Chepstow Castle, Part 2: From Edward II to the Tudors
There are a few notes about historical events and persons connected with Chepstow Castle in the guidebook, so I've tried to find additional information to connect those local events with the larger historical picture. But this post still remains a collection of historical vignettes instead of an in-depth essay; most of it is just too far outside my areas of research (and book collections).
The double-towered main gate
Edward II gave Chepstow Castle to his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton in 1312. Thomas left the actual management of the pace to a constabler who disappeared for an unknown destination two years later, taking the money chest with him.
(left: Remains of Bigod's buildings)
Obviously, already Bigod had cared much more for his new, handsome lodgings than keeping the rest of the place in good repair, and Thomas' constabler didn't improve things by selling all sorts of moveable goods. Though it didn't look fully as bad as in this picture. :-)
Edward eventually gave Chepstow to his friend Hugh Despenser the younger in 1323, and say what you want about Hugh, but he made sure the castle was put in order. He repaired the buildings and leaky roofs, replenished the armoury and had new springalds (1) set up on the battlements (the ones Bigod had put there were in storage and no longer useable). Hugh garrisoned the castle with 12 knights and 60 footmen, and kept the larder well filled.
With Chepstow Castle, also known as Striguil at the time, Hugh Despenser got another nice chunk to add to his possessions in southern Wales where he already was Earl of Glamorgan and also held the lands of his wife, Eleanor de Clare, among them Caerphilly Castle.
The regarrisoned and refurbished Chepstow Castle would come handy when the marriage between King Edward II and Isabella of France turned sour and Isabella invaded England, where she gathered a rather large bunch of nobles who were unhappy with Edward and even more so with the influential Despensers. Edward and Hugh Despenser fled to Chepstow (while Hugh's father held another important castle with Bristol). They may have hoped for Welsh support, but the Welsh who might have been willing to support Edward, loathed Hugh, and I suppose that is the reason succour was slow in coming. So Edward and Hugh, accompanied by a few retainers, left Chepstow through the sea gate (on the photo in the first post), trying to sail for Ireland. Bad weather forced them to land at Cardiff and flee to Caerphilly Castle which was held by Hugh's son, another Hugh.
Edward and Hugh the younger were captured outside Caerphilly Castle when they returned from failed negotiations taking place in nearby Neath Abbey (2). Hugh was gruesomely executed as traitor (hanged, drawn and quartered) in November 1326; his father had already been hanged when Bristol was taken. Edward abdicated in favour of his son Edward III and died at Berkeley Castle September 21st, 1327 (3). Hugh Despenser the even younger survived.
(right: Interior passage in Bigod's quarters)
I could not find out anything about the castle in the years to follow until it passed to Thomas Mowbray 4th Earl of Norfolk. He was ordered to garrison the castle against an assault by the Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dŵr whose rebellion against King Henry IV of England had gathered considerable support. But Owain never came that far south.
Still it was a difficult time for Henry IV, after Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland and the Marcher Lord Edmund Mortimer joined the rebellion instead of fighting Owain. Not sure what exactly happened but likely King Henry had managed to alienate those men by not paying Mortimer's ransom when he was captured by the Welsh, and not paying his debts to the Percys, either (4) In 1403, Owain, Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy of Northumberland negotiated the Tripartite Indenture where they basically split England among the three of them: Wales and the Welsh marches for Owain, southern England and the kingship for Mortimer, the north for Percy. Which didn't leave much for King Henry IV. :-)
At that time Thomas of Norfolk seems to have stood with the king, or he would not have been asked to fortify Chepstow. The rebellion failed, Henry Percy's son and leader of the rebel forces, Harry Hotspur, was killed in the battle of Shrewsbury, Mortimer fled with Owain back to Wales, Henry Percy lost his offices though he kept his lands. Owain Glyn Dŵr's rebellion in Wales lost impact, but it would still take several more years until it petered out.
