Category Archives: Castle

King Richard’s Palace – Portchester Castle

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle stands on the edge of the water of Portsmouth Harbour across from Portsmouth. For those of you not from these parts and worried by that conglomeration of consonants in the middle, the first ‘t’ is silent, as it is in ‘castle’.

The castle is rather wonderful. It was originally the site of a huge Roman fort, built to keep the Saxons out. Later it was used by the Saxons, so you can see how successful that plan was. When the Normans arrived in the eleventh century they built a keep and the Plantagenets used it as their base for invasions of France in the eleventh to fifteenth centuries.

I’ll come to the history of the castle in a future post, but today I want to concentrate on something a bit more domestic. Richard II agreed a peace treaty with France at the end of the fourteenth century and the castle no longer had a military purpose. In 1396 he had a palace built in the inner bailey. It’s true that he was restrained by the available space, but the palace is small.

Take the great hall, for instance. It’s not very great. The hall at Stokesay Castle is of a similar size and that was built by a merchant.

Richard II’s hall was on the first floor. For the king, his guests and household it was reached via stairs in the porch. The servants also had to climb stairs, but theirs were from the kitchen.  I’ve marked up the photograph below to show their entrances and exits.

Richard II's Hall diagram

King Richard’s Great Hall, Portchester Castle

Guests would climb up the stairs from the porch to a screened area. They couldn’t go directly into the hall.

Windows of the Great Hall

Windows of the Great Hall, Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

The windows of the Great Hall were glazed and decorated with coats-of-arms and heraldic designs. There were windows only on the side of the hall facing the inner bailey.

Niche for langern 2

Niche for lantern, porch of Richard II’s palace, Portchester Castle

The porch was lit with lanterns.  The pillars on either side of the entrance each have a niche into which a lantern could be placed.

Windows - upper Richard II's Bedchamber

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

These might look like fireplaces, but they’re blocked windows. They’re designed to let in the maximum amount of light whilst offering a very small target to enemy arrows, since they’re on the side of the palace facing the outer bailey.

It’s believed that the upper of these two windows belonged to Richard II’s bedchamber. I don’t know about you, but I have always imagined that kings of any age would have huge and luxurious bedchambers. Not only was Richard II’s bedchamber only twice the size of mine, but his windows weren’t as large.

Richard II didn’t spend much time here, any more than he did in any of his other palaces. Like all medieval kings, he moved from place to place with his household, often staying only a few days.

Just for fun, here’s a short video I made showing the outside of the palace.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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An Englishman’s Castle

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Today I’m the guest blogger on the English Historical Fiction Authors site. If you’d like to have a look at the post about castles in England, you can read it here.

 

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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Two

In Castle Square Again

Catchcold Tower

When Jane Austen moved into the house in Castle Square, the castle that she knew was not the medieval castle, but a modem gothic building built by the Marquis of Lansdowne, who had purchased the site in 1804. It was from this building that she reported seeing the marchioness leave in a carriage being pulled by 8 small ponies and attended by liveried staff.

The marchioness must not have looked very appealing, for Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in February 1807 about the painter from the castle, Mr Husket, who had allowed her and her mother to make a dressing table out of a kitchen table belonging to the castle, “I suppose whenever the Walls want no touching up, he is employed about my Lady’s face”.

As Austen knew, the marquis was in bad health and he died in November 1809. The castle was demolished in 1819. Even the castle mound had been levelled and flats now stand where the castle used to be.

The son of the Earl of Shelburne, the Prime Minister who negotiated the Peace of Paris and recognised the independence of the United States, John Henry Petty had been an MP. On his father’s death he became the Marquis of Lansdowne. The purchase of the castle site was funded by the sale of his father’s book collection and the sale of manuscripts to the British Library. Very little remained of the medieval castle itself, but what was left was incorporated into a house built in the gothic style with castellations. It was generally considered ugly and disproportionately large for the site. The marquis entertained the town’s nobility in the house and these events were the high points on the social calendar.

