A Little History
The castle at Ludlow dates back to 11th century though the earliest reference of its existence is not until 1137, it was founded by the De Lacy family; a Norman noble family who came to England following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Due to the castle’s high location above the River Teme, it was strategically important in England’s control of the Welsh Borders.
The castle remained in the ownership of the De Lacy family throughout much the 12th and first half of the 13th centuries, albeit with brief periods where the English crown took ownership, before being returned to the De Lacy family. When the last male member of the De Lacy family (Walter) died in 1241, land owned by the family was divided between the two daughters Maud and Margaret.
Maud married Peter de Geneva who was given Ludlow by King Henry III until his death in 1249, after which Maud remarried and the land became the property of her second husband Geoffrey de Geneville. Geoffrey gave Ludlow to his son Peter, who refurbished the castle, turning it into a “luxurious palace”. Peter’s daughter Joan married Roger Mortimer, a baron who deposed the English King Edward II in favour of his fourteen year old son who became Edward III. Roger Mortimer was able to influence the young and inexperienced king, becoming the Earl of March (the Welsh border territory) until he himself was deposed and assassinated by rivals in 1330.
Despite the death of Roger Mortimer, the family retained ownership of Ludlow Castle until the death of the last male Mortimer, when it then passed to his nephew; Richard Plantagenet – the Duke of York. As a result of York’s ownership, the castle was thrust into the centre of the Wars of the Roses between the opposing York and Lancaster forces and in 1459 it was captured by the Lancastrians. After the death of Richard Plantagenet, his son Edward of York inherited his father’s claim to the English throne and won the crown from the Lancastrian King Henry VI in 1461, becoming King Edward IV. On becoming King of England, Ludlow Castle became a royal palace and remained so for the next 350 years, excluding the years of the English Civil War and Commonwealth.
As a royal palace, Ludlow Castle became the seat of government for Wales and the border counties. Edward IV sent his sons the Prince of Wales and Richard of Shrewsbury to live at Ludlow Castle in 1472, many will know the two princes as the ‘Princes in the Tower’, who following the death of their father Edward IV, were locked away in the Tower of London before disappearing and supposed murdered. The princes’ uncle became King Richard III after having declared the Prince of Wales illegitimate, becoming a prime suspect in the still unsolved mystery. Richard III eventually got his comeuppance when he was defeated by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth becoming King Henry VII in 1485, ending the Wars of the Roses.
During the reign of Henry VII, his eldest son Arthur lived at Ludlow Castle with his bride Catherine of Aragon for four months from January 1502 until his death in April 1502, after which Catherine returned to London and later married the King’s second son Henry, who became King Henry VIII in 1509. Henry and Catherine’s only child Mary (later Queen Mary I) spent three winters at Ludlow Castle in 1525-1528.
From the 1530’s Ludlow’s importance as an administrative centre grew significantly, becoming an unofficial capital of Wales. During the 1550s and 1580s the castle was extended and updated such as the building of the Judges’ Lodgings, created to accommodate judges and clerks whilst the courts of the Council of the Marches were in session.
During the English Civil War, Ludlow Castle was a royalist stronghold, that along with the town of Ludlow was besieged by Parliamentary forces in 1646 before surrendering, avoiding the castle’s destruction. The start of the Civil War marked the end of the Castle’s use as an administrative centre for the governing of Wales and the Welsh border, where there Council of the Matches was dissolved until being re-established during the reign of King Charles II, albeit with limited powers. The council was later abolished in 1789 after the Glorious Revolution which deposed the Catholic King James II in favour of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. The reign of William and Mary saw the centralisation of the governing of England and Wales in London, resulting in the abandoning of Ludlow Castle. Over the course of the next one hundred years the castle fell into disrepair; local people looted the castle, stole materials and the roof off of the major rooms.
Choosing not to demolish the castle in the 18th century, it was instead leased to the Earls of Powis in 1771 who later bought the castle in 1811 and own it to this day. By 1771 the castle was “a picturesque romantic ruin”, the Earl of Powis utilised it as a tourist attraction which continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st. During the 19th century, the outer bailey was used for sports and events and since 1960, performances of Shakespeare’s plays have been held in the inner bailey.
The medieval castle is formed of two distinct parts; the Outer Bailey and the Inner Bailey.
The Outer Bailey
The Outer Bailey was added to the existing castle during the latter half of the 12th century by the De Lacy family. When first entering the castle through the gatehouse, you walk into what is now the gift shop and castle entrance.
The Tudor Buildings or ‘Pembroke Buildings’ as they were known as, were built in 1552 housing the Porter’s Lodge and a prison. An extension was later added in 1597 to create stables.
Walking around the Outer Bailey past what was the Chapel of St Peter, built by Roger Mortimer, you will come to Mortimer’s Tower. The tower was built in the 13th century and named after the Mortimer family, though built before they acquired the castle. Mortimer’s Tower may have been a rear gatehouse which allowed Richard Plantagenet and his son Edward to escape Ludlow Castle in 1459 and flee from the advancing Lancastrian forces.
