Sunday, 22 September 2013

Five Famous Occupants of Carisbrooke Castle

Click to find the other blogs taking part.
My post is about Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
One famous inhabitant was Charles I, imprisoned at Carisbrooke during the English Civil War – but can you name another four famous occupants?
 If not, read on…(in fact, even if you can –read on!)

Isabella de Fortibus
In the 1260’s Isabella was one of the greatest landowners in England  and that she was a woman made this all the more unusual. She came to her wealth through marriage and inheritance. The first by the death of her husband, William de Fortibus, when she was just 23. The second the murder of her brother, Baldwin de Redvers, who was possibly poisoned. When in 1262 she inherited his lands in the Devon, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Isabella became extraordinarily wealthy and powerful.
Isabella's window in the present day
(Author's own photo)
Isabella decided against marrying again and took up her brother’s lordship of the Isle of Wight to live at Carisbrooke Castle, new Newport, IOW. She used the castle as her main residence from which she oversaw the running of her southern estates. In addition she invested in improvements to the castle itself, adding expensive details such as a stunning window – the remains of which can be seen today as “Isabella’s window”. She reorded the principal apartments, built a chapel of St Peter, apartments for the constable, a new kitchen, a herb garden, a prison and a fish pond!

Sir George Carey
Sir George Carey was the grandson of Mary Boleyn, (Anne Boleyn’s sister) , and therefore a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. in 1583 he was appointed captain of the Isle of Wight –overseeing maritime law, controlling shipping around the island,  and fighting piracy.
Sir George Carey
Part of his work was to protect the island from invasion (see also: Invading the Isle ofWight). To do this he trained militia, fortified defences and refurbished the chain of beacons that would be lit as a warning should the Spanish invade.
View from the ramparts of the ruin of Sir George Carey's house.
(Author's own photo)
In unsettled times, with the threat from Spain, the Isle of Wight would have given an invading navy a huge strategic advantage. With this in mind Carey fortified Carisbrooke Castle with the addition of small bastions, a large outwork and earthworks, in order to make the castle withstand a Spanish artillery attack. (Ultimately, the Spanish Armada arrived off the south coast in 1588, but sailed straight past the Isle of Wight)

Charles I
From 22 November 1647 to 6 September 1648, Charles I was a prisoner at Carisbrooke Castle. During this time, the aim was for him to negotiate with Parliament and the Scots to find a settlement that would return some power to him. At first he was held as a guest, with considerable freedom and many luxuries – such as the bowling green created for on the eastern outwork (previous a drilling ground for militia). However, when no progress was made, his attendants were removed and he was imprisoned more strictly.

View from the ramparts of Charles I's bowling green (with the white marquee on it)
(Author's own photo)

He continued to plot via secret messages carried by servants and on the night of 20 March 1648, Charles tried to escape. He climbed out of his bedchamber window but became stuck in the bars! After this he was removed to more secure quarters but even so, he plotted another escape but was thwarted when someone betrayed him and extra sentries were posted beneath his window.
The window through which Charles I tried to escape
(Author's own photo)
Eventually, Charles was moved to London and put on trial. He was executed in Whitehall on 30 January 1649.

Princess Beatrice
Queen Victoria’s loved the Isle of Wight and bought Osborne House as a private family retreat.
Princess Beatrice with her mother, Queen Victoria.

Her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice seems to have inherited this love and spent the early part of her married life to Prince Henry of Battenburg, living at Osborne. Queen Victoria appointed Prince Henry as governor of the Isle of Wight, and when Henry died, Beatrice inherited this role.
The garden created by Princess Beatrice,
within the grounds of Carisbrooke Castle.
(Author's own photo.)

Some while later, in 1913, Princes Beatrice revived the lapsed custom that governors of the Isle of Wight resided in Carisbrooke Castle. She made some alterations, to bring it up to date, and spent many of her summer at Carisbrooke until her death in 1944.

And finally…the donkeys!
For any castle, in order to withstand a siege, a reliable source of water is essential. To this end a decent well is essential. Carisbrooke Castle has a courtyard well that is 49 meters deep, the lower part cut through chalk and the upper lined with masonry. In Isabella’s time a house was built over the well with a tread wheel to raise buckets of water. The current well-house was erected by Sir George Carey in 1587.
Postcard of the donkey working the treadmill at Carisbrooke Castle

It seems likely the treadmill was originally powered by prisoners, but in 1696 a visitor recorded:
“Water was drawn by a horse or ass.” From then on specially trained donkeys were kept at the castle, to walk inside the wheel and winch up buckets of water. To this day, tourists can visit the well house and watch the donkeys at work (although, in case you were wondering, the castle is now connected to the mains.)


