Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NEWBURY CASTLE - The Where and and the Where Not!

The whereabouts of Newbury Castle Berkshire has long been a conundrum.  Did it exist, and if so, where is it?  No one knows for sure; there are only theories.  As far as my own theory goes, I would say it's staring everyone in the face, but let's explore the subject.

William Marshal's biography the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal is the only source to mention a castle at Newbury. The writer calls it 'Neubere'  in his narrative, and has this to say:  I'll quote it in full in translation:

"As it is known to all, the King besieged Newbury at the head of a mighty force of men. But he did this that so much by surprise that those inside the castle were not aware at all of it until they saw the soldiers, their archers and their scouts, indeed the whole army, which dismounted and set to pitching tents. When those within the walls saw them, they knew full well that they had been taken unawares. This is a surprise attack was particularly the disagreeable since they had little in the way of provisions. The King sent a formal request by messenger, ask in the constable whether he was prepared to surrender the castle aor wished to defend it against him. No time was lost in reaching a decision:
"We are not so beleaguered that we have no wish to put up a stout defence; we have no intention of surrendering the castle. Things have now gone so far that's there will be many a blow received, many a skull, and many otherwise wounded by blade or spear or lance, and many trampled underfoot so that all that will be needed after that are the biers."
The King had directed his anger against their side, and swore by the birth of Christ. " I'll be sure to take my revenge on the low villains, they will fall into my hands. Now to arms, my valiant squires, my valient men at arms and archers! Snarl as they might, we'll capture them. To the first man to get inside I shall give such wealth that he will never be poor again in his lifetime."
You should have seen those squires start to clamber with great daring over the ditches and up the embankments. And those within the walls defended themselves courageously and furiously; they hurled down slabs of stone, sharpened stakes, and massive pieces of timber to knock them to the ground. They made them pay a horrible price for their attempt on them; if it was in their power they would thwart them. Many could be seen to topple upside down and fall headlong onto their backs; many were wounded and many knocked unconscious. Those in the castle could not be blamed for defending themselves for they expected no immediate help.
Those outside had the worst of it. Thereupon the assault was suspended, an assault that had been very dangerous. The King was greatly troubled by events, and swore that he would not let things rest there and that he would never leave that place until he had taken the tower and punished those within.
The people in the castle decided, good folk that's they were, they would ask for a truce, and in the meantime would relay to their ord and master all the information about their situation. They asked for the truce and were given it, and as fast as they could, they informed their lord that they had only one days truce (so wherever John was, it was nearby for requests and answers to come within a day). So therefore, if he could, would he come and rescue them, for inside they had nothing to live on."

Newbury itself is in West Berkshire, a short distance from the Hampshire border. The town is situation in the flood plain of the River Kennet near the junction of the River Lambourn at a point where the Oxford to Southampton road crosses the river and the London to Bath Road passes to the north. It's a site of some strategic importance.

Saxon settlement there is known of from the 10th century with charters existing for nearby Speen and Thatcham. By the late 11th century a manor called Ulvritone was listed in the area by the Domesday book and it belonged to one Arnulf of Hesdin. The name of the town is first mentioned in a grant of 1080.  Evidence suggests that Newbury was created as a planned town on the site of Ulvritone.  The town seems to have developed steadily during the 12th and 13th centuries.  By 1204 it had a market as well as town bailiffs and in 1225 was represented at assize by its own bailiff and jury.  So, it was a developing townscape at this time, but the only mention of a castle comes from the Histoire.

Puzzled by this, archaeologists undertook excavations in Newbury between 1979 and 1990 in the course of which between 1988 and 1990 they searched for evidence of a castle at the site traditionally acknowledged to have been the most likely place. The evaluation of the area by the Trust for Wessex Archaeology in March 1990 concluded that the tradition of a stone built castle standing on the site and surviving into the late medieval period was unsupported by fact. 'The balance of evidence would tend to suggest a location other than at Newbury Wharf'  the report concluded.

That's that one put to bed then, but what of other sites?
A big favourite with historians is the site at Hamstead Marshall in south-west Berkshire, 4.7 miles from Newbury, where a manor once owned by the Marshals, has three mounds or Mottes in the grounds, and earthworks. Here is what the Heritage Gateway for West Berkshire has to say on the matter:Motte mounds at Hamstead Marshall  It's a theory but inconclusive. At least one of the mounds is Neolithic, but may have been used as part of the defensive works.