Henry Percy of Northumberland was back to rebelling in 1405, and this time Thomas of Norfolk joined him and Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, though I could not find out the reason. Norfolk and Scrope were captured - in disregard of safe conducts promised to join a parley- at Shipton Moor and beheaded in June 1405. Percy fled to Scotland; he died in another battle in 1408.
(left: Marshal's Tower)
Chepstow Castle keeps getting connected with rebels and fallen favourites. We're right in the midst of the War of the Roses this time: In May 1464, King Edward IV (House York) had married Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Richard Woodville Earl of Rivers (he was Baron Rivers since 1448 and then still a supporter of the Lancastrian King Henry VI) who turned his cloak in time. The marriage made him earl and treasurer; his son John married Katherine Neville Duchess of Norfolk, about 45 years his senior, but with some nice lands and castles, Chepstow among them.
One family's rise is other families' loss, and in particular the Nevilles John Earl of Northumberland, and his brother Richard Earl of Warwick, were in a really bad mood (not the least because Warwick had tried to negotiate a marriage between Edward and a daughter of the King of France). They were joined by John de Vere Earl of Oxford, and George Duke of Clarence, a younger brother of King Edward IV, and did what discontent nobles liked to do: start a rebellion. John of Northumberland stirred trouble in the north while the others came to England via Kent. King Edward was at Nottingham at the time, awaiting reinforcements from the earls of Pembroke and Stafford, to deal with the troubles. But the rebels from the north marched south and met with the troops of Pembroke at Edgecote Moor in Oxfordshire (July 26th, 1469). Pembroke held the field in hope Devon, who was only some miles off, would join him, but when Warwick's army arrived from the south, morale broke and Pembroke's men fled. The earl and his brother were captured and executed; Devon met the same fate some days later. King Edward was taken prisoner.
Warwick partisans had already started to plunder Rivers' lands the year before. With the rebel victory at Edgecote, the star of the Woodvilles was falling. Richard and his son John were taken prisoners at Chepstow (obviously, the garrison handed them over to Warwick), and taken to Kenilworth where they were executed on August 12, 1469 (5). Chepstow as last refuge didn't seem to work out, its formidable fortifications nonewithstanding.
Warwick would not really earn the fruits of his rebellion. New skirmishes between Yorkists and Lancastrians broke out; Warwick could not get enough support in such unruly times and had to reinstall the popular King Edward, who pardoned him.
Lower bailey, view towards Marshal's gate and Bigod's house (left)
Charles (Beaufort) Somerset, the first earl of Worcester, rose to prominence under Henry Tudor, the later King Henry VII, and managed to keep his head and possessions under Henry VIII as well. He married Elizabeth Somerset (in 1492), daughter of William Herbert Earl of Pembroke, and Mary Woodville, sister to Elizabeth Woodville who had married King Edward II. She brought him Chepstow, together with the other lands of her father. Charles was made lord chamberlain by Henry VIII and was in charge of the negotiations with France, leading to the tournament at the Field of the Cloth of Gold on 1520.
(left: Marten's Tower)
Chepstow was not Charles' main seat (that was Raglan) but when he took a close look at the 200 years old Bigod buildings in the lower bailey, he found them outdated. He brought the whole set up to modern standards, with larger windows and more comfort, and turned the place into a great court suitable for a Tudor nobleman. He also added windows and new fireplaces to Marten's Tower. And for one, there are neither sieges nor beheadings to report.
That would change with the Civil War, of course. Chepstow was still well enough fortified to play a role in those fights, though it got damaged by canon fire. But I will leave that for another post.
1) A springald is the unholy offspring of a small trebuchet and a large crossbow. They could fire bolts or in some cases rocks. They're best comparable with the portable, tripod-mounted torsion ballistae the Roman army used in the field.
2) Anerje recently wrote about the negotiation and flight from the abbey in her blog about Piers Gaveston and his time.
3) Kathryn Warner has written an article about the conspiracy to free Edward II from captivity at Berkeley Castle after his postulated death, and the possible inclinations of his survival. But whether or not he died in 1327, the red hot poker is definitely a myth.
