Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Castle Gardens: Arundel Castle, Leeds Castle, Naworth Castle

"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow in an English country garden? "

A famous line from a famous song ... and a very good question too. What is 'an English country garden' anyway? Just a garden of someone living in the country? To my mind, the best of all country gardens is a castle garden, especially a medieval castle. Many of today's common flowers as well as some fruits and herbs were being grown in or around castle gardens as far back as the 1300's.

A great example is Naworth Castle in Cumbria. The Howard family still live there today and their garden is a credit to them as well as to previous generations who loved and nurtured it. The herb garden in particular has contributed to everyday meals and banquets held at the Castle for centuries and the flowers are too numerous to mention. There is also a wonderfully characterful, wooden seat at one end of the castle garden known as ‘Tennyson's Seat' where the great poet used to enjoy sitting when paying one of his customary visits to the Howard family at Naworth (seat, now painted white, is featured in the photograph). In summer the castle garden is awash with colour and a sense of timelessness seems to pervade the air.

There are many other castle gardens like this, especially in England, including Eastnor Castle which also has a marvellous arboretum with a collection of cedar trees thought by many to be the finest in Britain. Other medieval castles with superb gardens include:

Arundel Castle - A new garden was opened by HRH Prince Of Wales (14 May 2008)
Berkeley Castle - Elizabethan gardens and Queen Elizabeth I's bowling green
Dunster Castle – The National Collection of strawberry trees is here
Herstmonceux Castle - Elizabethan gardens
Hever Castle - Award-winning gardens
Leeds Castle - Extensive gardens and lake setting

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Kings & Saints In A Coastal Fortress - Tynemouth Priory & Castle

As you read the notice board by the railings that surround Tynemouth Priory & Castle, one line leaps out and grabs the attention:

"Burial place for kings and saints"

Quite a statement! How many places in a lifetime does anyone get to visit such a place? Normally one would associate places such as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral in London with such a claim. So to find a medieval priory/castle on the Northumberland coast not far from the city of Newcastle with event a hint of a similar 'provenance' was a wonderful discovery.

Set high up on a headland overlooking the North Sea, the ruins were once home to both a military fortress (playing a role against Napoleon and in both World Wars) as well as a religious site - and for many, many centuries; as a religious site, its history goes back as far as the 7th century.

So who is buried here? The answer ... 3 sainted kings. I must admit to never having heard of any of them before visiting Tynemouth but having read more, I can begin to appreciate why there were 'sainted'. Their names were Oswin, Osred and Malcolm.

Oswin (died AD 651) King of Northumbria
Osred (died AD 792) King of Northumbria
Malcolm (died AD 1093) King of Scotland

There is also a legend that another Northumbrian king, Ceolwolf, had caves carved out of the great rock on which the Priory stands and that he spent his last days there. The caves have become known locally as Jingling Geordie's Hotel.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Medieval Turn of Phrase - Medieval Glossary

Anyone interested in medieval history and medieval castles simply has to read Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe'. It is a magnificent piece of writing which brings to life all things medieval - eg. the quality of life enjoyed by a nobleman compared to that of a serf, the code of chivalry amongst knights, the prejudices of class and religion that existed, the role played by women in medieval times and what life in a medieval castle was like.

One of the most striking things about the book, however is the language used. Granted, Scott deliberately used a very 'flowery' language throughout his story, but he also made reference to many truly medieval terms and phrases, some of which we still use today and some that we don't.

For example ....

  • words we still use today - gaiters (leggings), muscadine (sweet wine), bodkin (needle)

  • words we no longer hear - capul (horse), fortalice (fortress), senechal (steward)

To read more of the kind of vocabulary popular in medieval England, visit our Medieval Glossary.

If you're interested to read more about Sir Walter Scott, there's lots of information in the Walter Scott Digital Archive.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Buy Your Own Medieval Castle

If you love history, especially English history, and you have a little spare cash to invest, then you might consider this a great opportunity .... a 600 year old, English, medieval castle (or at least its ruins) is now for sale. A price tag of £1.5 million (approx US$3 million) might be a little offputting but buying tangible history doesn't come cheap.

Sheriff Hutton Castle, 10 miles from the wonderful, historic city of York in the North of England (UK) can boast a pretty impressive list of 'previous owners: King Richard III, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I of England to name just three of the eight monarchs who've owned it.

The castle was built in the late medieval period (1408) by the Neville family - once one of the most powerful families in Britain and famously associated with other medieval castles such as Raby Castle - but on the death of Richard Neville it was confiscated by the Crown in 1471, thereafter being owned by the aforementioned monarchs. This is only the 3rd time in the castle's 600 year history that it has been up for sale so it's a rare opportunity. Included in the price tag are a 4 bedroom barn conversion, 2 bedroom cottage plus 11 acres and "the footprint of an important Elizabethan water garden". The castle is also reputed to be haunted! Nothing new for a medieval castle - see our list of Haunted Castles.

Interesting in buying? Go to the agent's official page

Oh, and if you do buy the castle after reading this article, don't forget who tipped you off. We'd love an exclusive interview!