We don't know when Hamstead Marshall became a Marshal possession.  It didn't gain the name 'Marshall' until the 13th century. Before that it was simply 'Hamestede' meaning 'Homestead.'  At the time of Domesday it had land for 5 ploughs of which the lord was entitled to 2 ploughland's worth.  It had 4 villagers and 8 smallholders with 3 ploughs. It also had 10 slaves,  a mill worth 20 shillings and 6 acres of pastureland. There was sufficient woodland to fatten 10 pigs and the whole was valued at £4.  How and when did it become a Marshal possession?  The hard evidence according to the Victorian County history dates to the early 13th century.

'It is returned about 1241 as held de marescangia.  In 1270 as held by the service of the marshal's wand.  And in 1283-4 per serianciam mareschallic. In 1306, however, it is said to be held by knight service and Mr Round (historian j.H. Round) expresses a doubt as to whether the marshalship was ever really held by serjeantry in connection with the manor of Hampstead Marshall as this manor is not returned among recognised Berkshire serjeantries.
Hampstead Marshal is first found in the possession of the Marshals in the early 13th century. That William Marshal held the manor of Hampstead Marshall seems probable, for in 1218 while he was acting as protector of the young King Henry III, the latter gave five letters patent at Hampstead Marshall, four of which were witnessed by the earl. 

Who know, perhaps the earthworks and mottes derive from that troubled period rather than the anarchy. I think it's just as likely.
What we know about Hamstead Marshall is that by 1218 they had a manor there, luxurious enough to support a king, albeit that that king was a child. And since times were precarious, that manor was clearly fortified.  The site of Newbury Castle?  Perhaps, but let's look at an interesting alternative.

A few years ago, I was invited to lunch by the then owner of North Lodge and we walked the grounds where the Marshal manor once stood.  The owner had enjoyed my novels and had an archaeology qualification that had enabled her to excavate one of the Marshal stew ponds on the site. We examined the mounds and our opinion was that at least a couple of them were Neolithic. Naturally a medieval castle builder would use whatever he had to hand, and Neolithic mounds are as good as anything else.

Bounds of the manor at Hamstead Marshall
I found it interesting that Hamstead Marshall should be pointed to as the site for Newbury Castle.  Yes, it's near Newbury - just under 5 miles away, but it doesn't really guard anything massively strategic, even if strategic roads and rivers are only the distance of a short ride.  It is as it the name says, a 'Homestead.'  Why would King Stephen want to bother with besieging it?  And his besiegers would have had to be pretty mediochre at their job to make such a dog's dinner of taking it.... Unless of course this isn't the site and really we should be looking elsewhere.  Perhaps to somewhere nearer to Newbury and on a more strategic site.

My own feeling on the site of the elusive Newbury Castle is that archaeologists and historians should be looking to a suburb of Shrewsbury called Speen, just 1.4 miles from Newbury - which might make more sense of the castle title.  There is a site now occupied by a large house (Speen House) built on the site of a dwelling that once belonged to the Bishop of Salisbury. The site is the highest point on a ridge overlooking the river 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.  In ancient times the site had been an iron-age hill fort and the ramparts are still there. It's also postulated that a Roman station existed there too and there have been finds. Fortifications and ramparts are regularly adapted and reused and this site would have been an utter Godsend to John Marshal. He was renowned as a cunning builder of castles and Speen would have been tailor-made for his skills, especially if he was constructing defences in a hurry.

I have been to the site and the view from the top of Speen House are commanding and spectacular.  You can see everything coming at you from here.  It's strategically brilliant.  King Stephen would have come by here on the way to try to take down Wallingford and John Marshal would now be standing directly in his path and in a commanding position. Stephen would have no choice but to batter him into submission. And while he was doing that, Wallingford remained safe.

Did the Marshals hold lands at Speen?  Yes they did. They had the Grange at Speen for the right of holding the Marshal's Rod. They also have connections with the church and William Marshal had interests there from the late 12th which are listed on the Pipe Rolls.  On the role of 1199 he his pardoned half a mark on land in Speen.

On the map, I have gone over the rampart lines in red. In purple the walking distance from Newbury centre is 1.4 miles.  Contrast that with the less strategic Hamstead Marshall nearly 5 miles away.

Showing the distances between Hamstead Marshall, Speen and Newbury. 
The Marshals also have strong connections with the church there, which is cited as the first church of Newbury, even though it is in Speen.  The church of St Mary the Virgin says on its website:  'a medieval church built on Saxon foundations and was the mother church of Newbury.  In 1086 it was recorded in Domesday Book.' Church of St. Mary The Virgin Speen   The church stands about 200 yards from where I purport the castle site to have been.  The Marshals had a connection with this church and there is a charter form Sandford Priory dating to 1206.

