Sunday, October 2, 2011

The One That's a Castle and a Village

The last place on the itinerary was Corfe Castle. As its name suggests, Corfe Castle is a castle, but it’s also the name of the entire village – which we easily decided was the cutest village we'd ever seen!

The word Corfe means “cutting” or “pass” in Anglo-Saxon and the castle sits atop a steep chalk promontory between the River Wicken and the Byle Brook where the waters have eroded the rock near the Isle of Purbeck. According to legend, in 978, the teenage king Edward (the Martyr) was hunting in the royal forest on the Isle of Purbeck when he was attacked and stabbed to death. The story claims that the stabbing was ordered by Edward’s stepmother, Elfryda, so that her son Ethelred could become king (later known as Ethelred the Unready).  In 1001, Edward was recognized as a saint.

Shortly after his victory at Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror realized the defensive potential of the site and laid the foundations for the castle. Although many Norman castles were built on a man-made “motte” (or mound), the steep hilltop at Corfe is entirely natural. The earliest fortification included a thick stone wall which was unusual at the time, highlighting the importance of Corfe to the Norman defensives.

In 1105, Henry I had the wooden keep replaced with stone. The keep itself stood 21m tall and sat atop a 55m tall hill. Using the latest style of carefully worked stone blocks (from the local Purbeck limestone), the Keep would have taken eight or nine years to build at the rate of 3-4 meters a year. It was one of the largest buildings that had ever been constructed in this part of England.

Corfe was described as “the most secure of all the English castles” during the early medieval period and was able to withstand a long siege (which it did in 1138 and 1139 during the Anarchy period). The Outer Gatehouse originally stood at least twice as high as it does now and was built between 1280 and 1285.

The South-West Gatehouse was built by Henry III around 1250.

By the time King John came to the throne, the Norman keep was old fashioned so John added a new royal residence, known as the “Gloriette” (which means “highly decorated chamber”). The Gloriette was built solely as a luxurious royal residence and given that it was surrounded by highly defended stone walls, and it was separated from the Keep by a courtyard. Remains of the first floor hall and Presence Chamber are visible today.

The Outer Bailey was the work area of the castle where the workshops, stables, storehouses and living accommodations were located.  By the mid 13th century the entire outer boundary was a series of stone walled towers, many of which were destroyed during the civil war four centuries later.

Corfe was often used as a state prison perhaps due to its remote location. King Henry I imprisoned his eldest brother Robert here after capturing him in battle in Normandy and the castle was often used as a royal treasury, especially by King John. John also used Corfe to imprison his niece Eleanor (after allegedly killing her brother Arthur in order to secure his own claim to the throne). In 1326, Edward II was imprisoned here after his capture, but there was so much local sympathy for the king that he didn’t stay here long and was eventually moved to Berkeley Castle where he died in 1327.

In 1496, Henry VII granted the castle to his mother, and money was appropriated for the castle’s repair and the castle’s role had gradually changed from that of a royal fortress and residence to a grand country house. It was often used as a residence by the constables of Corfe Castle, who for many years were the Dukes of Somerset.

In 1572 Elizabeth I sold Corfe to one of her favorites, Sir Christopher Hatton and its 500 year history as a royal castle came to an end.  During the English Civil War, Corfe Castle was one of the last Royalist strongholds in the south of England and due to a traitor within the castle walls, it eventually fell to Parliamentary troops in 1645. In March 1646, Parliament voted to demolish the castle and within months, the work of the previous six centuries was reduced to rubble.

By the 18th century, the ivy covered walls were considered romantic and the place opened to tourists. In the early 1600s the castle was owned by Charles I’s Lord Chief justice, Sir John Bankes. The castle remained in the Bankes family for three and a half centuries and in 1982, it was given to The National Trust along with three miles of coastline, three nature reserves and adjoining farmland.

And just so you don't think I made that up about the village, here are a few shots to prove it!

