29 September, 2007

Photos of the Marches (3)

Wigmore Castle

Wigmore is is north Herefordshire, 12 miles from Ludlow and 20 miles from Hereford. The castle was originally built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, and rebuilt in the mid twelfth century by Hugh Mortimer. Shortly afterwards, in 1155, it was besieged by Henry II. The Mortimer family had owned the castle since 1075.

In July 1304, Roger Mortimer's father Edmund died. As Roger was only seventeen and wouldn't legally come of age until he was twenty-one - which seems pretty ridiculous, considering he'd been married for almost three years in July 1304 and had at least one child - Edward I granted his wardship to Piers Gaveston, at the request of the twenty-year-old Prince of Wales, the future Edward II. This was a huge, huge favour, as Piers thereby gained an income estimated at £700 a year - a vast income for a young man not yet a knight. Most unusually, however, Roger bought Piers out of the wardship, and was granted seisin of his lands on 9 April 1306, when he wasn't quite nineteen. He thus inherited vast estates scattered over many English counties and in Wales, and became Lord of Wigmore, which was his seat and power base.

After Roger was arrested by Edward II in January 1322, all his and his wife Joan's possessions were forfeit to the Crown. Edward sent a group of men to Wigmore to seize Roger and Joan's goods, and the inventory is, fortuitously, still extant, in the Public Record Office. (It was published in the Archaelogical Journal in 1858, and much of it appears in Ian Mortimer's biography of Roger, The Greatest Traitor, if anyone would like to see it).

This picture shows Wigmore Castle as Roger would have known it. Sadly, it's in an extremely ruinous state these days - but still evocative and atmospheric, with stunning views, and well worth a visit.

This is the gatehouse, which was originally two storeys high. Because of fallen masonry and vegetation, the remains of Wigmore Castle are buried up to first floor level. There's an interesting site here, describing the problems of maintaining Wigmore.

You walk around a steep hill, through the wood, and ancient masonry looms out of the trees, like here...

And here....

And here....

And here.

In the late summer of 1329, Roger held a great Round Table jousting tournament at Wigmore, which also marked the celebration of the wedding of two of his daughters, Agnes and Beatrice, who married Laurence Hastings, the future Earl of Pembroke, and Edward, son of Edward II's half-brother Thomas, Earl of Norfolk, respectively. (The birthdates of Agnes and Beatrice are not known, but Laurence Hastings was born in 1320 and Edward of Norfolk in about 1322/24, so we're talking about the marriage of children here.)

The tournament was presumably held in the valley below the castle, and was attended by sixteen-year-old Edward III (who paid Roger, reluctantly, one imagines, the vast sum of £1000 for his daughters' weddings) and Queen Philippa, Roger's mistress Queen Isabella, probably his wife Joan, and a vast crowd of the English nobility. Roger was 'crowned' as King Arthur, while Isabella played Guinevere and oversaw proceedings.

This was taken from the other side of the castle - the side that's fairly close to Wales (the border is several miles away)

St James church, Wigmore, peeking out of the trees, as seen from the castle. It originally dates from before the Norman Conquest.

The church tower dates from the mid-fourteenth century, a decade or two after Roger's execution in 1330, unfortunately - I loved the idea that I could see the same tower that he did, from the same perspective.

Close-up of the church tower. Just look at that perfect blue sky!

Wigmore post office. Buying stamps would actually be a pleasure.

Although there would probably have been far more trees in the fourteenth century, and rather fewer electricity pylons, this is the view over the valley and hills that Roger would have seen:

This area of North Herefordshire is marketed as Mortimer Country these days - here's the website. There's a 30-mile walk called the Mortimer Trail - one day, I'm going to do it...

27 September, 2007

Photos of the Marches (2)

In which I look at quaint old Herefordshire villages and Roger Mortimer's complex love life


Pembridge lies in northern Herefordshire, 14 miles from Hereford, 7 miles from Leominster and 18 miles from Ludlow.

Pembridge was a Mortimer manor in the Middle Ages, and it's here that Roger Mortimer married Joan de Geneville on 20 September 1301 - he was fourteen, she was fifteen. Despite their youth, they must have consummated their marriage more or less immediately - their eldest child Edmund was born in 1302 or 1303 (yes, Roger became a father at fifteen or sixteen). Roger and Joan had twelve children together, four sons and eight daughters, which points to the closeness of their relationship - Joan accompanied Roger to Ireland during the long periods he spent there, as King's Lieutenant and Justiciar, and must have spent a lot of time with him to become pregnant so often.