Uniuersis etc Willelmus Marescallus comes Penbr[] salutem Nouerit uniuersitas uestra me concessisse etc deo et beate Marie et fratribus militie Templi Salomonis intuitu caritatis et pro salute anime mee et Isabelle uxoris mee et puerorum meorum et antecessorum omnium et successorum meorum in liberam et puram et perpetuam elemosinam ecclesiam de Spenes cum omnibus ad eam pertinentibus et omnibus libertatibus suis habend et tenend et in usus proprios perpetuo possidendam Et ut etc Hiis testibus Edwardo abbate de Nottel 

My Latin is pretty terrible, but basically it's a salutation from William Marshal giving the proceeds of the church at Speen to the Templars for his soul, for the soul of his wife, Isabelle and for the souls of their ancestors and their heirs. 

None of this proves that there was a castle at Speen, or that it was the site of the siege mentioned in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal. At the same time there is also no proof that Hamstead Marshall was the site of the castle the author of the Histoire named as Newbury. The Speen site more than holds its ground against any other theory, and in my opinion it's the place where's John Marshal made his stand against King Stephen.

Interestingly, when my friend with the archaeology qualification spoke to the county archaeologist on the subject, he commented that he would not be at all surprised to find that the remains of Newbury Castle were indeed at Speen.


Monday, March 24, 2014

ANVILS AND HAMMERS: Why John FitzGilbert Marshal's speech shouldn't be taken at face value.

With William Marshal being in the news again via Thomas Asbridge's BBC2 documentary which is to be broadcast on the 26th March, William Marshal The Greatest Knight I thought I'd write about the famous and infamous 'Anvils and Hammers' remark made by John FitzGilbert Marshal which is so often cited as a shocking example of how not to be a father!

There are the facts, and then the underlying facts, and one can't get a true reading of the first without an awareness of the second.

So lets have a look at the facts.
In the mid 12th century there was civil war in England.  King Henry I had died and his only legitimate child was a woman, Matilda, who had but recently returned from widowhood in Germany.  Henry had promised her the throne when he died.  Indeed, he had made his barons swear to uphold her - twice.  During the period between her return from Germany and his death, he married her to the 15 year old Geoffrey, son of the count of Anjou.  The count himself was about to head off to Jerusalem to become its king. What the 26 year old Matilda, an Empress, thought about marrying such a youth is not documented, although the couple separated shortly after their marriage for a while before getting back to together. Eighteen months later, Matilda produced her first son, the future Henry II, closely followed by Geoffrey and William.
Had Henry I lived, all would have been well in the world of the medieval monarchy.  Little Henry would have grown to manhood under his grandfather's tutelage and eventually have inherited the crown.  Unfortunately for all concerned, his grandfather died when Henry was only two and a half.  Matilda was in Anjou, pregnant with her third son, and in her absence, her cousin Stephen, who had also been in Henry's pocket so to speak as a candidate for the crown, claimed England and Normandy.  Most of the barons backed this move; they had no desire to be ruled by a woman, and even those who might have stood loyal to Matilda could do nothing because she was in Anjou having a baby.
John FitzGilbert was the royal marshal at the time of Henry I's death, and he was one of the majority of barons who swore for Stephen.  John would have been around the age of 30 at this time.  His task and dignity at court marked him out as a baron of middle rank.  He was married to a local Wiltshire heiress Aline Pipard whose wardship he had purchased, and he had two sons by her, Walter and Gilbert.  Stephen favoured John, granting him privileges and the royal town and castle of Marlborough and at Ludgershall to beef up his standing.
In 1139 the Empress came to England, landing at Arundel, and made her bid to take the crown that she claimed Stephen had usurped. For whatever reason, Stephen suspected John Marshal of duplicity and besieged him at Marlborough. 
A digression into speculation here: My personal opinion is that John had fallen foul of the factions at court who thought he had been receiving too many favours, and felt that he should be put in his place. He had no strong affinities at Stephen’s court and a man isolated was a man who could be picked off and brought down. I think John jumped before he was pushed. 

