Ludlow Castle from the south-east
|Key events:|| The Anarchy, Second Barons' War,|
Wars of the Roses, Civil War
|Owned by:||The Earl of Powis|
This fortress was for many years the effective capital of Wales, though in Shropshire, as the Council of Wales and the Marches met here, presided over by the Prince of Wales or in his absence the President of the Council, until the abolition of the Council in 1689.
The architecture of Ludlow reflects its long history, retaining a blend of several styles of building. The castle is approximately 500 feet by 435 feet in size, covering almost five acres. The outer bailey includes the Castle House building, now used by the Powis Estate as offices and accommodation, while the inner bailey, separated by a trench cut out of the stone, houses the Great Tower, Solar block, Great Hall and Great Chamber block, along with later 16th century additions, as well as a rare, circular chapel.
Ludlow Castle was probably founded around 1079 by Walter de Lacy, who arrived with William the Conqueror and assisted the task of William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford to secure the westrern frontier of England: Walter de Lacy was the earl's second in command, and was rewarded with 163 manors spread across seven counties, 91 in Herefordshire alone.
Walter began building a castle within the manor of Stanton Lacy; the fortification was originally called Dinham Castle, before it acquired its later name of Ludlow. Ludlow was the most important of Walter's castles: as well as being at the heart of his new estates, the site also lay at a strategic crossroads over the Teme River, on a strong defensive promontory. Walter died in a construction accident at Hereford in 1085 and was succeeded by his son, Roger de Lacy.
The castle's Norman stone fortifications were added possibly as early as the 1080s onwards, and were finished before 1115, based around what is now the inner bailey of the castle, forming a stone version of a ringwork. It had four towers and a gatehouse tower along the walls, with a ditch dug out of the rock along two sides, the excavated stone being reused for the building works, and would have been one of the very first masonry castles in England. With its circular design and grand entrance tower, it has been likened to the earlier Anglo-Saxon burgheat designs. In 1096, Roger was stripped of his lands after rebelling against William II and they were reassigned to his brother, Hugh.
When Hugh de Lacy died childless around 1115, his niece Sybil, was granted the castle and surrounding estates by the King, Henry I. Sybil's husband, Pain fitzJohn, used Ludlow as the main seat in his estates. Pain died in 1137 fighting the Welsh, triggering a struggle for the inheritance of the castle, between Roger Fitzmiles, 2nd Earl of Hereford (who had eyes on Pain's daughter) and Gilbert de Lacy, Roger de Lacy's son. The struggle merged into the Anarchy wrenching at England, FitzMiles supporting and supported by King Stephen and de Lacy seizing the castle in the name of the Empress Maud. Stephen took the castle after several attempts in 1139, famously rescuing his ally Prince Henry of Scotland when the latter was caught on a hook thrown over the walls by the garrison. The feud did not end there and Gilbert retook the castle a few years before the end of the war in 1153. He later died in the crusades but the castle stayed in the family.
During the unsettled period the Great Tower as built and, probably between 1140 and 1177, an outer bailey was built to the south and east of the original castle, creating a large open space. In the process, the entrance to the castle shifted from the south to the east, to face the growing town of Ludlow. It was probably Gilbert who built the circular chapel in the inner bailey, resembling the churches of the Templar order which he later joined.
Hugh de Lacey took part in the Norman invasion of Ireland and in 1172 was made Lord of Meath. In his absence the King, Henry II, occupied the castle, probably to ensure that Hugh stayed loyal while in Ireland. King Richard I found cause to confiscate Ludlow and Walter's other properties, releasing them only in 1198 on payment of the vast sum of 3,100 marks.
Walter de Lacy lost the castle to King John twice, until he made peace with the King in 1215. He lost it to Henry III until he satisfied the King of his loyalty in defeating Irish rebels.
In 1223, King Henry III met with the Welsh prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at Ludlow Castle for peace talks, which were unsuccessful.
After Walter's death the castle was received by his granddaughter Maud and her husband Geoffrey de Geneville.
In 1264 during the Second Barons' War the rebel leader Simon de Montfort seized Ludlow Castle, but it was recaptured shortly afterwards by the King's supporters, probably led by Geoffrey de Geneville. Prince Edward gathered his supporters at Ludlow in advance of the Battle of Evesham at which de Montfort as defeated.
In 1301 Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March received the castle through marriage. Mortimer built the Great Chamber block alongside the existing Great Hall and Solar complex, copying what was becoming a popular tripartite design for domestic castle buildings in the 14th century. Mortimer's dramatic life followed; rebellion, imprisonment, exile, and the overthrow of a king, leaving him the effective ruler of England, and finally his own overthrow when King Edward III reached majority. After his execution the castle remained in the family.
