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Dunster Castle

UNSTER was a fortress of the West Saxon kings during the Heptarchy. It was then called Torre, or Tower, by which name it was entered in Domesday book; afterwards it was called Dunne's Torre (tower on the downs), now Dunster.

The Mohuns were the first possessors of Dunster Castle, and they took the side of the Empress Maud against Stephen. On the failure of male heirs of Mohun, the castle was sold to the Luttrell family.

The present castle is an Elizabethan building, with a richly wooded park behind it, very picturesque and delightful.

It was garrisoned by the Royalists in the civil war of Charles I.'s time, and was taken by the Marquis of Hertford in 1643.

In 1644-5 the Parliamentarians, who were quartered at Taunton, marched to Sir Hugh Windham's house at Saundle, and plundered it, not even sparing the women, whose clothes they tore off their backs. Sir Hugh escaped at the back door at the beginning of the assault, and sent a message, requesting help, to Colonel Windham, who was holding Dunster Castle for the king. The Cavalier, with only thirty horse, instantly rode to his assistance; found the plunderers gone, but pursued them, and came up to them in a field near Nettle. combe. They were 250 strong, but the Cavaliers attacked and defeated them, taking five prisoners and fourteen horses, besides ammunition.

A story equalling any in the old Greek or Roman times is told of the siege of Dunster Castle by the Parliamentarians in 1644-6. The Roundhead general sent the following message to the governor:

"If you will deliver up the castle, you shall have fair quarter; if not, expect no mercy. Your mother shall be in front, to receive the first fury of your cannon."

They had, evidently, taken the old lady prisoner, either at her own house, or travelling.

The Governor, in the spirit of an ancient Spartan, answered:-

"If you doe what you threaten, you doe the most barbarous and villainous act was ever done. My mother I honour, but the cause I fight for, and the masters I serve, are God and the king. Mother, doe you forgive me, and give me your blessing, and lett the rebells answer for spilling that blood of yours, which I would save with the loss of mine own, if I had enough for both my master and yourself."

His mother replied:-

"Sonne, I forgive thee, and pray God to bless thee for this brave resolution. If I live I shall love thee the better for it; God's will be done."

But God's will was to spare this heroic mother and son. Lord Wentworth, Sir Richard Grenvill, and Colonel Webb came to their relief; rescued the brave and honourable lady, relieved the fortress, took 1,000 prisoners, and put the Parliamentarians to flight.

In 1650 a celebrated Roundhead was imprisoned here for seven months - William Prynne - because he had written against Cromwell and his party.

There was once a Benedictine priory here, founded by the Mohuns - a cell, as it was called, of St. Peter's, at Bath. It was adjacent to the church, and some remains of it exist.

The church, which is a fine specimen of Perpendicular architecture, was built by Henry VII., as a token of gratitude to the inhabitants for the aid they had rendered him at Bosworth Field.

Most of the churches in Somersetshire are in the style of the rein of Henry VII., when architecture had reached the very acme of perfection in the Florid Gothic style. It is quite probable that they were rebuilt by him in gratitude for the county's attachment to his house.

The hobby-horse is not yet actually gone by; it exists still here. On the first of May, "hobby horsing" prevails here, or at least did some few years ago. A number of persons, carrying grotesque figures of men and horses, of a sufficient size to cover them, walk about the town, and then go to Dunster Castle, where they are entertained, and receive a gift of money.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004