4) There is a little video about the Percy family at Alnwick Castle (their main seat until today) where it is said that money definitely played a role in the growing dissatisfaction of the Northumberland earls with the king. Earl Henry and his son, nicknamed Harry Hotspur, had put a lot of effort into fighting raisings in Scotland and Wales and got less thanks and financial compensation than they expected.
5) That left the Duchess of Norfolk a widow for the fourth time; she would live to the ripe old age of 83 († 1483). As far as I know no one tried to foist another husband on her.
Middle barbican with a watch tower seen from the valley
There will be one last post to come, because I still have some cool photos left. :-)
Rick Turner: Chepstow Castle, revised edition 2006. Part of the series of Cadw Guidebooks
Chepstow Castle, Part 1: Beginnings unto Bigod
Chepstow Castle is one of the first generation Norman castles in Wales, built in the wake of William the Conqueror's conquest of England and what parts of Wales and Scotland he could snatch. The Welsh didn't like being snatched, though, and thus William had to erect a number of castles in the borderlands, the Marches, as defense as well as base for further conquests.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Chepstow was the administrative centre of the Marcher lordship of Striguil. During those years, the castle had been expanded and altered, but the first keep, the Great Hall, still stands.
Outer Gatehouse and Marten's Tower (to the left)
King William gave the task of organising the border defenses to William FitzOsbern lord of Breteuil, his childhood, friend, later his steward and his chief military strategist. FitzOsbern also led men of his own at the conquest.
Like most of the noblemen in William's entourage, FitzOsbern got lands in England and the title of Earl of Hereford; tasked with the defense of the border to Wales. In 1067, he started the construction of Chepstow Castle, situated on a limestone cliff above the river Wye.
Southern curtain wall with one of the round towers
FitzOsbern surely built the first defenses on the hill, but whether the Great Hall can be ascribed to him has been recently disputed. He died in battle in 1071, and Chepstow was not the only, nor the most major castle, in his possession. Moreover, the interior of the hall does not show a pattern typical for the living quarters of a lord; it is a more representative room.
FitzOsbern's son, Roger of Breteuil, rebelled against King William and was imprisoned (1075) and his lands forfeited. So the possible commissoner of the great hall can well have been King William - it follows the pattern of other representative halls or audience chambers he used for crown wearing ceremonies and such. He may have planned to stage submission ceremonies of Welsh lords there. William visited Chepstow Castle in 1081, but no grand events are recorded.
Chepstow Castle, the Great Hall
The hill between the Wye to the north and the steep slopes of the Dell valley to the south is about a hundred metres long and 20 metres wide; space enough for a big Norman whopper castle. Chepstow does not follow the typical Norman motte and bailey-style - like for example Cardiff
- but makes use of the natural features of the hill. The first castle only occupied part of the plateau.
In building the great hall, the masons used some Roman stones, probably taken from the ruins of nearby Caerwent.
Interior of the Great Hall
Chepstow remained in possession of the royal family until Henry I gave it to Walter fitzRichard of Clare in 1115. Walter and his successors did not make any significant additions to the castle, but Walter founded nearby Tintern Abbey. The best known of the name is Earl Richard 'Strongbow', conquerer of the Irish province of Leinster († 1176). He left behind a son † (1185) and a daughter with his Irish wife Aiofe. The daughter, Isabel de Clare was a ward of King Henry II until he gave her - and the vast de Clare estates in Wales and Ireland - in marriage to William Marshal in 1189. You can find more information about this remarkable man who started out as knight of fortune and ended up as one of the most powerful magnates of the kingdom in the blog of Elisabeth Chadwick
Upper Gatehouse at the west barbican with view to William Marshal's private quarters
William brought the outmoded 11th century castle up to date. He had the money and the experience to make Chepstow a formidable fortress. William had seen new features, esp. the round towers that were to replace the former square design in France and during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Those would soon become fashion in English castles
William rebuilt the east and south walls as proper curtain walls, and added a gatehouse (1) with two round towers projecting outwards (see photo above). Those had arrow slits from where the defenders could cover the area directly in front of the wall. A second line of defenses was added between the lower and middle bailey, again with round towers. In a last step, the curtain wall of the upper bailey was heightened and William constructed a square tower for himself and his family to live in. Since it was located in the uppermost corner of the castle, it would have provided some privacy.