The Castles Blog Hop is celebrating the release of Castles, Customs and Kings - a compilation of historical essays by authors belonging to the English Historical Fiction Authors. Grace has contributed two articles to the book.
For other participating members please click the button at the top of this post.

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Three lucky visitors to this blog will win an ebook copy of one of Grace Elliot's books.
To enter just leave a comment and an email address.
Best of luck!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

My Mary Rose Experience

Watched by Henry VIII, the Mary Rose sank in the Solent,
19 July, 1545
During the summer I visited the Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose. I last saw her in 1987 when I went with my then boyfriend, and now-husband of 24 years. All I remember from back then was a large damp (I was courting and worried about frizzy hair!) shed, and I could just make out a huge lump of wood behind a veil of mist.
This summer's visit was very different! The timbers of the Mary Rose are drying out and a clever display recreates what conditions were like within each corresponding deck of the ship. There are also traditional displays of artefacts, and in this week's blog post, I share some of my favourite items.

The ship's bell.
Author's own photo.
It's astounding to think of the history associated with this bell and the number of Tudor sailors who would have seen or heard it. The bell was made from brass, in Antwerp at a foundry that specialised in bells. It was one of the few artefacts present on the Mary Rose throughout her 33 year career from launch to sinking.

Wooden plates and bowls
Author's own photo.
One of the reasons I'm interested in history is the fascination of how people lived. There is no better illustration of this than the beautiful wooden plates and bowls found on board the Mary Rose. The crew would have eaten from them, and individuals marked their property by carving their initials - as seen in the picture above.

The  Mary Rose - August 2013
Author's own photo
Having walked through the first exhibition hall, the visitor enters a long viewing gallery overlooking the actual Mary Rose. The pipes are no longer spraying the wreck with polyethylence glycol, although it can still be difficult to make out details. However, on the opposite side of the walkway, the museum have recreated what the deck would have looked like - including placing actual artefacts in the scene.
A dog - found outside the carpenter's door.
Author's own photo.
Any ship would have been rife with rats and vermin, and perhaps that is why a dog was on board. The skeleton of a whippet type animal, aged around 18 - 24 months was found outside the carpenter's door. (On the way out of the museum, passing through the gift shop, I was amused to see a plush toy replica of the dog! )
Paw print on a tile found in the galley.
Author's own photo.
Sticking with the dog theme, another item that caught my imagination was this clay tile. It was found in the galley area, one of hundreds of tiles packed around the large cooking cauldron to protect the ship's timbers from the fire beneath. How extraordinary is it, to think nearly half a millennia ago a dog ran across wet clay, and that tile found it's way onto the Mary Rose and then lay under the sea for hundreds of years...
One of the many cannons found on board
Author's own photo.
Of course the Mary Rose was a warship and so no post would be complete without a mention of her armaments. What struck me about the many cannons recovered, was how each had beautiful casting and engravings - each obviously created with reverence and pride. Far from being mere functional, they are art works in their own right.

Another of the Mary Rose's cannons.
Author's own photo
And finally... this made me chuckle on the way out through the ubiquitous gift shop. How about remembering your visit to the Mary Rose by purchasing a plush toy rat?
Author's own photo
Have you visited the Mary Rose? What did you make of your experience?

Friday, 13 September 2013

Fall into Romance - blog hop

Who are your Auto-buy Authors?

Today I’m delighted to take part in The Romance Reviews blog hop. As part of the hop I’m supposed to post about my favourite romance book – but after writing a shortlist the length of an A4 paper I threw up my hands in frustration. My problem lies in loving most of the books written by my favourite authors –  How to choose between them?
[GIVEAWAY details at the end of this post]

I might, just might, be able to choose a favourite series – but even that is a tough call. It would be between Tessa Dare’s, ‘Spindle Cove’, and Elizabeth Hoyt’s ‘Maiden Lane’ series. Both authors provide in spadefuls what I look for in a first class read: the escapism of the past, heroes with hidden secrets and wilful, but honourable heroines battling their attraction to an unsuitable lover.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a fan of historical romance. Other authors who I can usually rely on to feed my addiction are Lisa Kleypas (especially her yummy ‘Bow Street’ books), Mary Balogh and Katharine Ashe. Most of these authors are on my ‘auto-buy’ list, but I’m always on the look out for new recommendations – this leads me to ask, who are your auto-buy authors?
Do share them with us (they don’t have to be historical romance) by leaving a comment.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win. I’m offering three lucky people their choice of an eBook copy of Eulogy's Secret, Hope's Betrayal or Verity's Lie from The Huntley Trilogy [see side bar for details].
Please leave a contact email address and which book you would like to win.
The hop runs until September 21st - so plenty of time to comment here and visit the other stops!
Good luck.
G x
The Romance Reviews Hop
Click to visit the next stop!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Invading the Isle of Wight

