Thursday, June 19, 2008

Medieval Court In Cumbria

Lanercost Priory is a fascinating place. Dating back to the late 12th century (1169 is the generally accepted year of construction of the Augustinian priory built by Robert de Vaux), it is a fine example of early medieval monastic architecture. Although the monks have long since left, it is still a place of worship today.

The Priory was visited no less than 3 times by King Edward I of England. During one stay which lasted for more than 5 months in 1306-1307, it became a 'royal palace' - something few monasteries could ever lay claim to. Edward brought the Seal with him to Lanercost and thus, for the duration of his stay, technically made this tiny Cumbrian village the centre of government for the whole of Britain. With the king came a large retinue of servants and although it benefited the local community by way of an increased demand for food, game, wine and fuel, it also brought great pressure to bear on the monks and others who were expected to serve without excuse or hesitation. One thing the king's stay did achieve, however, was to halt the previously commonplace attacks by the Scots raiding from across the border.

In 7 July 1307, after leaving the Priory and heading North towards Scotland, King Edward I took ill and died near Burgh by Sands in Cumbria (a large stone cross marking the spot can be seen there today).

His son became King Edward II but paid little attention to the North of his kingdom and, as a result, Scottish raids on the area around Lanercost became more frequent. This culminated in the attack on Lanercost Priory by Robert Bruce in 1311 and then later in 1346 by a large Scottish army which crossed the border and plundered the Priory. Although some rebuilding took place including a new roof over the Nave with further renovations continuing over the centuries, the Presbytery of Lanercost Priory still has no roof even today and remains open to the elements.


For those interested in medieval castles, King Edward I also owned Skipton Castle (built in 1090) and visited both Norham Castle (built 1160) and Chillingham Castle (en route to do battle with William Wallace).

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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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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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