Below, views of Pembridge from the churchyard:

It's also possible that Pembridge is the place where Roger and Joan met for the first time after Roger became Queen Isabella's lover; Roger visited Pembridge in November 1326, probably around the time when Edward II and the Younger Despenser were captured in South Wales and before Roger travelled to Hereford to see Despenser's execution. They hadn't seen each other for over five years; Roger had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, escaped and fled to the continent, and Joan and some of their sons and daughters had also been incarcerated (part of Edward II's shameful treatment of the wives and children of his enemies). If they did meet at Pembridge, it would surely have been an emotional occasion, given that they had married here a quarter of a century earlier - and now Roger was the lover of another woman.

Below: the 14th century church and 13th century bell tower

What Roger and Joan said to each other at this time cannot of course be known. Over the next four years, Roger did continue to visit Joan, and she even went to court on occasion - all while Roger continued his affair with Queen Isabella. I sometimes wonder if he found himself torn between the two women? Isabella, beautiful, glamorous and royal, representing lust, excitement, infatuation, ambition and power; Joan, his long-term loyal and constant companion and likely confidante, mother of his many children, representing domesticity, safety, emotional security and marital affection. Terrific material for a novel.

Two 15th century cottages in Pembridge:

The building on the right in the photo above, West End Farm, was built in or just after 1425; samples of timber taken inside show that the trees were cut down in the spring of that year. Brick House, the red one on the left, was built between 1446 and 1454, according to the same dendrochronogical evidence.

Close-ups of the two cottages. Isn't Brick House (the red one) fabulous with all those wonky lines? (Symmetry and straight lines are very overrated, in my opinion.)

Duppa Alms Houses. The plaque says "Forget not your good benefactor Brion Duppa Bishop of Winchester who bielded this hospitoll in 1661". The building has been dated (by dendrochronology) to between 1486 and 1502.

Old houses and pretty gardens on the road towards the River Arrow.

(pronounced 'Webley')

Weobley, 7 miles south of Pembridge, is one of Herefordshire's famous Black and White Villages, so-called because of all the half-timbered houses.

The Olde Salutation Inn, dating back to the 14th century:

Two cottages, one dated 1442, and the other, red one, 1695.

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Weobley. Originally Norman, rebuilt between the 13th and 15th centuries. The north transept and aisle date from Edward II's reign.

The house on the right in this photo is for sale. *Wants*

Some pics of the Herefordshire countryside (one was taken from the car)

26 September, 2007

Photos of the Marches (1)

I'm back from a really great holiday! The Marches (Shropshire/Herefordshire) are a wonderful part of England, and I recommend the area very highly, if you ever get a chance to go there. It's very rural, with lots of quaint little villages, more buildings of historical interest than you could possibly imagine, and gorgeous countryside. Everywhere you go, you get long, wide views of lush, green, rolling countryside.

I have loads of photos of the following places, which I'll be posting here over the next few days:
- Ludlow Castle and town, Shropshire
- Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire
- Stokesay Castle, Shropshire
- Clun Castle and village, Shropshire
- Lower Brockhampton, Herefordshire (late 14th century moated manor house) and estate
- Hereford
- Leominster, Herefordshire
- Pembridge, Weobley, Leintwardine, Orleton - villages in Herefordshire
- Church Stretton, Shropshire and surrounding countryside (The Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge)

I have about 750 photos, far more than I can post here, so if anyone's interested in seeing more, feel free to contact me at: mail at edwardthesecond dot com (with appropriate symbols and without spaces, of course), and I'll send them off to you.

Since the terrible floods in July, it's actually been pretty dry in England, as you can see from a dried-up stream bed in Church Stretton, the low level of the River Wye in Hereford, and a small lake close to Stokesay Castle:

But the countryside is still as green as you'd expect:

[Top to bottom: countryside near Church Stretton; the moat at Lower Brockhampton; the River Teme at Ludlow; view of the Herefordshire countryside from Wigmore Castle]

We stayed in northern Herefordshire, about halfway between Ludlow and Leominster (pronounced 'Lemster'), in a converted 19th century cider mill. The owners have kept the original features downstairs:

This is where the apples were crushed - the wheel was drawn by a horse.

This is my absolute favourite photo, taken inside Ludlow Castle:

I love the way the sun is coming through the windows - and check out the blue and purple splodges in the middle of the photo. (Also, if you look through the window on the left, you can see a workman bending over with his backside sticking up in the air. I didn't notice that when I took the photo...honest! ;)

This is my mum's dog Tara, learning all about Edward II (with my other half's feet in the background, haha)

But sadly, she soon lost interest!

Driving between Leintwardine and Clun, we passed over into Wales for a few miles.

In Wales, almost everything is written in Welsh and English, as on this van:

[Click on the photos to get a larger version.]

But this is my favourite sign, from Clun. "Dog owners beware, young ducks in the area"! :-)

And finally, this sign in Ludlow ("We speak Polish") caters to the vast numbers of Polish people working in the UK these days.

Great name for a bunch of lawyers, too.

Loads more to come soon!