“The very notion of anyone invading the Isle of Wight seems absurd and even, much like the island itself, a bit quaint… With its benign climate, agricultural fertility, excellent ice-cream and numerous B&B establishments, it would suit a committed group of idealists bent on establishing a utopian societal model But the best reason for invading the Isle of Wight is that they definitely won’t be expecting it.”
James May
How to Land an A330 Airbus: and Other Vital Skills for the Modern Man

The French fleet attacks Bembridge, Isle of Wight
Today’s blog post is on the theme of ‘invading the Isle of Wight’. Now this is not as random as it seems because whilst on holiday there this summer, I came across several references to previous invasion attempts. Indeed, the Roman Villa at Brading is testament to the islands vulnerability in 300AD.  But unlike James May’s assertion a couple of years ago that, “they definitely won’t be expecting it”, in previous centuries significant efforts were made to protect the island.

Modern day Bembridge (photo author's own)
This post is not an exhaustive account of the history of invasion, but more a reflection on three interesting events in the history of the island. Situated off the South Coast of England, in the Solent, the Isle of Wight gave the would-be-invader of the mainland a huge strategic advantage. With sheltered harbours, plentiful fresh water and good agricultural land, it was the perfect place for an invading army to regroup and refuel before launching a major assault on England.

Carisbrooke Castle from the road (author's own photo)
 Repelling the French
In medieval times, the French were keen to gain control of the Isle of Wight (IOW). During the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453 – you do the maths!) occupying the IOW would have given them control of the waters around the south coast of England.
Between 1336 and 1370 they raided the island five times. But in 1377 they became bolder still. Key to defense of the IOW was Carisbrooke Castle. The French invaded in strength to the north, laying waste to Yarmouth and Francheville, before laying siege to the castle. The attacking force used trebuchets, ladders and crossbows but the story goes that they were defeated by a lone English bowman, Peter de Heynoe.
View from the ramparts of Carisbrooke Castle (author's own photo)
De Heynoe watched from the ramparts and picked out the French commander. With a single arrow he slew their leader, leaving the French force in disarray and they subsequently abandoned their attack. Later, the castle was further fortified and the French continued to raid until the early 15th century.

The Threat in Tudor Times
During the 16th century at various times both the French and the Spanish posed threats at various times. King Henry VIII decided it was time to invest in the Island defenses and built coast forts at Cowes, Sandown, St Helens and Yarmouth – sometimes using stone from dissolved monasteries. Carisbrooke Castle became used as a munitions store.
Priory Bay - IOW
One of the many beautiful coves to be found on the island -
as good a reason as any to invade!
(Author's own photo)

It was during one of these skirmishes between the English and the French, that the Mary Rose was lost in 1545. From his viewpoint at Southsea Castle, looking across the Solent with the IOW clearly visible, King Henry VIII watched his flagship lead the attack on galleys of the French invasion fleet, only to see the Mary Rose founder and sink.
During Elizabeth I’s reign, an example of the key position played by the IOW was the dramatic sight, on the morning of 26 July 1588, of the Spanish Armada sailing in waters off the islands coast.
“This morning began a great fight between both fleets…[which] were out of sight by three in the afternoon.”
Sir George Carey. (Captain of Carisbrooke Castle under Elizabeth I)

            Trivia alert! George Carey was the grandson of Mary Boleyn (sister of Anne Boleyn), and Elizabeth I’s cousin
A Palmerston fort viewed from Southsea Castle, on the mainland,
looking across the Solent with the Isle of Wight clearly visible.
(Author's own photo)
The Palmerston Forts or Follies?
From the north coast of the Isle of Wight a number of marine forts are clearly visible, built in the waters of the Solent, with the purpose of protecting the Solent. These forts were built in Victorian times on the recommendation of the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom. There was a parliamentary debate about whether the cost of their construction could be justified and the cause was championed by the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. However, it seemed he jumped the wrong way because by the time they were completed the French threat of invasion had passed, and the weapons technology with which they were equipped was outdated – hence the nickname Palmerston’s Follies.

