Why Do I Love Ludlow?

Luvlow Graphic copy

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.

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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.

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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.

Richard, Duke of York
Richard, Duke of York

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.

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The Arrival of Prince Arthur

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.

The Church of St Laurence, Ludlow
The Church of St Laurence, Ludlow

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.

St Laurence's Window

Richard, Duke of York and King Edward IV
Richard, Duke of York and King Edward IV
King Edward V and Prince Arthur
King Edward V and Prince Arthur

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.

Castle Lodge
Castle Lodge

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!

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Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

King Richard III – Who Said He Killed The Princes In The Tower?

This isn’t just meant as posturing. It’s a legitimate question, and an interesting one. The far, far more interesting question, however, is who didn’t say that he did it. This has been called the negative evidence – the conspicuous lack of positive evidence – and it is compelling.

Princes In The Tower

It is often reported that the boys disappeared from public view late in the summer of 1483. This appears to be one of the few accepted, undisputed facts in the case. Even at this early stage, their fate was a matter of much gossip and it was, in the main, reported as just that – rumour and gossip. King Richard attracted attention, but so too did the Duke of Buckingham, as the below chronicle shows.

Buckingham Chronicle

The eldest Prince, Edward, was also under the care of his physician, Dr John Argentine. The final glimpse of the boys within the historical record is the doctor’s assertion that “the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, made daily confession because he thought that death was facing him.” This is often taken to mean that Edward feared his uncle was planning to do away with him, but could equally mean that he feared the medical condition he was receiving treatment for may claim his life. It is telling that Edward fears for his life, but makes no mention of his younger brother, Richard.

This, for me, is where the historical record becomes most interesting precisely because it is silent. It may be understandable that during the reign of King Richard III he would prefer to have them forgotten, whatever their fate, but he held on to the throne for only two years. After the Battle of Bosworth, King Henry VII ushered in a new, tentative Tudor regime. Had Henry found the boys alive and well, he would have uncovered a real problem. He had sworn to marry their sister, Elizabeth of York, to unite the Houses of York and Lancaster. In order to do this, he had to re-legitimise all of the children of King Edward IV. In doing so, he would hand the strongest claim to the throne in the kingdom to Edward if he were alive. Much of Edward IV’s loyal support, which Henry had co-opted against Richard III, would most likely return their might their former master’s heir. It would therefore be in Henry’s interest for them not to be found alive.

Upon taking the throne, Henry VII never once laid the blame for the death of the Princes at King Richard’s feet. In fact, he never laid the blame at anyone’s feet. He never said an official word about them. It would have been so easy for him to state that they were dead, King Richard had done it and now Henry had avenged the evil deed. Odd, then, that he should choose to remain silent about their fate, even during the Perkin Warbeck affair when the spectre of Prince Richard reared its head to threaten him.

Fascinating too is the failure of Elizabeth of York during her nearly twenty years as queen consort to put her brother’s fate to bed. She had been in sanctuary in 1483 but the following year rejoined the court of King Richard. If she felt constrained from speaking out at that time, why not condemn her uncle for the murders of her brothers after he was gone and she was free from his control? Surely her new husband would have welcomed any attempt she may have made to blame Richard.

Perhaps the most unlikely keeper of the secret was Elizabeth Woodville, queen to King Edward IV and mother to the two lost boys. She too spent over a year in sanctuary with her daughters when Richard stole the throne from her son. She too rejoined his court in 1484, under his protection. In itself, it is strange that she would hand not only herself but all of her remaining children over to a man who had allegedly killed her sons. Yet after 1485, she too would have been free from any threat Richard held over her and who would have had more cause to berate the dead king for his murdering ways? She too said nothing. Eventually she was sent to Bermondsey Abbey in 1487 where she died five years later still never having accused Richard of anything. As an aside, is it possible Henry stripped her of her lands and sent her to Bermondsey because she threatened to produce the boys and oust Henry?

Sir James Tyrell is the man most often held to have had the deed done for King Richard, allegedly confessing and offering names when he was arrested for treason in 1502. Examination of the historical record shows that Sir James, in fact, never confessed to the murder, nor was he apparently questioned about it. I have found a reference to Henry VII touting the suggestion of blaming Sir James to an ambassador once, but when it was not well received, he dropped the matter.

This account of the boy’s death seems to have firs been formulated by Sir Thomas More in his infamous History of King Richard III. He may have picked up the negative image of Richard during his time in the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and perennial thorn in Richard III’s side, yet he too reports only rumour, gossip and that ‘people said’ Richard killed the boys. Even the architect of Richard’s evil reputation could not bring himself to categorically say that he did it. It is interesting too that More never published the work. His nephew completed and published it after Sir Thomas’s death. Did More never mean to condemn Richard? That is a whole other story!

The first definite, unequivocal, explicit, unambiguous finger pointing is contained in Shakespeare’s play about the hunchbacked study in evil. Even this, though, presents issues. If we consider the play’s meaning to a contemporary audience, new light is shed upon the bard’s willingness to vilify the last Plantagenet king. Elizabeth I was ageing and had no heir. She was also refusing to name her successor. The play was written around the early 1590’s, when the Queen’s long serving advisor Sir William Cecil was also ageing. His son, Robert Cecil, was being fashioned to take his father’s place. The Cecils were not popular. They were trying to convince Elizabeth to name James VI of Scotland as her heir and this was not a popular policy. The fascinating fact here is that Robert Cecil was, without doubt, a hunchback. Not a man with of scoliosis, a hunchback. Was Shakespeare, then, less concerned with telling his audience exactly who Richard III was and what he did than with providing a moral tale for the country, perhaps even for the Queen, about the perils of relying on a scheming, unpopular hunchback and of failing to secure the succession? It was precisely that uncertainty that had put the Tudor’s on the throne and it now threatened to end their time in power too, sending the country into uncertainty.

The joy of writing about this kind of history is that we may never know the entire truth. I may have made wild assumptions, adding two and two together to make ten. Or I may have just hit the nail on the head. It’s interesting though, isn’t it?

Matthew has recently released The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy which details the course of the civil wars that made and broke families and can be found at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wars-Roses-Players-Struggle-Supremacy-ebook/dp/B0155CR1BS

Matthew is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.