The original castle was founded at the end of the eleventh century, when the Normans began their programme of building castles to reinforce their defeat of the Saxons. The medieval castle was a serious defensive building and the main building work was carried out at the end of the fourteenth century. Southampton was vulnerable to attacks from France and had suffered a dreadful raid in 1338, during the One Hundred Years’ War, which killed many inhabitants and destroyed much property, including some of the king’s wool and wine, which was being stored in the town. Believing that the burgesses had connived at the town’s destruction, Edward III ordered defensive walls to be put up and improvements made to the castle. Richard II later had further improvements made when the threat of French invasion loomed again. It was one of the first castles in England to be defended by cannon.

Many monarchs stayed in the castle until it became redundant in the early seventeenth century. Even before the Civil War there was little left, as stones had been removed to build houses and strengthen the medieval walls. The Stuarts sold the site and it was eventually purchased, as we have seen, by the Marquis of Lansdowne.

I was quite disappointed to discover that Austen didn’t know the real castle, but a gothic make-believe replacement. Perhaps that was why she found it so easy to mock the marchioness.

I included the photo of Catchcold Tower at the top of the blog, not because it was part of the castle, we’ve already established that nothing much remains of it, but because the Austens would have seen it almost daily on their way to and from their walk in the Spa Gardens. The gardens were more or less under the shopping centre that can be seen above and to the left of the tower.

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Jane Austen Lived Here

Part 1: In Castle Square

Juniper Berry

Clearly Jane Austen didn’t live here, not in this building. The pub, The Juniper Berry, was built fairly recently, only dating from the late 19th century. It was built on the site, more or less, of the house in Castle Square into which Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, their mother and their friend Martha Lloyd moved to live with their brother Frank and his wife Mary in 1806. Up until then the Austen women had been living in Bath, but Reverend Austen died and they couldn’t really afford to continue living there. They moved to Southampton where they had had friends for many years. Like Bath, Southampton was a spa town, but was much cheaper than Bath, as it was nowhere near as fashionable.

This is the first post in a series about places Jane Austen knew in Southampton. I work in Southampton, just outside the walls of the medieval town and ten minutes’ walk from Castle Square, so it was easy enough to go out on a Friday on the way home and take some photos of places Austen knew.

The Austens knew Southampton well and Jane Austen had first visited their friends in the town as a child. Rather annoyingly to a native Sotonian, it was never the Austens’ intention to stay long in Southampton. From the beginning they were looking for somewhere else to live, so they made no real effort to make friends or to put down roots. They set up home with Frank and Mary, but he was recalled to sea and his family went with him.

When the Austens lived in Castle Square part of the castle was still standing. None of it remains now, save part of the outer wall of the bailey, which is now on the edge of a very strangely-shaped car park.

Bailey

Many of the buildings Jane Austen knew in Southampton were destroyed by the Luftwaffe or the town planners, but I have taken photographs of the sites that remain, sometimes with their views, and have looked into their history. Most of the centre of the town (where the Austens lived) was destroyed in air raids on 23rd and 30th November and 1 December 1940. One of the casualties was the church in which the Austens worshipped. All Saints was a modern building (finished in 1792) in the High Street when the Austens knew it. Now there is only a plaque to show where it stood.

All Saints

The Spa Gardens just outside the medieval walls where they used to walk most days is now a shopping mall, although it has long pleased me that the plaque commemorating their walks is on a wall of Waterstone’s.

In Castle Square the Austen’s garden went down to the medieval walls from which they could see across Southampton Water to the New Forest. In the photograph below you can see a view looking along the walls and the New Forest can just be glimpsed between the buildings and the trees. The river used to come to the quays at the bottom of the walls and everything in this photo would have been underwater. Thanks to a reclamation project, the water is now much further away from the walls.

View from the bottom of the garden

Over the next few weeks I shall visit the places Austen knew in Southampton and discuss some of the events that occurred during her stay in Castle Square.