Continuing on from Mortimer’s Tower, you will come to the Castle Ditch, a dry moat separating the outer bailey from the keep and inner bailey. Accessible from the castle ditch is an ice house, which also may have previously been used to store ammunition.
Walking back up from the Castle Ditch, you will come to a bridge to the entrance of the Inner Bailey.
The Inner Bailey
The Inner Bailey is the oldest part of Ludlow Castle and houses the castle’s principal buildings. Originally the Inner Bailey was accessed using a drawbridge connected to the Gatehouse Keep, this entrance was replaced by a bridge connected to an archway cut through the adjacent wall in the late 12th century, then later lowered to the current arched entrance during the 14th century.
After entering the Inner Bailey, there are buildings immediately to the left; the Keep, to the right; Judges’ Lodgings and ahead; the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene and North Range.
The Great Tower has undergone substantial change since it’s construction, originally the gatehouse into the castle with a grand entrance and drawbridge. The tower was originally built to be a single storey gatehouse, but was expanded in the 12th century adding a first floor hall. Eventually, the great tower as it became, grew to having five floors, two being in the basement.
The lower floor is accessed via the Great Tower Court; an enclosed service and high security area, secured by the Great Tower, Postern Tower and Oven Tower. The Great Tower Court is also home to the castle’s well, once extending below the level of the River Teme.
The lower floor was the former gatehouse entrance to the castle before the removal of the drawbridge and creation of the new arched entrance adjacent to the tower, it was decorated with a vaulted ceiling and arched arcades, though now only two of the arches remain.
Following the conversion from gatehouse to keep, the lower floor was used as a storeroom and castle dungeon.
The upper floors are accessible from a doorway in the arched Inner Bailey entrance. The first of the two remaining floors was once the two storey Norman hall with an adjoining bedchamber and garderobe chamber.
After walking up a great number of steps you will arrive at the top of the Great Tower Keep with access to one of the tower’s battlements and views overlooking the castle, the River Teme and the town of Ludlow.
Retracing your steps back through the Great Tower Keep and into the Inner Bailey entrance, to the right will be the Judges’ Lodgings.
The Judges’ Lodgings
When Ludlow Castle became the base of the Council of the Marches it was an important administrative centre, many of the medieval buildings were modernised but there became a need for additional room. In 1581 the Judges’ Lodgings were completed, connected to the Great Tower with a new rebuilt gatehouse. The Judges’ Lodgings housed apartments and were adorned with Tudor fireplaces and a polygonal staircase tower topped with an Elizabethan pyramid.
Walking out of a doorway in the Judges’ Lodgings and across the Inner Bailey you will arrive at the round Chapel of St Mary Magdalene.
The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene
The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene is one of few remaining round churches, which were built as such to imitate the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on the supposed site of Jesus’s tomb, witnessed by knights who took part in the The First Crusade in 1099.
The round nave was accompanied by a rectangular chancel that was extended in the 16th century and later demolished. Also during the 16th century, a gallery was added to the nave, so that the important worshippers did not have to mix with the lower orders on the ground floor. This gallery was connected to the Great Chamber block in the North Range by a bridge connected to an enlarged window forming a new doorway.
After exiting the Chapel Interior, either through the entrance or the archway to what would have been the chancel, to the side of the chapel you will see the North Range.
The North Range
The North Range is a set of four buildings built at different times in the castle’s history. First the Great Hall and the lower floors of the Solar Block, then the Great Chamber Block and finally the Tudor Lodgings.
The Great Hall and Solar Block date back to the 13th century with the Great Hall being used for banquets and large functions. The Solar Block was later extended in the early 14th century adding the upper floor, which was used as a bedchamber by Prince Arthur during his time at Ludlow Castle.
To the right of the Great Hall a new Great Chamber Block was built in the 14th century to house the private apartments of the Lord and Lady of the castle. When Ludlow Castle became the home of the Council of the Marches, the Great Chamber Block was taken over by the council and became the Council Chamber.
The first floor of the Great Chamber Block has a door that once opened onto the bridge joining the Great Chamber Block to the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene.
The last addition to the North Range was the Tudor Lodgings, added during the 16th century to replace older existing buildings in the same location, though the circular staircase remained from the older buildings.
The Tudor Lodgings accommodated officials and administrative personnel during the 16th century, though the earlier buildings were home to Prince Edward and Richard the famed ‘Princes in the Tower’.
After exploring the castle, wandering around the centre of Ludlow and perusing the museum, housed in Ludlow’s former Assembly Rooms, I noticed the Tudor Castle Lodge; a large Tudor building, once a hotel, which visitors can explore for a small fee. Due to the limited availability of time, I was unable to go inside the lodge, but will be sure to visit Ludlow sometime in the near future and visit the Tudor lodge.
- http://www.ludlowcastle.com – Ludlow Castle