Old Wardour Castle

Late yesterday, before looking for somewhere to spend the night, we visited another ruined castle, Old Wardour Castle, built in the late 1300s as a noble family’s residence. The castle was not planned to be constructed for defensive purposes, but was supposed to be a luxurious and showy estate. And it no doubt was magnificent in its day. Here are the ruins from the approach:

We are now going to leave the Normans and the early years of the English nation behind and jump forward a few hundred years to the 1640s, a very turbulent time in Great Britain. By now, Old Wardour Castle had passed into the hands of another noble family, the Arundells, a family of Roman Catholics.

You might recall that in my post about Canterbury Cathedral, I talked about how King Henry VIII had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 in order to divorce his then wife, Anne Boleyn, and to set up his own church which was catholic in structure and ritual, but protestant in substance: the Anglican Church of England.

From the time of Henry VIII, there was tension, distrust and even hatred between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants in England (though that is no longer the case). When Henry VIII died, his daughter, Elizabeth, became queen; she died childless in 1603 and her Scottish cousin, King James VI of Scotland inherited the English crown, becoming King James I of England, too, thereby uniting the kingdoms of Scotland and England.

In case you’re wondering why I would know about all this stuff, it’s because my ancestors on my maternal side were Scots and I have researched the family history all the way back to the 1600s when those ancestors left Scotland and settled in Ulster, Ireland, during the reign of King James I.

Anyway, back to our story (if you’re still awake): When King James I died, his son, Charles, inherited the crown as King Charles I. As luck would have it, Charles was a closet Catholic; his wife, a French royal, was an avowed and fervent Catholic. King Charles I was also a bit of a warmonger and spendthrift and he pretty soon had the English Parliament in a tizzy over taxes and military adventures on the european continent, not to mention ticking off the Presbyterian Scots and the Protestant Puritans, to boot! The King was dethroned and sent packing.

By the 1640s, the English Civil War was in full swing: William Cromwell had come on the scene and had raised the Roundhead, Puritan army, supported by Parliament and the Scots, while the Catholics (including the Catholic nations of Ireland, France and Spain) supported King Charles I and his “Royalist” troops.

Now back to our story about Old Wardour Castle. As mentioned, above, the Arundells were Roman Catholic and owned the castle in the 1640s; consequently, they were on the King’s side. You can see that Old Wardour Castle was very beautiful at the time; here’s a photo of the front of the castle (although the roof is long gone):

It had a magnificent banquet room with high, glass-paned windows on all sides.

Down on the ground floor, there was a walled courtyard where the village well was maintained; it was the focal point for the community.

The lawn sloped gently down to a beautiful lake…

…while in the opposite direction, up the hill, livestock grazed, horses were pastured, and there was ample firewood to keep the castle inhabitants warm.

And then one day in 1643, while Lord Arundell was off with the King, Roundhead troops showed up and laid siege to the castle. Lady Arundell barricaded the doors and windows and defended the grounds with about 25 local men. The Roundheads only had two small cannons, incapable of inflicting much damage on the castle, but they had another tactic that worked: they dug under the castle’s foundation and set several kegs of gunpowder there, then threatened to blow the place up if Lady Arundell didn’t surrender. Prudence won out, Lady Arundell surrendered the castle, and the Roundheads moved in.

Not long after, Lord Arundell’s son returned with Royalist troops and he then laid siege to his own castle in an attempt to wrestle it back from the Roundheads. He had a similar problem with his cannons, however, and resorted to the same trick, digging under the castle’s foundation and setting several kegs of gunpowder there, then threatening the Roundheads that he would blow the place up with them in it if they didn’t surrender it back to him.

But, the Roundheads had hauled their two little cannons up to the roof and had pointed them down toward the ground, thinking they could blast the Royalist miners away from the charge; however, when they fired their cannons, the blast somehow set off the gunpowder under the castle and it blew up the entire lakeside of the structure. Here’s the result:

Ironically, the Arundells ended up destroying their own castle!

Not to worry, though. The family had enough cash set aside that they were able to build New Wardour Castle many years later on the other side of the lake. You can see it in the background in this photo:

Oh, and King Charles I ended up losing the Civil War and his head; Oliver Cromwell became the new English ruler as Lord Protector and reigned until he died; the Puritans left for America; and, Parliament retained power to govern the nation to the present day.

The Scots went back to Scotland and, no doubt, had a nice meal of Haggis.

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