Alnwick Castle

Upon entering Alnwick Castle, I wasn’t thinking how popular a choice it is for filming locations even before it became Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, or that it’s one of the top 10 most visited stately homes in England and welcomes around 800,000 visitors a year. Like many people, I entered the cobbled courtyard that housed the principal rooms looking a little dazed and conflicted.

There’s nothing particularly bewildering about Alnwick Castle’s layout, even if it’s one of the oldest castles to never have a square keep. No, our strange expression was caused by an experience we all shared immediately before being granted access to what has been the Percy family’s principal seat for over 700 years.

Entrance is £14.50

Entrance is £14.50, and that’d be £26.25 each if you also want to see the garden. Enjoy!

Well, thanks a bunch, Your Grace. Being the Duke of Northumberland, you’re probably strapped for cash and after all, “we are all in this together.” Poor thing, it must be dreadful living in the country’s biggest inhabited castle save for Windsor and being one of the major landowners in England. Maybe that’s why castle visitors only have access to the one restroom? Of course I’m willing to pay to see some of your priceless collection of art. At least it’s cheaper than Warwick Castle. No, Alnwick doesn’t have knights jousting or the world’s largest trebuchet, but it’s just as historical and it really is my pleasure.

The castle is the birthplace of the brave but kinda dim teenage knight Henry “Hotspur” Percy (20 May 1364 – 21 July 1403), who was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. It also houses 3 museums and in one of them I saw Elizabeth I’s bespoke gloves (proving she had elegant and long, tapered fingers) and Oliver Cromwell’s nightcap showing the man had not only the famed “warts and all” but also an unusually tiny head.

For his speed and readiness to attack, they called him Hotspur.

For his speed and readiness to attack, they called him Hotspur. Naturally.

The castle is situated just below the border to Scotland, and under constant threat of invasion from the north. So, by necessity the earliest Percys  had to be skilled in warfare. For simplicity, they were also mostly named Henry. Hotspur was the 2nd Earl of Northumberland. Too impatient to wait for the Bishop of Durham’s troops during the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, Hotspur launched an attack on the Scots headed by Douglas, under cover of darkness.

It was a fearless move, the Scots would never see them coming. Unfortunately, Hotspur can’t see in the dark either so his troops mistakenly attack camp followers and servants instead of the soldiers. Amazingly, some of these Scots fought back and alerted the main forces. So Hotspur lost about a thousand men and was captured because of his impatience, while the Scots only lost 200.  Luckily, Douglas is killed in victory and Hotspur, along with his brother Ralph, were ransomed back to England.

To show his appreciation for being released, Hotspur betrayed his savior Richard II and put Henry IV on the throne.  Together, the two Henrys successfully fought against the raiding Scots but Hotspur really was a “loose cannon” and during an argument about what to do with the Scottish prisoners in the 1402 Battle of Humbleton Hill he rebelled against Henry IV and in 1403 Hotspur made his best move yet by dying in the Battle of Shrewsbury in hand to hand combat.

Probably learning from his ancestor’s folly, Henry, the 6th Earl of Northumberland (1502-1537), was “a lover, not a fighter.” Oh, he did engage in border warfare, but he wasn’t like his brothers, Sir Thomas and Sir Ingelram, who just like their ancestor Hotspur rebelled and were leaders in the Pilgrimage of Grace even while heartbroken Henry remained loyal to the King.

Today, Henry Percy is mostly remembered as being Anne Boleyn’s loving fiancé who was forced to break their engagement when Henry VIII became interested in Anne. Percy was then immediately wed to Mary Talbot, and so started a marriage so bad that within 4 years the couple separated and refused to see each other forever. And then a few years later, he was ordered by the King to be one of the jurors at Anne Boleyn’s trial. Percy collapsed after the verdict was announced and had to be carried out. He died just one year after Anne’s execution.

Anne Boleyn's first Henry, 6th Earl of Northumberland.

Anne Boleyn’s first Henry, 6th Earl of Northumberland.

Through the next  Percy generations, over and over remnants of  the passionate and foolish Hotspur would emerge. The 8th Earl was found dead in the Tower of London after being imprisoned for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. And then there was 9th Earl of Northumberland, also called Henry and known as The Wizard Earl, who was a long time prisoner in the Tower because he employed Thomas Percy, who was one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot.

