinly populated even today.

The region boasts a number of fine castles. One of the best is Ludlow, the seat of the Council of Wales, still dominating the crossing in the River Teme to the west. (I have more pictures of Ludlow castle on an earlier blog entry)

Clun castle was a stronghold of the Fitzalans, but the large windows in the late 13th century keep suggest that it was not expecting a serious assault by that time

Montgomery castle is over the modern border, in Powys. It was first built in the 1220s, and stands on a natural outcrop of rock in a splendid position overlooking the plains to the north and east. It was partially destroyed after surrendering to Parliamentary forces in 1644.

Wigmore castle, in Herefordshire, was founded not long after the Norman Conquest, and soon came under the control of the Mortimer family. Their most famous member was Roger Mortimer, who in 1327 deposed and murdered Edward II and for a brief while ruled England as the lover of Queen Isabella, before himself being overthrown and executed by the young Edward III in 1330. But the Mortimers soon returned to favour, and all English monarchs since the 15th century have been descended from them

Shrewsbury was once the site of an important castle, but what we see now is mostly a replacement built by Thomas Telford at the end of the 18th century.

All that survives of Bridgnorth castle is the Norman keep, now leaning at a precarious angle!

The "castles" at Stokesay and Acton Burnell are really only fortified manor-houses, designed to do no more than look impressive and perhaps deter the odd Welsh cattle-raid. (See other blog entries for details and pictures of these)
Some castles only survive as earthworks, like the remains of this little motte-and-bailey at Rushbury, nowadays defended only by sheep.
The motte at Pulverbatch doesn't even have sheep!

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