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Thornbury Castle

HIS fine castle stands in a most picturesque and beautiful district of Gloucestershire, on the banks of a rivulet two miles westward of the Severn, and in a green vale with the shady hills of the Forest of Dean near it. It is a palace, or castellated dwelling; there was no keep, and the dungeon was moved to the Porter's Lodge.

The plan of Thornbury Castle, as far as completed, was this: A large arched gateway admits us to a spacious quadrangle, with cloisters round it for stables, or perhaps for the occupation of troops when the castle was garrisoned. This quadrangle is commanded by a strong tower, on one side of which is a wall, and another door opening into a smaller court communicating with the state apartments, which are in a line next the tower, and have finely decorated oriel windows.

On the principal gatehouse is the following inscription: "THIS GATE WAS BEGUN IN THE YEARE OF OUR LORDE GODE MCCCCCXI. THE JJ YERE OF THE REYNE OF KINGE HENRI THE VIII. By ME EDw. DUC OF BUKKINGHA, ERLLE OF HARFORDE, STAFFORDE, AND NORTHAMTO." To this inscription is added the motto of the Duke, "DORSUEVAUNT" (Thenceforward).

A survey of the castle in 1582 gives the following account of it in its best days. "The great hall was entered by a porch; it had also a passage to the great kitchen. In the middle of the hall was a hearth to hold a brazier. The great kitchen" - how immense kitchens were in those days! - "had two large chimneys and one smaller; within it was a privy kitchen used for the duke's cooking only, and over it a lodging for the cook. The chapel was entered from the lower end of the great hall." "The upper part of the chapel is a fair room, for people to stand in at service time; and over the same are two rooms, with each of them a chimney, where the duke and duchess used to sit and hear service in the chapel; its body having twenty-two settles of wainscot about the same for priests, clerks, and quiristers. The garden was surrounded by a cloister, over which was a gallery, out of which a passage led to the parish church of Thornbury, having at the end a room with a chimney and window looking into the church, where the duke used sometimes to hear service. There were thirteen lodging rooms near the last-mentioned gallery, six below, three of which had chimneys, and seven above, four of which had chimneys. These were called the Earl of .Bedford's lodgings."

The tower and the buildings annexed were the residence of the duke and duchess; and connected with the duke's chamber were the jewel-room and the muniment-room.

"From the upper end of the great hall is a steyer (staircase) ascending up towards the great chamber. Leading from the steyer's head to the great chamber is a fair room, paved with brick, and a chimney in the same, at the end whereof cloth meet a fair gallery, leading from the great chamber to the Earl of Bedford's lodgings. The lower part of the principal building of the castle is called the New Building. At the west end thereof is a fair tower. In this lone building is contained one great chamber, with a chimney therein; and within that is another room with a chimney, called the duchess's lodging. Between the two last rooms was the duchess's oratory. Connected with these two last rooms was another, which formed the foundation of the tower, with a chimney. From the lodging of the duchess, a gallery, paved with brick, led to a staircase which ascended to the duke's lodging above."

The constant recurrent mention of chimneys in this survey shows us how luxurious the duke's home must have been, for though chimneys were known in 1200, few houses had any till the reign of Elizabeth; they were only seen in palaces or religious houses.

The manor belonged in Saxon times to Brihtric, a Thane, who in his early youth had rejected the hand of Matilda of Flanders. The anger of the lady was roused, "hell bath no fury like a woman scorned," and she vowed revenge for the insult. The time when she could keep that cruel vow came at last. Her husband, on ascending the throne of England, gave her the estates of the man who had scorned her. They were of great extent, including Avening, Tewkesbury, Fairford, Thornbury, Whitenhurst, and the honour of Gloucester. The queen then caused the unhappy Saxon to be seized at his Manor of Hanelye, and conveyed as a prisoner to Winchester. She had been for fourteen years the wife of the Norman William, and seven years had passed between Brihtric's rejection and her marriage, yet she had not forgotten or forgiven the gallant young envoy from Edward the Confessor, who had, in her youth, appeared at the court of her father, Baldwin, Earl of Flanders, and involuntarily won her love. His personal beauty was remarkable, his complexion being so fair that he received the name of "Snow" from it. The old chronicler says that she "sent a mes-enger to him to ask his love, and was refused." Twenty-one years had passed since that cruel humiliation had befallen Matilda, but it rankled still. Brihtric, the son of Algar, died in prison, it is not known how, and was privately buried. It is supposed that the city of Gloucester resented the cruel fate of its lord, for Matilda (simply because it was Brihtric's city) deprived it of its charter and civic liberties.

On the death of Matilda the estates of Brihtric fell, of course, to William and to the Crown.

Rufus gave it to Robert Fitz Haymon, whose daughter and heiress carried it to the Clares, Earls of Gloucester. Through the last co-heiress of this line the castle passed to Ralph, Lord Stafford, whose descendant, Humphrey, Earl of Stafford, was created Duke of Buckingham.

The fate of the second and third dukes of Buckingham are well known. How the weak and wicked second duke joined Richard III. in his schemes of usurpation, and in falsehood and disloyalty to the poor young princes of York; how, dissatisfied with all the rich rewards the usurper had given him, he joined in a conspiracy to place Richmond on the throne, and marched with an army of Welshmen by the right side of the Severn, seeking for a ford; but the river had overflowed its banks, the Welsh deserted him, and he had to take refuge with a servant, who betrayed him to Richard, and how he was immediately beheaded, is well known.

The third unfortunate duke was the founder of the present Thornbury Castle. He began it in the second year of Henry VIII., when he was high in favour and in office. But he had not completed it when he was attainted in 1521, and it, of course, was never finished. The duke had false friends at court, and was, like his father, betrayed by his servants. He was executed in 1521.

With him expired the office of High Constable of England, for Henry declared that it gave too much power to a subject, and that in future he would hold it himself. The baton of the duke is possessed by his descendants, for the office had long been held by the De Bohuns.


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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004