Back to the facts: What is known is that John swore for the Empress and adhered to her cause for the rest of the war.  His brother William joined her entourage as her chancellor.
Unfortunately for John, the Empress’s attempt to regain the throne was not plain sailing. To cut a long story short she lost her advantage and while besieging the Bishop of Winchester at his palace of Wolvesely, she was almost captured. John was a few miles out of Winchester, dealing with a supply problem, when he heard that the troops of William D’Ypres, a Flemish mercenary in the pay of Stephen’s queen, were coming down the Andover road straight for him. If D’Ypres managed to break through, John knew Winchester would be encircled and the Empress seized.  He could either run and save his own skin, or stand hard and give the others a chance to escape. He chose to stand at Wherwell where there was a ford over the river Teste.
The tranquil river Teste at Wherwell today
When D'Ypres arrived, fresh from sacking Andover, John engaged his troops and fought for as long as he could, but with D’Ypres’ numbers too great to withstand, John was eventually forced to retreat into the nunnery where he barricaded himself in. D’Ypres knew he couldn’t leave a man like John Marshal to create mayhem in his rear, so he ordered the nunnery to be burned along with the men inside it. There was destruction and chaos. Some of the troops fled the burning church only to meet their end on the edges of the mercenary’s swords. John barricaded himself in the tower with another knight and refused to come out. When his companion feared for their lives and wanted to surrender, John told him  he would kill him with his own hands if he mentioned that word again. They stayed put, but John paid the price when molten lead from the church roof landed on his face and burned out his eye. Once D’Ypres’ force had moved on, John staggered from the church with his companion, and the two of them made their way to safety. This must have been something of a feat because that safety was twenty five miles away at Marlborough; they were on foot, and John had suffered a terrible facial injury. Nevertheless, they made it and once recovered, John set out to recoup and regroup.
John’s most powerful neighbour in the region was Walter of Salisbury, hereditary sheriff of Salisbury (nowadays called Old Sarum). When Walter died, his son William replaced him, but died not long after the battle of Wilton in 1143. The second son, Patrick became lord of Salisbury and he supported Stephen. Looking to curtail his forceful neighbour in the Kennet valley, Patrick took up arms against John. John ably defended himself, although he had fewer resources than Patrick, and even if often on the back foot, it was never defeat. Eventually Robert Earl of Gloucester stepped between the men. He offered Patrick an earldom if he would come over to the Empress and he suggested that John divorce his wife and marry Patrick’s sister to make peace between them. The men agreed and sometime between 1144 and 1145, John Marshal annulled his marriage to Aline and took Sybilla FitzWalter to wife. 
Sheep grazing the Marlborough Downs not far from
John FitzGilbert's manor of Rockely.
John and Sybilla swiftly began a second family. It’s perhaps telling that he only had two sons by his first wife in the course of fifteen years and six (and perhaps seven) offspring with Sybilla over the same period. The first was born within a year of the marriage and christened John for his father. The second, (the fourth over all) destined for fame and legend was William, born in either 1146 or 1147.
The fighting continued and the Empress’s position grew more desperate as her adherents either gave up or died. She lost her stalwart supporter Miles of Gloucester when he was accidentally shot by one of his own men whilst out hunting. Her half-brother Robert of Gloucester died, and another mainstay Brian FitzCount retired to a monastery. The Empress herself departed England in 1148 and did not return, but her son Henry was waiting in the wings and growing up fast.
For John Marshal the period covered by the late 1140’s up to 1153 was a continuing dark time when he was involved in a war of slow grinding attrition. His lands were burned and ravaged by Eustace, the son of King Stephen and the best that John could manage was to grit his teeth and endure. He was known as a man of great cunning, a builder of castles ‘designed with wondrous skill’ and a man well able to attract men to his banner.  ‘He built castles designed with wondrous skill, in the places that best suited him; the lands and possessions of the churches he brought under his own lordship, driving out the owners whatever order they might belong to.’ 
At some point in the early 1150’s John built a castle at Newbury. The whereabouts of this place is now unknown and there has been much speculation as to where it was, including the manor at Hampstead Marshal which contains earthworks.  As far as I’m concerned, the answer is staring everyone in the face. It’s at Speen 1.4 miles from the centre of Newbury, standing on a high ridge overlooking the River Lambourn to the north and the Kennet to the south.  The Roman Road - Ermine street coming from Cirencester to Speen would have been close, and from the ridge viewpoint one can see for miles and miles. Interestingly the site used to be occupied by a house belonging to the Bishop of Salisbury. (see above quote in italics for why I find it particularly interesting). More on that in a blog post to follow.
Be that as it may, John fortified a position in the Newbury area and held it for the Empress. In the summer of 1152 King Stephen besieged it on his way to try and take Wallingford. The first assault battered John’s troops badly but they didn’t give in. Stephen didn’t want to sit down to besiege it. I suspect he knew how hard John Marshal could stand and that he would sell the castle very dearly. John in his turn, knew he was in a dire situation and couldn’t hold out for much longer. He didn’t have the men and supplies necessary.  He asked Stephen for time to gain honourable permission from the Empress to surrender the castle. Stephen agreed, but told John that he must provide hostages and pledges for his good word. John agreed to do so and handed over as one of them, his small son William, who would have been around five or six years old.
With the time he had been given, John set about stuffing his keep to the rafters with men and supplies. 
Stephen duly came on the appointed day to demand the surrender of the castle and John refused him and told him he would fight. When threatened with the execution of little William by hanging, John uttered those by now infamous words. Il dist ken e li chaleit de l’enfant, quer encore aveit les enclumes e les marteals dunt forgereit de plus beals. ‘He said that he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to produce even finer ones.’   That statement, taken in modern context is utterly shocking to readers. What a callous father. What a vile parent. Who could say that about their own child!  Horrific!
Stephen could not bring himself to hang the boy, although for a time William became the plaything victim of the royal camp as he was also threatened with being flung from a catapult and squashed whilst strapped to a hurdle intended to attack the castle gate. This is often not mentioned in the various secondary source narratives concerning the incident. From what I have garnered elsewhere, young squires and captive sons were frequently subjected to such torments – rather like the traditional ‘punishment details’ for youths at public school.Stephen took William into his household and John Marshal’s son seems to have settled well in his new life. He was happy and confident enough despite his ordeal to want to play a game with King Stephen, involving jousting with plaintain leaves. A servant was sent to keep an eye on William, ‘because his family had great fears that he would come to harm’ (Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal) but was caught in the act and chased away.
John’s castle at Newbury eventually fell to Stephen, but John had managed to buy that extra time for Wallingford. Stephen moved up to invest the latter and Henry came from Normandy to oppose him. Eventually a treaty was agreed whereby Stephen would keep the throne in his lifetime and Henry would inherit it on his death. Althought there were a few more skirmishes, the long civil war was in essence over and little William returned to the bosom of his family where he was to remain until being sent away in his teens for military training with the great Norman magnate William de Tancarville who was a distant relative of William's mother. 