Mortimer built a new chapel in the Outer Bailey, named after St Peter, honouring the saint's day on which he had escaped from the Tower of London. His work at Ludlow was probably intended to produce what the historian David Whitehead has termed a "show castle" with chivalric and Arthurian overtones, echoing the now archaic Norman styles of building.
Ludlow Castle gradually became the Mortimer family's most important property. In 1432 the castle was inherited by Richard the Duke of York, who took a keen interest in the castle, which formed the administrative base for his estates around the region, possibly living there in the late 1440s and definitely residing there for much of the 1450s. Richard also established his sons, including the future Edward IV, and their household at the castle in the 1450s, and was possibly responsible for rebuilding the northern part of the Great Tower during this period.
The castle escaped attack in the Wars of the Roses until the Battle of Ludford Bridge, fought just outside the town of in 1459, resulting in a largely bloodless victory for the Lancastrian Henry VI, who took the castle and placed it in the hands of a royal constable. Richard of York was slain in battle in 1460, and his son Edward seized the throne the following year, retaking control of Ludlow Castle and merging it with the property of the Crown.
The new Edward IV visited the castle regularly and established a council there to govern his estates in Wales. He probably conducted only modest work on the property, although he may could have been responsible for the remodelling of the Great Tower. In 1473, possibly influenced by his own childhood experiences at Ludlow, Edward sent his eldest son, the future Edward V, and his brother Prince Richard to live at the castle, which was also made the seat of the newly created Council in the Marches of Wales. By now Ludlow had become primarily residential, rather than military, but was still rich in chivalric connotations and a valuable symbol of the Yorkist authority and their claim to the throne. Edward died in 1483. Two years later the House of York was defeated and Henry Tudor took the throne.
Henry VII took the throne in 1485. He continued to use Ludlow Castle as a regional base, granting it to his son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1493, and re-establishing the dormant Council in the Marches at the property.
In 1501, Prince Arthur arrived in Ludlow for his honeymoon with his bride Catherine of Aragon. Within six months he was dead. The Council in the Marches of Wales continued to operate, however, under the guidance of its president, Bishop William Smyth. The council evolved into a combination of a governmental body and a court of law, settling a range of disputes across Wales and charged with maintaining general order, and Ludlow Castle became effectively the capital of Wales.
Princess Mary spent 19 months at Ludlow overseeing the Council of the Marches between 1525 and 1528, along with her entourage of servants, advisers, and guardians. The role of the Council was changed, and in some respects strengthened, when Wales was incorporated with England in 1535. The Great Chamber itself was used as the council's meeting room.
Elizabeth I appointed Sir Henry Sidney as President of the Council in 1560, and he took up residence at Ludlow Castle. Henry was a keen antiquarian with an interest in chivalry, and used his post to restore much of the castle in a late-perpendicular style. He extended the castle by building family apartments between the Great Hall and Mortimer's Tower, and used the former royal apartments as a guest wing, starting a tradition of decorating the Great Hall with the coats of arms of council officers. The larger windows in the castle were glazed, a clock installed and water piped into the castle. The judicial facilities were improved with a new courthouse converted out of the 14th-century chapel, facilities for prisoners and storage facilities for the court records, Mortimer's Tower in the outer bailey being turned into a record depository. The restoration was generally sympathetic and, although it included a fountain, a real tennis court, walks and viewing platform, it was less ephemeral a make-over than seen in other castle restorations of the period.
The castle was luxuriously appointed by the 17th century, with an expensive, but grand, household based around the Council of the Marches. The future Charles I was declared Prince of Wales in the castle by his father, King James I in 1616, and Ludlow was made his principal castle in Wales. A company called the "Queen's Players" entertained the Council in the 1610s, and in 1634 John Milton's masque Comus was performed in the Great Hall for John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater. The Council faced increased criticism over its legal practices, however, and in 1641 an Act of Parliament stripped it of its judicial powers.
In the Civil War, Ludlow declared for the King. Garrison was installed and the defences were strengthened, with artillery being brought from nearby Bringwood Forge for the castle. In April 1646 Sir William Brereton and Colonel John Birch led a Parliamentary army from Hereford to take Ludlow; after a short siege the castle and town surrendered on good terms.
A Parliamentary garrison remained in Ludlow until 1655.
King Charles II, restored in 1660, reinstated the Council of the Marches in 1661, but the castle never recovered from the war. Richard Vaughan, the Earl of Carberry, was appointed president and given £2,000 to renovate the castle, and between 1663 and 1665, a company of infantry soldiers was garrisoned there, overseen by the earl, with the task of safeguard the money and contents of the castle as well as the ammunition for the local militia. The Council of the Marches was though held in deep suspicion as an instrument of tyranny and was finally disbanded in 1689, bringing an end to Ludlow Castle's role in government. Uncared for, the condition of the castle rapidly deteriorated.
