Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CASTLES IN THE ETHER: Finding Newbury Castle

A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE, published in paperback on October 16th, is based on the story of John FitzGilbert Marshal, father of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England. Without John there would have been no William. Aside from John’s contribution of fifty per cent of William’s DNA, those all important formative years were of John’s moulding in the paternal role. The imprinting of behaviour patterns, of morals and social mores came from the family household.

Having said that, one has to add that John was also responsible for his son’s almost death in 1152 when he carried brinkmanship to extremes at the siege of Newbury Castle. The royalist forces attacked the stronghold during the struggle for the rule of England between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda. Finding himself beleaguered, John requested permission to seek the Empress’s consent to yield the castle. Stephen agreed to give him time, but demanded hostages as security, including John’s son William, then a child of about five years old.

John handed over the boy and used the time, not to seek consent, but to stuff the threatened keep to the rafters with men and supplies. When the appointed day came to relinquish the castle, John refused, and told the king where he could go. Stephen retorted by threatening to hang little William. John apparently replied that Stephen must do as he saw fit because he (John) had the anvils and hammers to get better sons. Mais il dist ke ne li chaleit de l’enfant, quer encore aveit les enclumes e les marteals dunt forgereit de plus beals’. William was threatened with all sorts of dire ends, including aforementioned hanging on the gallows, being hurled from a trebuchet and squashed against the castle walls. His father remained impervious to intimidation and it was Stephen who yielded and backed down, taking young William into his household where he stayed for the next 2 years as both continuing hostage and royal page.

When Stephen died in 1154, the Empress’s son, Henry II, came to the throne and the wounds of the devastating civil war began to grow scars. The adulterine castles hastily thrown up during the conflict were torn down by Henry’s order. There is no mention of Newbury, but historians speculate that it was one of these temporary fortifications. Suffice to say, no remains have ever been found. Newbury itself has yielded no evidence of any kind of fortification. There’s a traditional site called ‘the Castle’ but it is thought to refer to the ruins of a cloth factory and can’t be dated back beyond the Tudor period.

There are some mounds in the grounds of North Lodge at Hamstead Marshal, which stand upon the site where once John Marshal had a substantial manor - probably fortified. Again, historians have suggested that these mounds were the remnants of protective mottes built during the twelfth century civil war to protect the manor. Having personally visited these mounds and walked the grounds, my own feeling is that that this suggestion is a non starter. Stephen could easily have defeated John had he made a stand at Hamstead, and one of the things John wasn’t, was a fool when it came to building castles. He was known as a cunning builder. The Gesti Stephani says of him: castella miri artificii in locis sibi competentioribus construere.’ (he built castles, designed with wondrous skill in the places that best suited him). He was a thinker, a planner. A cool and calculating soldier. His nearest secure base of operations that we know about was at Marlborough. He also had a castle at Ludgershall. But the writer of the Histoire says that his castle was at Newbury. So where might it have been? I think I know….

At an Akashic Record session on the third of July 2007, I asked my friend, Akashic consultant, Alison King, if she could tune into John Marshal and ask him where the castle at Newbury had stood. I had come to this session armed with Ordnance Survey map 158 and as I struggled to open it out (the thing was as big as I was!), Alison urgently asked me to move because John had come through to her and was keen to guide her index finger to the place where the castle was on the map. Alison had her eyes closed. I managed to get the map laid out on the floor and she leaned over and put her finger decisively on a particular spot. ‘Here,’ she said. We did this more than once and each time Alison’s finger came down on the same precisely the same mark. I took a biro and marked a cross under her fingertip as best I could. Alison said that her finger was guided with the firm decision she has always been aware of in John’s character. A few days ago, I got my husband to stand in the garden with this same map opened out so you can get an idea of the size of it. I’ve used the paint programme to draw a ring around the original cross made by Alison in July of 2007. I’ve also cropped it down to a close up – see picture 2. The cross is towards the top right.

