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Ludlow Castle

HIS beautiful castle is situated at the north-west extremity of the town of Ludlow, in a very picturesque country. It was built by Roger de Montgomery, or, as some say, by Roger de Lacy, very soon after the Norman Conquest.

In 1095, Hugh de Lacy, brother of its supposed founder, was its lord. Afterwards Henry I. gave it in charge to Fulke de Dinan.

The Welsh killed this castellan, and the king, Stephen, seizing Ludlow Castle, appointed Joccas de Dinan as his successor. But Joccas proved false to his benefactor; and Stephen, who had visited Worcester in state, April 30th, 1139, marched from thence to Ludlow, and rearing two counter forts against the castle, besieged it.

His friend, the young Scottish Prince Henry, was with him, and riding too close to the walls, was seized by an iron grapple, thrown from the castle, dragged from his horse, and would have been hauled into the fortress, if Stephen had not rescued him at great risk to himself. But the brave usurper did not succeed in taking Ludlow. Sir Joccas or Joyce de Dinan still kept possession of it.

The incidents in Sir Joyce de Dinan's life afford a good picture of the state of the country at that time; and of the manner in which the feudal barons set the law of the land at defiance.

He was at feud with Sir Hugh de Mortimer, who kept such strict watch on the castle that Sir Joyce could never leave it; and whenever the enemies' followers met, the victory always remained with Mortimer. At length Sir Joyce conquered by stratagem. He sent spies along the roads; learned where Sir Hugh was wont to ride unattended, and lying in ambush, seized him and made him prisoner, and kept him in his castle of Ludlow till he paid a ransom of three thousand marks of silver, besides his plate, horses, and hawks. Mortimer was imprisoned in the highest tower of the third bail of the castle, and "though his captivity occurred more than seven hundred years ago, the people still point out Mortimer's tower amongst the ruins." There is also a story of a sanguinary feud between Sir Joyce and the Lord of Ewias. They invaded each other's territories; burnt villages, plundered and robbed the peop!e, and did much mischief.

"One summer's day Sir Joce rose early in the morning, and ascended a tower in the middle of his castle to survey the country; and he looked towards the hill that is called Whitcliff, and saw the fields covered with knights, squires, sergeants and valets, some armed on their steeds, some on foot, and he heard the horses neigh, and saw the helms glittering. Among whom he saw the banner of Walter de Lacy, blazing new with gold with a fesse of gules across. Then he called his knights, and ordered them to arm and mount their steeds, and take their arblasters and their archers and go to the bridge below the town of Dinan, and defend the bridge and the ford, that none pass it. Sir Walter and his people thought to pass safely, but the people of Sir Joce drove them back, and many on both sides were wounded and killed. At length came Sir Joce, and his banner all white with silver with three lions passant of azure crowned with gold, with five hundred with him, knights and servants on horse and foot, besides the burgesses and their servants, who were very good. Then, with great force, Joce passed the bridge, and the hosts encountered body to body. Joce struck Godebrand, who carried the banner of Lacy, through the body with a spear. Then the Lacy lost his banner. Then the people exchanged blows, and many on each side were slain. But the Lacy had the worst, for he went off flying and discomfited, and took his way beside the river of Teme. The lady, with her daughters and her other damsels, had ascended a tower (at Ludlow Castle), whence they saw all the battle, and prayed God devoutly to save their lord and his people from hurt and defeat." 1

Joyce pursued De Lacy, and the latter, seeing his foe was alone, turned and faced him. Their partizans, however, soon joined them, and a desperate conflict ensued.

De Lacy was taken and carried captive to Ludlow, where his wounds were dressed, and he was guarded with honour. He. however, escaped from his prison, and captured by stratagem his enemy's stronghold. In the struggle the castle was burnt and half destroyed.

After these remarkable domestic feuds, little occurred of interest at Ludlow. Henry II., Richard, and John, held it in their hands, or granted it to vassals. King John bestowed it on Walter de Lacy, the son of Hugh.

Castle guard was required for Ludlow from many of the neighbouring manors.

Edward IV. repaired the castle as a palace for his son, the Prince of Wales, and held at it the Court of the Marches, where he and the Lords Presidents transacted the business of the Principality.

Here he sent his eldest son to reside. He made, also, regulations and rules for the young prince's daily conduct. Little Edward was then only twelve years old; he was to go daily to mass, and rules were made for his studies and his sports. Whilst he dined the king ordered that there should be read to him "noble stories as behoveth a prince to understand; and that the communication at all times in his presence be of virtue, honour, cunning (knowledge), wisdom, and deeds of worship, and nothing that shall move him to vice." (MS. in British Museum). John Alcock, bishop of Worcester, was his preceptor, and he was under the guardianship of Earl Rivers, the most intellectual, accomplished, and honourable of the nobles of Edward's court, and uncle to the prince.