The castle escaped demolition in the early eighteenth century, but the lead was stripped for the roofs in 1714 and the wooden floors began to collapse. Daniel Defoe visited in 1722, and noted that the castle "is in the very Perfection of Decay". Nonetheless, some rooms remained usable for many years afterwards, possibly as late as the 1760s and 1770s, when drawings show the entrance block to the inner bailey to still be intact, and visitors remarked on the good condition of the round chapel. The stonework became overgrown with ivy, trees and shrubs, and by 1800 the chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene had finally degenerated into ruin.
Alexander Stuart, an Army captain who served as the last governor of the castle, stripped down what remained of the fortification in the mid-1700s. Some of the stone was reused to build the Bowling Green House – later renamed the Castle Inn – on the north end of the tennis courts, while the north side of the outer bailey was used to make the bowling green itself. Stuart lived in a house in Ludlow itself, but decorated the Great Hall with the remains of the castle armoury, and may have charged visitors for admittance.
Henry Herbert, the Earl of Powis, later became interested in acquiring the castle and in 1771. It is uncertain if he intended to further strip the castle of its materials or, more likely, if he intended to turn it into a private home, but the castle was, according to Powis' surveyor's report later that year, already "extremely ruinous", the walls "mostly rubble and the battlements greatly decayed". The Crown granted a 31-year lease at £20 a year in 1772, though Powis died shortly afterwards.
The 2nd Earl of Powis maintained the lease and his wife, Henrietta Clive, constructed gravel-laid public walks around the castle, dug into the surrounding cliffs, and planted trees around the grounds to improve the castle's appearance. The castle walls and towers were given superficial repairs and tidied up, usually when parts threatened to collapse, and the interior of the inner bailey levelled, costing considerable sums of money. The landscape also required expensive maintenance and repairs.
The town of Ludlow was increasingly fashionable and frequented by tourists, with the castle forming a particularly popular attraction. Thomas Warton published an edition of Milton's poems in 1785, describing Ludlow Castle and popularising the links to Comus, reinforcing the castle's reputation as a picturesque and sublime location. The castle became a topic for painters interested in these themes.
In 1811 the castle was bought outright by Edward Clive, 2nd Baron Clive, George's brother-in-law and heir and who had also been made Earl of Powis. Between 1820 and 1828 he converted the abandoned tennis court and the Castle Inn – which he closed in 1812 after buying the castle – into a new, grand building, called Castle House, overlooking the north side of the outer bailey.
When Ludlow became connected to the growing railway network in 1852, the numbers of tourists to the castle increased, with admission costing six pence in 1887. The castle was put to a wide range of uses. The grassy areas of the bailey were kept cropped by grazing sheep and goats, and used for fox hunting meetings, sporting events and agricultural shows; parts of the outer bailey was used as a timber yard, and, by the turn of the century, the old prison was used as an ammunition store by the local volunteer militia.
The castle was increasingly rigorously maintained, and during the 1910s and 1920s the larger trees around the castle were cut down, and the animals were cleared from the inner and outer baileys on the basis that they posed a safety risk to visitors. The open spaces inside the castle were used by the local townsfolk for football matches and similar events, and in 1934 Milton's Comus was restaged in the castle to mark the 300th anniversary of the first such event.
During the Second World War the castle was used by the Allied forces: the Great Tower was used as a look-out post and United States' forces used the castle gardens for baseball games.
During the 1970s and early 1980s the Department of the Environment assisted the Powis estate by lending government staff to repair the castle. Visitor numbers were falling, however, in part due the dilapidated condition of the property, and the estate became increasingly unable to afford to maintain the castle. After 1984, when the function of the department was taken over by English Heritage, a more systematic approach was put into place. This based around a partnership in which the Powis Estate would retain ownership of the castle and develop visitor access, in exchange for a £500,000 contribution from English Heritage for a jointly-funded programme of repairs and maintenance, delivered through specialist contractors. This included repairs to the parts of the curtain wall, which collapsed in 1990, and the redevelopment of the visitor's centre. Limited archaeological excavation was carried out in the outer bailey between 1992 and 1993 by the City of Hereford Archaeology Unit.
Ludlow Castle today is owned by the Earl of Powis, but is held and managed by the Trustees of the Powis Castle Estate as a tourist attraction. The castle was receiving over 100,000 visitors a year by 2005, more than in previous decades. The castle traditionally hosts a Shakespearean play as part of the annual cultural Ludlow Festival in the town, and is at the centre of the Ludlow Food and Drink Festival each September.