When I studied the map and checked it out on Google Map coordinates, I thought that it looked interesting.,-1.350149&spn=0.012046,0.027637&t=h&z=15

It was on the outskirts of Newbury and close to Hamstead Marshall, but my eye was untrained. I had corresponded briefly with a reader who lives in the area and who has an archaeology qualification. She had once e-mailed me wondering where the missing castle might be. I sent her a scan of the map with the ‘X’ marks the spot that John Marshal had shown us. The reader - S. was very interested to see it because she said that it was strategically a very important site, being the highest point on a ridge overlooking two rivers, the Lambourn to the north and the Kennet to the south. The Roman road - Ermine street coming from Cirencester to Speen, must have been very close by. Today the land forms part of the grounds of a private home called Speen House. Alison and I were excited and delighted at this news. Initially we didn’t take it further than that and just noted that it was circumstantial corroboration.

Then, in August of 2008, S. invited us to Berkshire as she lives more or less on top of where John Marshal, William Marshal and many of their kin and descendants used to call home. We were thrilled at the invitation and arranged to travel down there and spend a couple of days in ‘Marshal’ country. On day one, we went to Old Sarum. Our road took us down the Newbury Bypass and past part of the land John Marshal had told us was the site of his castle. As we were driving, Alison said she had John coming through saying, ‘You are coming to visit me.’ We thought at the time that it was a reference to our forthcoming meeting with S, however, that wasn’t the entire story.

When we did meet S. the next day, she showed us a close up of a different picture of the same area on the map I had sent her, showing clearly that there were ramparts on the spot at Speen. (I've drawn them in using the Paint programme again on the smaller closeup of the OS map). The county archaeologist had confirmed this. No one knows their dateline, but there have been Roman finds nearby. So why not medieval? Fortifications and ramparts are regularly adapted and reused down the centuries. John Marshal was renowned as a cunning builder of castles and Speen would have been tailor made for his skills, especially if he was throwing up defences in a hurry and this place was ‘a strategically important site.’

Another circumstantial point that backs up the Speen site theory is the detail that William Marshal granted himself a market at Speen in 1218, thus confirming strong Marshal interests in the place. We didn’t know any of this until our visit to see S.

S. was wonderful and managed to secure us permission to go and look at the ramparts at Speen House. This was a personal invitation and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take photographs. However, while we were there, Alison’s psychic antennae went haywire - I have never seen her this way before and she had never experienced anything like it herself. She had John Marshal coming through powerfully and strongly, greeting us and saying that this was the place where he had made his stand. Although I sometimes share snippets of Akashic material with readers, what came through and what was said, was, I feel, very personal to John and not appropriate to the public domain. However, as far as confirmation that this was the place is concerned, we were left in absolutely no doubt, and also that the events were traumatic.

Whether evidence of 12th century occupation will ever show up on a dig I don’t know, because the fortifications would not have stood for very long and the site is now private property and thick with rhododendron bushes and trees. Even so, I am convinced that Speen is the site of John’s castle at Newbury. It fits better than anything else that has yet come to light, and when the builder himself has crossed the divide of 800 years to show me in person as he best he can, then yes, I believe.

Elizabeth Chadwick on the publication date of A Place Beyond Courage.

October 16th 2008

As a post script I have to add that when I was writing A Place Beyond Courage, I had no idea where the castle was myself, so I left it vague and open to conjecture. Owing to the publishing process, I can't go back and rewrite that part of the novel just now, but perhaps at some future point I will.

'Your instinct can't be wrong,

Separate the fiction from the fact'

Neil Finn

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Reviews and interviews

Just a brief note to say that there's a review of the Marshal novels at the Vulpes Libris site and that Friday 10th October there'll be an interview. I've put the info on my News blog too.

October 16th, publication day for A Place Beyond Courage, I'll post my article on the whereabouts of Newbury Castle.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Published Today!

I'm in the middle of writing a longer post about the whereabouts of Newbury Castle, which I'll post the middle of next week just prior to the publication of A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE in paperback. But in the interim I am delighted to say that it's official publication day for THE TIME OF SINGING and it's featured as Historical book of the month at the Books Monthly website here.
My publishers have very kindly sent me a bottle of Moet & Chandon, so I will be toasting Roger Bigod and Ida de Tosney this evening.

In other news, a reader wrote to me to tell me he'd been studying a particular genealogy and it turns out that my beloved Marshal men, John and William are the several times great grandfathers of two fascinating and famous Tudor women - Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. How interesting. Blood will out I guess!