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The Secrets of the Castle DVD: A review

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The Secrets of the Castle is the latest in the TV series about everyday (mainly farming) life in previous centuries presented by Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold (replacing Alex Langlands who has been studying for a doctorate). I’ve been watching them since the first series, Tales from the Green Valley in 2006, which was about running a farm the Jacobean way and which remains my favourite of the farming ones. The other series are A Tudor Feast at Christmas (2006), Victorian Farm (2009), Edwardian Farm (2010), Wartime Farm (2012) and Tudor Monastery Farm (2013).

This time they are not farming, but building a castle and they’re not doing it on their own. Guédelon is the world’s biggest archaeological experiment. It is a twenty-five year project to build a castle in Burgundy using thirteenth century methods. It is staffed by craftsmen and craftswomen and students. They work in seasons, March to September, as their thirteenth century counterparts would have done. As Peter says, the castle is the by-product; it’s the ‘chantier’, the building site, that is the reason for the project as those working there rediscover medieval methods.

It’s a lengthy project, taking longer to build the modern castle than it would have taken in the thirteenth century. This is partly because there are very few written records about how castles were built, so many of the early days were spent working out how things were done.

The team joined the project in its seventeenth season, so much of the castle has already been built. It would not have made such good television if they had gone much earlier, for they were able to take part in some very interesting work, such as making the parts for and putting together a tracery window, painting one of the private rooms and cooking in the kitchen. They were also there when the water mill was first put into use.

The craftsmen and women that we see are carpenters, masons, woodcutters, wood turners, rope makers, builders, potters, blacksmiths, bowyers, tilers, quarrymen, miller and dyers. The overall effect is to show the amount of physical labour required for even the simplest of tasks. There are many surprises: only two quarrymen are required to support the site and everything is designed on the wooden floor of the tracing room and there’s not a sheet of paper in sight.

On the domestic front Ruth shows how to turn a hovel into a home. Lesson one is to cover the earth floor with rushes so that you don’t sleep on a damp floor and lesson two is to hang your food in a net from the ceiling so that the mice don’t get it. Then the potter has to make her some pots, both to cook with and to eat and drink from. Then the carpenter has to make her a grain ark for storing grain and for making bread. We later see it being put to this use by Tom, rather unsuccessfully. We also learn that pig fat keeps your hands smooth when you’re working with lime, but makes every dog on the site your friend.

There is an expedition to see a trebuchet being fired – truly terrifying- and another to glimpse the interior of St Mary Magdalene, Vézelay, the inspiration for a black and white arch in the castle. This visit also includes a very brief examination of the medieval idea of pilgrimage, which is a bit of an obsession of mine at the moment.

The animals around the site also get a look in. There are pigs, horses, chickens, ducks and some very sleek and handsome cockerels.

There were two great revelations in this DVD for me. The first is rather obvious, so it should not have been a revelation. Most castles we see today are ruins and open to the elements and have bare interior walls. When they were first built, the walls would have been plastered and painted. This would have had the effect of making the rooms lighter. The second, more surprising revelation, was that the outsides of the castles were lime washed so that they would be white and therefore more visible, thus impressing, or striking terror, into anyone who saw it. Everything about a castle was designed to impress, either because its function was to cow those around it into submission or to defend part of the realm, or because it was demonstrating the wealth and ambition of the lord who built it.

I have enjoyed this DVD very much. It’s informative and quite cosy, although clearly some of the participants are a bit overwhelmed by Ruth’s enthusiasm. I watched the series when it was on television at the end of last year and enjoyed it just as much watching it again in the last month. I shall doubtless watch it again my times in the future.

The DVD was released in January and is made up of five one hour episodes, with a short discussion between the producer and the site administrator at Guédelon as the special feature. It’s narrated by Paul McGann, which is a huge bonus if you like his voice, as I do.

The site at Guédelon is open to visitors between March and September. The website is here. There are tours in English in July and August.

You can follow the project on Twitter @GuedelonCastle

This is a link to an amusing animation showing how the project came into being here.

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