Historic England considers Ludlow to be "one of England's finest castle sites", with the ruins representing "a remarkably complete multi-phase complex". It is protected under the law as a Scheduled Monument and a Grade I listed building. By the 21st century, however, Castle House had become dilapidated and English Heritage placed it on its "at risk" register. In 2002, the Powis Estate repurchased the property from the council for £500,000, renovating it and converting it for use as offices and rental apartments, reopening the building in 2005.
Ludlow Castle sits on a rocky promontory, overlooking the modern town of Ludlow on lower ground to the east, while the ground slopes steeply from the castle to the rivers Corve and Teme to the south and west, about 100 feet below. The castle is broadly rectangular in shape, and approximately 500 by 435 feet in size, covering almost 5 acres in total. The interior is divided into two main parts: an inner bailey which occupies the north-west corner and a much larger outer bailey. A third enclosure, known as the innermost bailey, was created in the early 13th century when walls were built to enclose the south-west corner of the inner ward. The castle's walls are linked to Ludlow's mediæval town wall circuit on the south and east sides. The castle is built from a range of different types of stone; the Norman stone work is constructed from greenish-grey siltstone rubble, with the ashlar and quoin features carved from red sandstone, with the later work primarily using local red sandstone.
The outer bailey is entered through a gatehouse; inside, the space within the curtain walls is divided into two. On the north side of the outer bailey is Castle House and its gardens; the house is a two-storeyed property, based around the old walls of the tennis court and the Castle Inn, and the curtain wall. The north end of Castle House butts onto Beacon Tower, overlooking the town.
The other half of the outer bailey houses the 16th-century porter's lodge, prison and stable block which run along its eastern edge. The porter's lodge and prison comprise two buildings, 40 feet and 58 by 23 feet across, both two-storeyed and well built in ashlar stone, with a stable block on the far end, more crudely built in stone and 66 by 21 feet in size. The exterior of the prison was originally decorated with the coats of arms of Henry, the Earl of Pembroke, and Queen Elizabeth I, but these have since been destroyed, as have the barred windows which once protected the property.
Along the south of the bailey are the remains of St Peter's, a former 14th-century chapel, later converted to a courthouse by the addition of an extension reaching up to the western curtain wall. The courtroom occupied the whole of the combined first floor with records kept in the rooms underneath. The south-west corner of the outer bailey is cut off by a modern wall from the rest of the bailey.
The western curtain wall is guarded by the 13th-century Mortimer's Tower, 18 feet across externally, with a ground floor vaulted chamber inside. The tower is now roofless, although it was roofed as late as the end of the 19th century.
The inner bailey represents the extent of the original Norman castle and is protected by a curtain wall between five and six feet thick. On the south and west sides the wall is protected by a ditch, originally up to 80 feet deep, cut out of the rock and navigated by a bridge which still contains part of the ashlar stone of its 16th century predecessor. Within the inner bailey, a separate area, called the innermost bailey, was created by the addition of a five-foot thick thick stone wall around the south-west corner in the early 13th century.
On the east side of the bailey is the 12th-century chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene. The circular, Romanesque]] design of the chapel is unusual. Originally the chapel had a nave, a square presbytery and a chancel, but this design was heavily altered in the 16th century and only the nave survives.
The Great Chamber block adjoining the Tudor Lodgings dates from around 1320. A rhomboid design, this originally had its main chamber on the first floor, but has been much altered over the subsequent years. The carved corbel heads that survive on the first floor may represent Edward II and Queen Isabella. Behind the Great Chamber block is the Guardrobe Tower, a four storeyed construction, providing a combination of bed chambers and garderobes.
The Great Tower, or keep, is on the south side of the innermost bailey, a roughly square building, four storeys tall. The Great Tower was constructed in several stages. Originally it was a relatively large gatehouse in the original Norman castle, probably with accommodation over the gateway, before being extended to form the Great Tower in the mid-12th century, although still being used as a gatehouse for the inner bailey. When the innermost bailey was created in the early 13th century, the gateway was then filled in and a new gateway cut into the inner bailey wall just to the east of the Great Tower. Finally, the north side of the tower was rebuilt in the mid-15th century to produce the Great Tower that appears today. The keep has a vaulted basement with Norman wall arcading, and a row of windows along the first floor, since mostly blocked. The arcading echoes that in the chapel, and probably dates from around 1080. The windows and large entrance-way would have looked impressive, but would also have been very hard to defend; this form of tower probably reflected earlier Anglo-Saxon high-status towers and was intended to display lordship.
Early 12th century chapel
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about Ludlow Castle)
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