Put the effects of this wise rearing were never to be seen. The poor little prince was summoned to London, by order of the council, on the death of his father. His mother - Elizabeth Woodville - wished to order the militia of Shropshire to escort him thither, but the council (who were in the interests of Richard) opposed the wish, and the queen weakly yielded as usual. Had she followed the leading of her maternal instincts, Richard's plans would have been frustrated. As it was, he met the young king on the way, sent his uncle and his faithful followers to Pontefract, where he had them beheaded, and brought the hapless boy on with him to London, where he was proclaimed king, and committed "for safety" to the Tower with his young brother, Richard of York. There they were murdered.

The prophetic words of Edward IV. were fulfilled: "If you, among yourselves, in a child's reign, fall at debate, many a good man shall perish, and haply, he too, and ye too, ere this laud shall find peace again."

Sir Henry Sidney, Lord-President of the Marches, resided at Ludlow Castle in Elizabeth's reign, and sent his noble son, Philip Sidney, then a boy of twelve, to school at Shrewsbury.

Sir Henry died at Ludlow in 1586, and Queen Elizabeth, who knew how to value a wise and good subject, and who greatly honoured Sidney, ordered Garter, king-at-arms, to prepare his funeral. Robed in velvet, and with all the pomp of heraldry, his body was borne from Ludlow to Worcester, where it was placed in the cathedral, and a sermon was preached by his chaplain while it lay there. It was then borne in solemn state to Penshurst, where he was buried. Philip Sidney, in his youth, must have been a dweller in the castle where his father kept up almost regal state, and must have often wandered in its lovely and picturesque neighbourhood. Sir Henry greatly improved and added to the castle.

The next circumstance to be recorded of Ludlow Castle is the representation there of Milton's "Comus," when the Earl of Bridgewater was lord-president. The masque was written to be performed by the lord-president's children at their father's installation in his high office, Michaelmas, 1633.

There is even now a very fine wood not far from Ludlow Castle; it is called Haywood Forest, and in it Lady Alice Egerton, then a girl of thirteen, and her two brothers, Lord Brackley, aged twelve, and the younger child, the Honourable Thomas Egerton, were benighted on their way from the house of some friends in Herefordshire, where they had rested on their journey to Ludlow. Her brothers lost Lady Alice in the wood for a time, and this is thought to have suggested the subject of the beautiful masque. Lady Alice was a pupil of Lawes, the great musician of that period, and the friend of Milton, and she excelled in singing. For her Lawes composed the Echo Song. He performed the Attendant Spirit himself, and directed the masque. Milton is thought to have written "Comus" at his father's house in Buckinghamshire, Horton, near Colnbrook; but it is quite possible that he may have written it at Ludlow, for there is evidence that he was present at its performance. "Comus" was first acted on the stage in 1758 with Dr. Arne's music, and it was acted again in 1750 for the benefit of Milton's grand-daughter, who kept a chandler's shop at Holloway. Dr. Johnson wrote a prologue for it on that occasion, and Garrick spoke it.

Ludlow Castle

In Ludlow Castle Butler wrote part of "Hudibras." The castle was garrisoned for Charles I., but was given up in 1646 to the Parliamentarian army.

The castle is most picturesque. It rises from the point of a headland, and its foundations are laid on a bare rock; but it has been planted with trees, which greatly add to its beauty. It has square towers with embattled connecting walls.

The keep of Ludlow is a massive square tower in the style of Rochester Castle. It is 110 feet high, and covered with ivy to the top. It was built in 1090, but has been much altered since then. The entrance used to be up the tower, and was reached by a flight of steps; but in the fifteenth century a door was opened in the wall lower down with a flight of steps leading to the first storey. From thence a newel staircase conducted the inmates to the top of the tower. The ground floor contains the great dungeon or vault, with three square openings into the chamber above. By these, prisoners were lowered into the dungeon, or arms were kept in it.

The great hall where "Comus" was played is now roofless, and has no floor. A tower at the west side is called "Prince Arthur's Tower," and altogether the castle is a very grand and imposing ruin.

Ludlow now belongs to the Earls of Powis.

The view from the hill on which the ruins stand is most beautiful. Eastward is Titterstone Clee Hill; on the north, Corve Dale and lovely hills; the beautiful valley of the Teme in front, with the Shelton Hills behind it; the old town of Ludlow on a knoll - scarcely anywhere can so fine a prospect be obtained as at Ludlow.

The Mary Knoll Valley is a singularly picturesque spot, well worth visiting by tourists in Shropshire.

Mary Knoll Valley

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004