Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ruined Reputations!

I've been away on a research break/family holiday in Norfolk, hence the delay in posting.
This is me at Wymondham (pronounced Windham) Abbey near where we were staying.
Wymondham itself was once owned by the Bigod family, although the Abbey was originally built by an Albini in 1107 to house a community of Benedictine monks and the Abbey was at first a dependant Priory of St Albans Abbey.
The ruins of the earlier Abbey are attached to the 15thC church which is still in use and well worth a visit for anyone interested in exploring churches. There are some particularly fine carvings in the roof and a wonderful gilded reredos behind the high altar.

Roof of Wymondham Abbey Church

So, you may be asking. Why the title of this post? Well, It's all down to English Heritage's audio guide for Framlingham Castle. The staff were lovely and could not have been more helpful. Indeed, I was given a telephone contact and offered help with whatever I needed re getting the setting right. However, English Heritage itself has an audio guide that you use like a mobile phone to take you on a tour round the castle. Listening away as I walked along the walls, I was astonished to hear the narrator tell me that my Roger Bigod (II) had inherited the rebellion gene from his father and (the tone insinuated) was a thoroughly bad egg who filled his castle with all manner of thugs and neer do wells. Eh? That's not the Roger Bigod my research of the past year has revealed. 'My' Roger Bigod did everything possible to stay within the letter of the law and not to rebel. Indeed, he WAS a lawyer himself and was trusted by King Henry II, King Richard and King John, to sit on the bench at Westminster and hear cases and to go on the judicial circuit - called an Eyre - round the counties of England, hearing and judging cases. As a young man he fought on the royalist side against insurgents, including his own father at the battle of Fornham St Geneveive near Bury St. Edmunds. He served in the royal army regularly and was a valued, trusted royal servant. His one slip from grace was rebelling at the time of Magna Carta - but so did nearly everyone else and against a morally defunct king and the abuses of royal power. English Heritage has put their own spin on Roger's character for the tourists and cast him in the mould of 'big, bad, robber barron', when he was anything but. Perhaps they ought to hunt out a thesis in the British Library by Susan Atkin (University of Reading) The Bigod Family: An investigation into their Lands and Activities 1066 - 1306. It certainly comes closer to the truth than the audio guide.
Framlingham Castle is a lovely place to visit though and well worth it if you're in the region. Roger's father, the dreaded Hugh - who does deserve his dark reputation to some extent - was fined a large sum of money for his rebellion. Framlingham was taken from him and razed to the ground. The demolition crew's expenses still exist on the Pipe roll. When Roger had the Earldom confirmed to him in November 1189, he was also granted permission to rebuild Framlingham - and it is his endeavour - or the endeavour of the masons, builders and carpenters he employed, that make up the bulk of the castle's fabric today.

The interior of Framlingham, showing the remnants of the hall that my hero Roger Bigod and his wife Ida would have lived in for almost the first 20 years of their marriage. Note the Norman chimmneys (pale grey) with the darker Tudor extensions on the top. The chapel adjoining the hall is the section with arched window in the middle to the right of the chimmneys.

Entrance to Framlingham Castle, completed around 1213.


Gabriele C. said...

I stay away from audio guides. :)

But what a lovely place.

Carla said...

Are their conflicting sources that could explain English Heritage's opposing take? E.g. could they be using an account written by Roger's arch enemy (in the vein of Thomas More to Richard III)? Or do you think it's just marketing and the idea of a big bad robber baron was thought to be a 'sexy' way of selling the castle?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Gabriele, yes, I think I'm going to stay away from them from now on too! Framlingham itself was indeed lovely, and the church too, with some impressive later period tombs, including those of a bastard son of Henry VIII.

Carla, There are no conflicting sources. Roger isn't reported on in the chronicles with any degree of 'colour' at all. Everything is down in factual black and white. He witnessed this charter, he was on the judicial circuit there, he had the right of wreck elsewhere. He witnessed such and such a charter in this year. So, I would say with almost 100% confidence that it's a marketing ploy - bit of a daft one really when they could make mileage out of him having married a royal mistress and helped to keep the country in line while Richard was absent on crusade. There's still a lot of 'sexy' story there behind the scenes. If I can find it as a non-expert non-academic, I'm sure it's not beyond English Heritage's abilities. Then again...

Carla said...

That doesn't say much for EH's research and abilities, does it? Though I guess an audio guide would be fairly low status and was quite likely given to a junior marketing graduate with a budget of about half an hour to do it in. Shame, as they have such an opportunity to make accurate history accessible to a lot of people via their sites.

Judy F said...

it's a real shame that English Heritage feel it necessary to do this, history can be such a vital and interesting subject but ofr the most part it's down to dry and dusty dates and facts. Organsisations such as English Heritage need to remember that these were people, who ate, slept married, gave birth and died; and people would be more interested if history wasn't put across as boring.

Taminator said...

I'm quite bummed to read that EH doesn't quite have Roger's character correct according to research. You'd think that they would be more meticulous and would want to paint him in a better light. Did you do anything to enlighten them?


Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Judy, their audio guide wasn't boring, but it was inaccurate. I think in their efforts not to make it boring, they'd gone the wrong way about it. They'd decided the theme was rebellion, and then looked for incidents to support this theme, rather than giving a balanced view.
Apparently English Heritage are going to have new audio guides for next year, so I have written to them, pointing out what I think is wrong with the current one and giving them reference works to consult that support my conclusions. We shall now wait and see. I've just finished rectifying John Marshal's reputation. Looks like I'm now doing the same for Roger Bigod!

Eigon said...

I haven't been to Framlingham (yet) but Wymondham Abbey was the first ever church I walked into and said "Bloody Hell!" as I turned into the nave!
That gold reredos is stunning!

Years ago, we used to go out to Wymondham on Sundays, have lunch in the Green Dragon, which did very good steaks at the time, potter round the Abbey, and get the bus back to Norwich.

Elizabeth said...

Do you always try to visit the places about which you intend to write? I think it would be interesting to visit them before and after.

This is a difficult question here to ask, but I'm curious about it nonetheless... When you're done writing a novel, do you ever feel like you sort of... "belong" to the ancestral homes/ruins of the people you just wrote? Almost as if you have a place now, that you've done them a sort of honor? I hope I put that the right way :\

Your writing is wonderful and next time I go travel to England, I plan to do a little Elizabeth Chadwick/Sharon Kay Penman tour.