The middle bailey
William died in 1219 and was succeeded by his five sons in turn. His sons further improved the defenses and also the comfort of the interior lodgings. There is proof for several grants of 'good oak' by the king; those timbers would have been used to refine the interior of buildings (addition of walls and floors, for example). One of the more striking featues were the two elaborate arches dividing the hall in the great tower into a - somewhat smaller - hall and a more private chamber that could be used for more intimate meetings with trusted advisors. They also added another floor to the tower which was used as bedchamber.
Southern curtain wall seen from the Dell valley; from left to right:
southwest tower of the upper barbican, Marshal's Tower, Great Tower, a round tower of the middle bailey
King Henry III visited Chepstow several times. The second Marshal son, Richard, quarreled with Henry III, but withdrew to Ireland where he was killed in 1234. The third son, Gilbert, reconciled with the king. He added the southwest tower to the upper barbican. He died in a tournament in 1241.
William Marshal's last son, Anselme, died in 1245, and the estates were divided among the surviving five daughters or their heirs. Chepstow fell to Maud, the eldest, who had married Hugh Bigod (there is an essay by Elizabeth Chadwick here
). Their eldest son was Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, who after Maud's death inherited Chepstow. He liked the place as hunting ground, but it would fall upon his nephew and heir, another Roger Earl of Norfolk (1245-1306; he inherited Chepstow in 1270), to bring the castle to its greatest splendour.
Bigod's Hall, interior
Roger Bigod II held the title of earl of Norfolk and the position of Earl Mashal for more than thirty years (1270-1306), a timespan that fell into the reign of King Edward I. At first, Roger Bigod and the king got along well; Roger raised an army to fight for the king in the Welsh wars 1276-77 and 1282-83 where Edward subdued Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd; and in 1287 he led the king's armies in Scotland.
But Edward's increasing financial demands led to disagreement, and in 1297, open conflict broke out when Roger Bigod refused to join the king's muster and lead an army he had raised into Gascony. Edward I had to give in because the Scots caused trouble again thanks to a certain William Wallace, but the political victory broke Bigod financially. When Roger Bigod died childless in 1306, his estates were returned to the king.
One of Bigod's towers in the foreground, the Great Hall in the background; seen from the river
During the time he was still affluent, Roger turned Chepstow, which he used as main residence, into a palatial stronghold. He constructed a maginificient new hall (including the sea gate) on the cliff side of the castle to represent his status as one of the most powerful magnates of his time. That building included a cellar, kitchen, accomodation rooms, and the hall itself. Bigod also added another tower later known as Marten's Tower (you can lose count of those in Norman castles) that would provide suitable rooms for high ranking guests. King Edward and Queen Eleanor visited the castle ein December 1284. Bigod also added another storey to the Great Hall.
Chepstow Castle, the sea gate opening to the Wye river
After Edward I's death in 1307, the castle came to his son and successor Edward II. Edward seemed to have developed a liking for Chepstow. He would grant it to Hugh Despenser in 1323, but that tale I'll leave to Hugh's faithful scribess who has written an interesting blogpost
about Hugh and Chepstow.
More about the history of Chepstow Castle can be found here
Remains of the Great Tower, seen from the Dell valley
This is an extended version of a post from 2009.
1) The erection of the gatehouse had long been ascribed to William's sons, but dendrochronological dating of oak timbers from the doors shows that it has been built already in the 1190ies.
Rick Turner: Chepstow Castle, revised edition 2006. Part of the series of Cadw Guidebooks