The town square outside the entrance to the castle

Corfe Castle is quite small (population around 1500) and so parking is in a lot on the edge of the village (that's where we took the very first picture in the post from).  These shots were taken on the way to/from the castle and the entire place looks like this!  Cute, huh?


 *all information from the guidebook

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The One With the Garter

Within the confines of Windsor Castle is the beautiful St. George’s Chapel, one of the finest examples of the Perpendicular style in the country. Pictures of the insides were not allowed, so those have been scanned from the guidebook.

A church has existed within Windsor for centuries. Henry III dedicated one to Edward the Confessor in the 13th century and part of a wall and a doorway still exist from that early structure.  St George represents courage and fidelity along with Christian chivalry and gentleness. He supplanted Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of England following his supposed appearance over the battlefield of Agincourt in 1415.

The current structure was begun in 1475 by Edward IV as the Chapel of the Order of the Garter, a medieval order of chivalry founded in 1348 by Edward III. Perhaps inspired by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the order was to consist of a distinguished band of soldiers who would reflect the ideal of Christian chivalry.

The earliest Order consisted of the Sovereign, The Prince of Wales and 24 members drawn from the fighting nobility. Since then, two other categories of members have been admitted: Sovereigns of other countries and members of the Royal Family other than the monarch and Prince of Wales.  The above picture is from the cover of the guidebook and shows the quire.

When the nave was completed in 1506, it was covered the heraldic arms of Knights of the Garter from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

In the main body of the Quire is one of the finest collections of heraldic art in the world. Above the stall of each knight is a banner, some of which have been passed down through many generations. Below each banner is a crest on top of a helm. A half drawn sword below the helm indicates the readiness of each member to defend his Sovereign and religion.

At the back of each stall is a metal plate that remains after the members death (unlike the banner, crest and helm). Since 1348 there have been approximately 1,000 Knights of the Garter and there are currently over 700 stall plates with the rest being lost or removed.  The ones in the above picture date from the medieval period.

Stall plate of the Duke of Norfolk who was executed for treason in 1572

Stall plate of Charles, Prince of Wales

Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville are buried in the chapel but the building was not completed for 53 years during the reign of Henry VIII.  Henry VIII is also buried here, along with his third wife, Jane Seymour, under a simple marble slab.

One of the chapels most magnificent features is the large stained glass wall (I think it’s too big to be considered a window!) which measures 36 by 29 feet. Of the 75 main windows, 65 date from before 1509.

This 13th century doorway is sometimes used by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

The exterior of the church is covered with animals, statutes and emblems and Chip spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of them. Here are a few:

seriously, check out the “heads” in the background (click to enlarge picture)

While he was taking all of those pictures he noticed a crowd of people gathered off to the side of the Chapel. Walking back and forth with military precision, this young guard attracted quite a bit of attention and several pre-teen girls tried to distract him. He was having none of it though and performed his duty as if they weren’t even there. We watched him for a while and didn’t see him even crack a smile. Impressive.


*information on Chapel from the guidebook

Friday, September 9, 2011

The One Inside the Queen's Castle

The State rooms at Windsor are truly spectacular. Photos are not allowed so the following are scanned from the guidebook. I had a serious crick in my neck from looking up! You’ll see what I mean…

The Grand Staircase is lined with armour and arms and as I walked up the stairs I was totally awed by the size and height of the space.

The ceiling of the Grand Vestibule. The plaster fan vaulted ceiling was completed between 1800 and 1814. The room holds a number of glass cases, originally designed to display some of the thousands of gifts given to Queen Victoria on her Golden Jubilee. They now contain relics and arms largely from the collection of George IV.

The Waterloo Chamber was built as a tribute to the nations success at the Battle of Waterloo in June of 1815 where Napoleon was defeated. The room filled an open court that had existed since the 13th century. The Indian carpet, woven by inmates at Agra prison for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, is thought to be the largest seamless carpet in existence and weighs 2 tons. During the 1992 fire it took 50 soldiers to roll it up and move it. The room itself was spared due to the thick medieval walls. The dining room table (when extended to its full length is 175 feet long and seats 162) gives an idea of the scale of the room.

