Monday, January 21, 2008
Raglan Revisted Again
I like visiting the castles in the UK and I am lucky in that I live close to the old March lands that span the English and Welsh border where many ruined castles still stand. Raglan Castle is somewhere I have visited a few times. Nestled in the Welsh countryside just outside the Brecon Beacons it was once an important stronghold. It started as a Motte and Bailey castle (an earthen mound with a simple wooden and then stone tower on top) as part of the Norman advance into Wales under William I of England who established the Marcher Lordships to hold the land.
Although Raglan Castle started as a small stronghold in the 12th century, it was expanded over the centuries by successive Lords to become a huge fortress from where the Lord would manage and control his land and the people that inhabited it. Now all that is left of this and other once fine structures are cold stone ruins, a shell of the former mighty bustling centres of life they once were. As I walk round these ruins I often wonder about the people that lived there and what their lives were like.
The ruins visible today date from the 15th and 16th century when the castle was in it's glory days and had become a great base of power and splendour as the fortress of the great family of Herbert. Its ruination came at the end of one of the longest sieges of the English Civil War when the castle was slighted by Cromwell's troops to prevent it from being inhabited and used as a stronghold again. I have posted about the castle's history previously here.
I can only imagine what the castle looked like in it's peak, but there are clues in the ruins. In one of the photo's above you can see the remains of a large bay window which looks out across an inner courtyard and would have flooded the hall with light and sunshine. This would have been one of the later additions, and it could afford to be large, being within the inner curtain wall. The windows on the outside of the castle would have been much smaller to protect those within. In the photo above you can see three floors. Of course the wooden floors are long gone, along with the hammer beam ceiling of the great hall, with all it's fine carving. There would have been wood panelling too and as you can see in the photo, the walls were plastered and painted and would have been covered in fine tapestries and paintings.
You can also make out the remains of the doorways and the large fireplaces that were needed to heat the rooms. Living in a stone structure would have been very cold and damp (trust me, we know rain in the UK!) and so keeping the fires burning was an important job.
Walking round the now empty courtyards, it is hard to imagine the hustle and bustle which would have been a feature of everyday castle life as servants went about their business. The castle would also have housed many timber structures, also long gone, including stables. There would have been a smith, armourer, vintner, cooks and other kitchen staff, chamberlain, porters and maids. The castle would also have been home to a garrison of soldiers who would have guarded the castle and also defended the Lord's land. All of them would have played an essential part in castle life. It must have been very noisy with a myriad smells to assault the nostrils.
As I stood in the castle grounds on a cold winters day, there is very little sign that anyone was there at all. Just a few clues to what has been and my imagination.