How hard could it be to learn from the mistakes of others? The issues that are fought about change with the times, but the reactions and arguments are always the same. The lessons learned seem as lost as the £14.50 I will never get back, but at least I got to laugh at Cromwell’s tiny hat.

References:

http://www.alnwickcastle.com/explore/history/the-percy-family

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Percy

http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/heritage/england/tyne/article_3.shtml

http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/Hotspur.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Percy,_8th_Earl_of_Northumberland

http://www.timeref.com/hpl946.htm

http://www.britishcastle.co.uk/index.php?pageId=AlnwickCastle_History

http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/hotspur.htm

Advertisements

The Tower of London

For a ghost, there is probably no better gig than haunting the Tower of London.

Competition is tough. One has to be an exceptionally cunning ghost to co-haunt this fortress. Please, don’t even attempt vying for a spot unless your name should be chosen by some kid hoping against hope it’s the right answer to a history exam question. Don’t feel sorry for that kid.  She had plenty of time to study for said exam yet decided to cram the night before and fell asleep instead.  If that kid ever tours the Tower of London, I bet she wouldn’t be there showing proper appreciation for the fact that it’s the setting for many of the most pivotal, notorious events in history. I bet she’d be doing things like this:

Shame.

This site has been standing since the time of William the Conqueror, and right from the beginning, no one has been able to take control of Britain unless they controlled this stronghold. Even the unfortunate Wat Tyler knew this when he led his homies during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. With Lollard priest John Ball’s catchy sermon of “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” spinning  in their heads like the medieval equivalent of a Last Song Syndrome, the peasants stormed the Tower in their quest to end serfdom (and also to make fun of the young King’s sister and mother).

For a fee, peasants can still enter the Tower uncontested today.

For a fee of about £20, peasants can still enter the Tower uncontested today if they form orderly queues.

Once inside, you can let this awesome thing hear YOU roar!

Once inside, you can let this awesome thing hear YOU roar!

The peasants eventually managed to have Richard II concede to their demands, but for all their talk of equality they forgot to shrug off the notion that a King is noble and naturally more trustworthy than a common criminal. So they lowered their arms, began to disperse and shrugged their heads off instead, which ended up on pikes to serve as an example to future detractors.

Perhaps being an indicator of who controls the country is the reason that just thinking of this UNESCO World Heritage Site conjures images of imprisonment, torture and execution. It seems a recurring pattern in history that the interesting people die first, then inspire others before any real change can occur. One needs a bit of control to change things, and those in charge will not be willing to give it up. By the 16th century, being “sent to the Tower” meant you’ve become a threat to the rulers and the lifestyle to which they’re accustomed.  It was like a rite of passage–you can’t get any street cred until you’ve been “acquainted” with the Yeoman Warders who guarded prisoners in the Tower. It was a classy sort of capital punishment and it makes sense in a world where (depending on the circumstances, of course) people get to decide when and how to end another’s life because that’s justice but God forbid if something ever happens to those Tower ravens…

A Yeoman Warder.

A Yeoman Warder.

Naturally, everyone who was anyone had to be associated with the Tower in some way, and they would usually have these wonderful options to claim as their reasons to stay: imprisonment, torture, execution, murder. Now, with all those choices it can be a bit daunting.

Thankfully, they didn’t have to choose just ONE of these reasons and the simplicity of the system seemed to work because it became all the rage. It’s the surest way to draw attention if you ever get to the point when you want to finally speak out and declare that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Here’s some of the lucky few to belong in this exclusive circle of Tower prisoners: William Wallace, James I of Scotland, Richard II, Roger Mortimer, The Princes in the Tower, Henry VI, Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Samuel Pepys, Sir Robert Walpole… if any one of this select group of people doesn’t at least sound familiar, then no worries! You can look them up now (you’re welcome).

She'd be the one doing things like this.

See, I told you not to feel sorry for that kid, lol.

REFERENCES:

http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/?gclid=CMLxpKuVwLcCFajKtAodyxQAhQ

http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerofLondon/stories

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London

http://www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/stories/buildinghistory/

http://www.history.co.uk/explore-history/history-of-london/tower-of-london.html