My husband in the foreground on a 'walk to the fort' -
traversing a gravel path that becomes visible only at extreme low tide.
Palmerston fort in the background.
I find these forts fascinating. They are clearly visible in the Solent and have a definite ‘presence’. At certain times of the year the tide is low enough to ‘walk to the fort’ – along the seabed – I’ve done this a couple of times and it has a biblical feel about it, with the sea lapping at your ankles on either side.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Great Fire of London - Eye-witness Accounts

The pink areas indicate those parts of London destroyed in the Great Fire
This week it’s my brother’s birthday, a date he shares with the anniversary of another significant historical event –  the Great Fire of London in 1666. It seemed appropriate to mark his birthday on my blog with eye-witness accounts of the Great Fire, almost 350 years ago (OK, it was 347 years – but that doesn’t sound as momentous.)
Samuel Pepys- diarist
In the early hours of Sunday 2 September 1666, Mr and Mrs Samuel Pepys were woken by their maid, Jane, to tell them of a fire within the city. Pepys was concerned enough to rise in his nightgown for a look but recorded:
“Thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again and to sleep.”

At 7am the news was not good:
“Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street by London Bridge.”

To investigate Pepys took to a boat on the Thames, to get the view from the river. He found a four acre area of light industry and warehouses ablaze. On a large scale people evacuated their houses and public order began to break down as they looked for someone to blame.

It seems London’s population turned against foreigners, and in particular the French, as the likely culprits for starting the fire. A schoolboy recorded a terrible incident where a blacksmith attacked ‘an innocent Frenchman’ with an iron bar. Another report was of a Frenchman ‘almost dismembered’ by a mob who thought he had firebombs (they were actually tennis balls.)

            The reason the fire was so severe was the medieval city of London consisted of closely packed wooden buildings with gables practically touching. That and a high wind that fanned the flames and that the city was dry for want of rain, added together to make an inferno.

“The wind got up mighty high…driving the fire into the city…and everything after so long a drought was proving combustible, even the very stones of the churches.”

            That Sunday evening (day 1 of the fire) Pepys and his wife sat in a wharf alehouse and watched the flames.
“An arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it.”
The Duke of York,
the future King James II
By Monday morning (day 2), that same alehouse had been destroyed. The brother of King Charles II, took charge. James, the Duke of York, recognised drastic action was needed and ordered whole streets to be demolished. But the fire continued to spread and the Royal Exchange, one of the landmarks of Elizabethan London, was gone by the afternoon.

John Evelyn -
described the fire and also proposed a layout for
the city to replace the one destroyed.
Tuesday(day 3) must have be terrifying indeed as the medieval cathedral of St Paul’s caught fire. Another famous diarist, John Evelyn, described a hellish sight.
“The melting lead [from the roof of St Paul’s] running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them.”

Evelyn also recounted how.
“The fall of towers, houses and churches was like a hideous storm.”

The Great Fire - by an unknown artist.
Tower of London on the extreme right
London Bridge on the extreme left
St. Pauls on the left amidst the highest flames
            The Duke of York had hoped the Fleet Ditch would provide a natural fire break but nature worked against him and a strong wind blew from the east and the fire leapt the ditch to arrive in Fleet Street. But later on Tuesday, the wind dropped abruptly and the fire-breaks held…dare they hope?

            The morning of Wednesday 5th September (day 4) Pepys set off to inspect the city. He wrote of his ‘feet ready to burn’ such was the residual heat. Some indication of the damage was shown as he wrote about picking up a souvenir:
“…a piece of glasse of [16th century] Mercer’s Chappell in the street…so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment.”

An early fire-engine - which would have been impotent
against the power of the Great Fire.
            But the fire had largely done its worst and that night Pepys ‘slept a good night’ – the first since Sunday.

            By all accounts on the Thursday, although the fire on burnt in localised areas, the heat radiating from scorched pavements and walls was fierce. No accurate figures existed of the number of deaths but although supposedly low, one wonders how many vagrants were burnt and went unaccounted for.

Pudding Lane in the modern day!
            After the fire, someone had to be blamed. A Frenchman, Robert Hubert, ‘a poor distracted wretch’ was executed as the culprit, but it later turned out to be a baker, Thomas Farynor of Pudding Lane. He had failed to put out his oven properly and an explosive aerosol of flour became exposed to the cinders, igniting the conflagration. In total, his negligence led to the destruction of the 13,000 homes, 87 churches and one cathedral that made up medieval London. 

John Evelyn's plan for rebuilding London on a structured grid pattern.
This never happened as Londoner's swiftly started rebuilding on the site of their ruined homes.