Those are the facts.  Now for the deeper facts.
1.That 'anvils and hammers' speech is only reported in a single source - The Histoire de Guillame le Mareschal.  The work is a poem of 20,000 lines detailing William Marshal's life story from cradle to grave -including some scene setting before the cradle.  It was intended as a work for the immediate family, to be read out on William's anniversary, or sung to music in the hall on appropriate occasions.  It's a pro Marshal work with members of the Marshal family all cast in a highly positive light. So there are no gasps of shock issuing from that direction concerning John Marshal's behaviour.  Rather, it's a celebration of his 'hammers and anvils' in the face of terrible odds. This was a man who had his balls and intended keeping them!

2. Since this is the only source of the story, there is no proof that it was ever actually said. The 'hammers and anvils' are symbols of the office of Marshal.  It was another word for a blacksmith.  If one  looks at charters and town ordinances you will find a plethora of Marshals involved in the blacksmith trade - so it's a pun on the Marshal name, and one that would have raised a rich chuckle as it was read out. Indeed, if you know your Marshals, the Histoire is a joy to read because it's so full of secret Marshally puns!

3. This child that John supposedly did not care about?  William is protrayed in the Histoire as a confident, chirpy, happy little chap, eager to play games with adults. Confident enough to ask a grown man (the Earl of Arundel) if he could play with his lance. No neglected, unvalued child is going to have that breeziness and confidence around men of rank and standing.  William is actively engaging with these men.  He's full of himself and he likes their weapons!

4. John Marshal had very little choice. If he'd yielded to King Stephen would have pushed through to Wallingford several weeks earlier than he did, and if Wallingford had fallen, then the entire Angevin cause would probably have toppled. Each day that John could withstand Stephen was an extra day gained for the Angevin cause. He was buying time. John Marshal hadn’t backed down at Wherwell, where his stand had allowed the Empress to escape. He hadn’t backed down before the superior strength of Patrick of Salisbury, and he wasn’t going to back down now, even if it meant gambling with his son’s life.

It's not just two sides to every story, but a case of multiple facets and complexity. First find the facts, and then dig for the facts behind the facts.  Quite often the shell is not the same as the kernel, even though both are related.