I have always loved Ludlow. The town has always held a strong pull that I have never been able to quite explain. I can spend hours in the castle without getting tired of it. The town is a beautiful collection of narrows roads, Tudor buildings and artisan shops. Yet it is undoubtedly the history that draws me to this place. Perhaps it is the array of ‘What Ifs’ from the period of the Wars of the Roses that draws me to the town. I spent a day there earlier this week and thought I’d share some of my favourite things about Ludlow and some of my pictures.
Ludlow Castle was built in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest by the de Lacy family who retained it until the late thirteenth century. By marriage, the castle was acquired by the Mortimer family. Roger Mortimer was instrumental in deposing King Edward II in 1327, replacing him with the king’s son, for whom Roger acted as regent in his minority. Roger used his power to acquire much land in Shropshire and the Earldom of March, the border region between England and Wales. In 1402 Edmund Mortimer, the 3rd Earl of March, left Ludlow Castle to fight Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh rebellion, only to join them, marry Glyndwr’s daughter and die during a siege of Harlech Castle.
Richard, Duke of York acquired Ludlow Castle as part of his vast estates and it was to prove a pivotal site during the following fifty years. In 1459 as the Wars of the Roses escalated, the Duke of York made his base within the formidable walls of Ludlow Castle. His wife and younger children had been living at Fotheringhay Castle but Richard moved them to Ludlow for their security. Throughout the summer York’s supporters poured into Ludlow, including the Earl of Salisbury, York’s brother in law, and Salisbury’s son, the infamous Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker himself. York’s eldest sons were with him too, Edward Earl of March (later King Edward IV) and Edmund Earl of Rutland. All of these men roamed the grounds of Ludlow Castle formulating strategy and practising their fighting skills.
One small face who would have been watching was York’s youngest son, his namesake Richard. The boy celebrated his 7th birthday at Ludlow Castle on 2nd October. It is suggested that this was the first time he would have met his two eldest brothers. This boy was to go on to become King Richard III, and the events of the days that followed his birthday no doubt shaped the man he became.
The Battle of Ludford Bridge nominally took place on 12th October 1459, although there was in fact no fighting. During the night, the Calais garrison, which had been under the command of the Earl of Warwick, deserted and York’s forces were forced to retreat. King Henry VI himself led his army toward the battle and men were unwilling to take the field against the king himself. York and his son Edmund fled to Ireland. Salisbury, Warwick and Edward made for the south coast and escaped to Calais.
In the morning, the King’s army descended upon Ludlow. They found York’s wife, Duchess Cecily, with her two young sons George and Richard, standing alone on the steps of the market cross. The scene is remembered as one of supreme nobility on the part of the Duchess, refusing to cower and hide. For Richard, though, it must have been terrifying. Perhaps Cecily sought to save Ludlow by surrendering willingly, but she did not. As she was hauled to the King with her sons, the army ransacked Ludlow, drinking, stealing and raping until they were sated. The castle was looted of anything of value.
This episode in Richard’s life must have had an impact upon him. Abandoned by his father and his dashing older brothers, his uncle and his cousin in the night. Left to face an army. Doubtless his mother’s actions were noble but how must Richard have felt stood beside her as the rampaging army approached? Frightened? Undoubtedly. Determined not to show it? Perhaps. He was the son of a Duke and had his mother’s example to follow. Did he learn the unfair uncertainty of war that day as he saw Ludlow pillaged like a conquered French town? Did he learn the importance of nobility of action from his brave mother? Did he learn real fear? Did he learn that even family could not be trusted?
When Edward IV became king in 1461, Ludlow became a crown residence. In 1472, Edward sent his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales to Ludlow Castle. He set up a royal court there and he was schooled in the art of government, his household run by his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, currently appearing alongside his sister in the BBC’s The White Queen. For 11 years the Prince was installed at Ludlow Castle, until his father’s death. He left Ludlow then for his own coronation in London, an event destined never to take place.
In 1501, Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, older brother of the future King Henry VIII and Prince of Wales was also installed at Ludlow Castle to be prepared for power. He arrived with his new wife, Catherine of Aragon but fell ill the following year, dying at Ludlow Castle on 2nd April 1502. Arthur’s body was buried at Worcester Cathedral (another beautiful place well worth a visit!) but his heart was buried in St Laurence’s in Ludlow. Catherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary later spent three winters at Ludlow Castle between 1525 and 1528.
After the Civil War the castle fell into disuse when governance of the Marches was centralised in London. In 1772 the Earls of Powis began renting the castle from the Crown, purchasing it in 1811. The Earl of Powis still owns the castle today and although disuse saw it fall into ruin, it is a powerful monument to a bygone age. Walking the grounds once paced by the Duke of York, the Kingmaker Earl of Warwick, Edward IV, Richard III, Edward V, Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon and Mary I amongst others is enough to send a tingle up the spine of one as obsessed with this period as I am.
So Ludlow Castle offers some tantalizing historical ‘what ifs’. What if battle had been given at Ludgate Bridge? What if York had won and brought a swift end to the Wars of the Roses? What if Henry had won? What if Edward V had been crowned? The influence of his mother’s family at Ludlow ultimately threatened his position. What if Prince Arthur had lived and become King Arthur with his Queen Catherine? There would have been no Henry VIII and all that came with him. Ludlow was key in the outcome of all of these questions.
St Laurence’s Church is a short stroll across the market square from the castle and is a beautiful medieval parish church. A large stained window celebrates Ludlow’s famous medieval inhabitants the Duke of York, King Edward IV, Edward Prince of Wales and Arthur Prince of Wales. The church is currently undergoing restoration and preservation work but you are guaranteed a warm welcome and a enjoyable time in a stunning church.
Castle Lodge on the other side of the market square is a striking building dating from the thirteenth century. Once a prison, it has also been a hotel and is currently in private hands. It is open to the public for a small charge which contributes toward its upkeep.
Ludlow is also a centre of fine dining, boasting a Michelin starred restaurant, ancient pubs and butchers offering venison steaks and boar burgers. Add to that an array of shops, a market, the Ludlow festival (at which I am mourning the loss of the Shakespeare play until this year performed against the backdrop of the castle interior) and the beautiful Shropshire countryside and you will not be disappointed by a visit to Ludlow. I might even see you there!
Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.