The official “State Apartments” were built between 1675 and 1678 for Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza and have been altered over the years. The King’s Drawing room marked the divide between the public rooms and the King’s private apartments and only the cornice remains from its 17th century appearance.

The King’s bedchamber was used by Charles II for the formal ceremonies of the king rising an going to bed – it is believed he actually slept in an adjacent room. Most of the room’s appearance dates from the reigns of George III and George IV.

The tapestries and painted ceiling of the Queen’s Drawing room were replaced in the 1830s and some of the finest Tudor and Stuart royal portraits in the Royal Collection (including portraits of Henry VIII, Mary I, and Edward VI) hang here.

The ceiling of the King’s Dining Room – a banquet of the gods - was painted by Antonio Verrio in the 1680s.

The Queen’s Ballroom was the principal ballroom in the castle until the completion of the Grand Reception Room and Waterloo Camber in the 1830s. The chandeliers were hung during the reign of Queen Victoria.

St. George’s Hall measures 185 by 30 feet and the ceiling contains the coats of arms of all the Knights of the Garter since its founding in 1348. The hall was seriously damaged in the 1992 fire with the ceiling and roof completely destroyed. The ceiling was reconstructed entirely of green oak using medieval carpentry methods and is the largest timber roof constructed in the 20th century.

At the far end of the hall is the armoured figure of the King’s Campion on horseback. The armour was made for Sir Christopher Hatten in 1585 who later gave it to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester a favorite of Elizabeth I. The ceremony of the Champion riding into the coronation banquet and issuing a challenge for anyone to deny the new monarch was last held in 1821 for the coronation of King George IV.

The Lantern Lobby was created after the 1992 fire on the former site of a private chapel that had been created for Queen Victoria. This space allows movement between the State and Semi-State apartments. The badge and motto of the Garter are inlaid in British marble on the floor and the red stone that forms the cross is from a small deposit in Derbyshire known as “The Duke’s Red”.

The Lantern Lobby also contains a suit of armour made for Henry VIII at Greenwich around 1540.

The Semi-State Apartments were created for George IV in the 1820s as his private apartments and are now used by The Queen for entertaining. They were severely damaged by the 1992 fire but since this area was undergoing a re-wiring project, most of the contents had been removed. The rooms were largely restored to their original brilliance, including the above Green Drawing Room. The carpet in the room was specifically designed for this room for Queen Victoria around 1850. It was soaked with water during the fire and is now considered too delicate for visitors to walk on.

The Crimson Drawing room is the principle room in this part of the castle and during the fire, the ceiling collapsed and the were walls badly burnt. The steel roof structure expanded in the extreme heat and pushed out one of the walls, threatening the whole thing with collapse. The restored ceiling incorporates many fragments salvaged from the original. The walls are hung with the state portraits of George IV and Queen Elizabeth that were painted during World War II.

The Octagon Dining Room is a small room used by members of The Queen’s household when they are in residence at Easter. Located in an area of the castle known as the Brunswick Tower, it was also badly damaged during the fire when the internal floors of the tower collapsed and the tower acted as a flue shooting flames 50 feet into the sky. The marble chimneypiece survived and analysis has showed that the fire reached temperatures of 820 degrees Celsius/1500 F!

The Grand Reception room reflects George IV’s love of all things French. It was the site of Edward III’s Great Staircase which formed the heart of the medieval castle. The floor incorporates 14th century ceiling timbers reused from a later renovation. The room was completely restored and re-gilded after the 1992 fire.

The Garter Throne Room is where new Knights and Ladies of the Garter are invested. It was the main Throne Room for Queen Victoria and most of the room (with the exception of the oak wall panels) dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.

All of the rooms contain a number of paintings, artwork, tapestries, sculpture and furniture from the 17th – 19th centuries which must be worth a small (or perhaps not so small) fortune!  These pictures really do not do the place justice and it is more than worth the price of admission (about $25). 

*all information from the guidebook



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