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Archive for August, 2010

Castle of the Week, Chirk Castle, Wales

Chirk Castle, located in Wrexham, Wales dates to 1295. The Castle was built by Roger Mortimer, Justice of Wales during the reign of Edward I. The Castle sits on a hill with views overlooking the Ceiriog Valley to the south. Roger Mortimer , a member of the powerful Marcher family, was granted the land where the Castle was constructed after the Welsh defeat in 1282. The spirit of the 14th century structure is preserved in the Adam’s Tower (near the well on the south-west), which has a magnificent dungeon on two levels and a number of upper rooms clearly showing the 5m-thick walls. Two of them contain ‘murder holes’, through which material could be poured on to anyone trying to batter or burn down the doors below. This tower, like the others, was originally at least one storey higher, the upper parts probably being removed after the Civil War bombardment of 1659.

After the War of the Roses, the castle settled in royal hands on the execution of Sir William Stanley in 1495. The south range was partially rebuilt in 1529, reusing stone from earlier work. The old hall was subdivided and new living accommodation provided to its west. In 1563, the castle was granted to Elizabeth I’s favorite, Robert Dudley, soon created earl of Leicester and Baron Denbigh, who held it as part of his extensive north Wales properties until his death in 1588. He may have reroofed it and added some of the square windows. The castle was purchased in 1595 by Sir Thomas Myddelton, a son of the governor of Denbigh Castle and successful London merchant. As a founder of the East India Company, an investor in the expeditions of Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins, he had the means to convert Chirk into a comfortable Tudor residence. His new stone north range contained a hall, buttery and kitchen, with upstairs drawing and dining rooms. This range, with alterations, became the main living quarters of the castle, while the old south range was gradually given over to servants.

Chirk Castle interior

Sir Thomas’ son, the second Sir Thomas, took up residence on his marriage in 1612 and as MP for Denbighshire from 1625, found himself on the Parliamentarian side in the Civil War. Royalist supporters seized the castle in 1643, and held it for three years. Sir Thomas’ Parliamentary forces meanwhile enjoyed some successes, including the capture of Powis Castle, although he could not bring himself to attack Chirk. The castle was eventually regained by bribery and Sir Thomas’ son (Sir Thomas III) installed as governor. By 1651, however, the general had changed sides, and further payoffs were needed to dislodge the Parliamentarian garrison. Chirk was nevertheless besieged and taken by the Parliamentarians in 1659 as punishment for the Myddeltons’ support of the Cheshire Rising. At the last moment it sustained the damage they had for so long sought to avoid. Most of the eastern side was demolished, and much of the rest burnt, leaving the family with a huge rebuilding task after the Restoration in 1660.

A new stone range was now added on the east, in conjunction with the reconstruction of the curtain wall and towers. The new towers, although externally similar to their predecessors, had much thinner walls, while the range included a drawing room and long gallery at first floor level, with an arcaded walkway facing the courtyard beneath it. The old state bedroom in the south-east tower was given a new entrance from the long gallery. Sir Thomas III predeceased his father, and his son Sir Thomas IV, who came of age in 1672, supervised the decoration of the newly built rooms, completed, possibly with the help of William Wynde, in 1678. Only the long gallery survives to show the original style of this work.

Within the east range, the main structure of the castle was complete, although minor alterations continued to be made. After an abortive episode in 1762-4, when a scheme for a Gothic interior was abandoned at an early stage, the north range was extensively refurbished in neo-classical style by Joseph Turner of Chester in the later 1760s and 1770s, the drawing room being completed by John Cooper of Beaumaris in about 1796. In the 1820s, however, gothic vaulting was added, and from 1845 the interior was almost totally reworked in the Gothic manner by A.W. Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Most of these alterations have been undone in recent years, with the exception of the Cromwell Hall, where a collection of Civil War arms is displayed. The castle remained in the hands of the Myddelton family, who still own and work much of the estate, until 1978. It is now in the care of the National Trust

Chirk Castle


Heraldry in Wales Part 2

Ibbetson Caygill Arms

Nobility existed in Wales from an ancient period well before Coats of Arms came into use. A Welshman’s status depended on his gentility of blood, in being descended from one of the ancient Prince-Chiefs, or lesser Chiefs, of one of the Welsh principalities. Heraldically the Welsh came under the jurisdiction of the English College of Arms in London, but in former days it was the practice for an English Herald when making a Visitation which took in part of Wales to appoint a Welsh deputy. Lewis Dwnn was probably the most celebrated of these and the pedigrees recorded by him in his Visitations are generally considered to be accurate.

There were other Welsh officers who served as members of the College of Arms or as deputies. Among them were Thomas Chaloner of Chester, and Captain Robert Chaloner, who became Lancaster Herald in 1665. Griffith Hughes is described as “deputy to the office of arms for North Wales” in 1639. George Owen became Norroy King of Arms in 1658. Sir Henry St. George, Clarenceux, appointed David Edwardes on August 1st 1684 to be his deputy Herald over the six Welsh counties of Cardigan, Brecon, Radnor, Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Glamorgan. The assistance of these Welsh Heralds was very desirable when dealing with Welsh pedigrees and translating from the Welsh Language.

In present-day Wales many towns, counties, institutions and people seek grants of arms. More important than these manifestations, however, is the fact that the Principality of Wales was granted an Heraldic badge over 200 years ago. The design for the Royal Badge is the Red Dragon of Wales, and by decree of Her Majesty the Queen in the Privy Council of 11 March 1953, this Badge was enclosed in a scroll carrying the words “ Y ddraig goch ddyry gychwyn “ (The Welsh dragon gives the lead) in green lettering on a white background and surmounted by a royal crown. This new royal badge is used on all Governmental publications relating to Wales, and on letterhead of Government departments in Wales.

Royal Badge of Wales 1953

Heraldry in Wales Part 1

When we look at Heraldry in Wales, we see a system that is not unlike that of the highlanders of Scotland. We have, first of all, a pre-existing Celtic nation, divided into tribes, but each with their chiefs and gentry, and basing their gentility on their descent from ancient noble ancestors. Impinging on this culture came the settlement of Anglo-Normans in the 11th and 12th centuries many of whom became absorbed by the native civilization. References often occur in old family histories to the Welsh Heralds, but in fact no such body ever existed. Wales was annexed to England in 1284, and from 1542 was made part of England from a legislative point of view. While the British Royal arms has parts depicting Ireland and Scotland there is no place given to Wales.

The origins of Welsh Heraldry was of a later date than some other western European nations, because the Welsh like the other Celts of Ireland Scotland Cornwall and Brittany, had a civilization quite different from that of the feudal system. Coats of Arms like other western customs, such as submission to the pope in Rome, were adopted comparatively late in history by the Celts. The Anglo Normans that settled in Wales displayed charges on their Coats of Arms, which were unrelated to those of the tribal societies of the principalities of Wales even when they had adopted Welsh names. The native Welsh nobles, on the other hand, were tribally organized, and so a deliberate creation of Arms for the bearer was made by the old Welsh bards skilled in Heraldry. As a result of this all the branches of a scattered tribe could share in the Arms of this ancient, often mythical, chief from whom they claimed to derive their descent. In a large number of cases these original arms assigned to the bearer are differenced for the various branches of the family. In some cases distinct branches arose, and had already adopted quite different Arms from those of their kin, before this conscious effort to tribalise the Arms had occurred. In such cases these quite distinct Arms were sometimes continued, and they were often enough differentiated for their own sub-branches.

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