I’ve been researching the de Lacy family for a while now, although my main interest has been the descendants of Ilbert de Lacy. But a recent visit to Shropshire meant that I could visit Ludlow Castle which was one of the main possessions of his brother, Walter de Lacy.
Walter de Lacy was given lands in Herefordshire. Who gifted the lands to him is subject to debate, but he received them either by direct grant from King William or from William Fitz Osbern, with whom he appears to have fought during the Conquest. His main residence was at Weobley and the lands he owned in this area became the honour of Weobley. The lands he received around the south of Shropshire appear to have been given to him later by the Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery. These lands included Ludlow and the castle was the administrative centre. It occupies a defensive position, against the Welsh, on high ground between the Rivers Teme and Corve. It was built from locally quarried stone and supplied with water from a deep well in the inner bailey that was sunk to the level of the River Teme.
Although I’ve seen lots of photos of Ludlow, my recent visit was the first time I have actually been there. It is better preserved than Pontefract Castle and from the oldest buildings in the inner bailey to the later additions there is a lot to see.
The oldest parts of the castle were probably built around 1075. Unlike the castle at Weobley, where only a mound now remains, Ludlow Castle thrived in the following years. It was further developed by Walter’s sons – Roger and Hugh. Roger rebelled against William II (William Rufus) and was dispossessed and sent into exile, but his younger brother was allowed to inherit the de Lacy lands, although Ludlow Castle was confiscated from Hugh by Henry II to curb his power in the Marches. Further troubles followed during the reign of King John and after the death of Hugh’s son, another Walter, the lands passed to his daughters, Maud and Margery, whose deaths ended the direct line of this branch of the de Lacy family.
On the death of Maud in 1304, the castle passed into the ownership of her second husband, Geoffrey de Geneville, who undertook the rebuilding if the inner bailey and the Great Hall.
Geoffrey’s eldest granddaughter Joan married Roger Mortimer in 1301 and Ludlow Castle passed to his ownership. If you’ve read my novel The Circle of Fortune, you’ll already know something about him. It was here, at Ludlow Castle, that he built a chapel dedicated to St Peter in the outer bailey, to fulfil his vow that he would honour the saint on whose day he escaped from the Tower of London.
In 1425, Ludlow Castle was inherited by Richard, Duke of York and became an important site during the Wars of the Roses. When Richard’s son, Edward became king in 1461, Ludlow Castle became part of the royal estates. He made it the seat of the newly created Council in the Marches of Wales and it became the home of his young sons Prince Edward and Prince Richard. When news reached Ludlow of the unexpected death of Edward IV, the new king and his household set out for London to take possession of the throne. They had arranged to meet the young king’s uncle, Richard, at Stony Stratford so that he could ride into London with them, but the story is complex, depending whose opinion you believe, and the eventual result was that Edward V was never crowned and his uncle became Richard III. No one is sure what happened to Edward and Richard, who have become known as the Princes in the Tower.
Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth just three years later and the first born son of the victor, Henry VII, was named Arthur. With his Welsh roots, Henry Tudor must have wanted to fulfil the legend of the ‘once and future king’. But it was not to be. Henry VII granted Ludlow Castle to Arthur as a residence, but shortly after his marriage to Katharine of Aragon, Arthur was taken ill at Ludlow and died, leaving his younger brother Henry to marry his widow and take his place on the throne as Henry VIII.
In later years Mary Tudor, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, lived at Ludlow Castle for a time, overseeing the Council of the Marches. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Sir Henry Sidney was appointed President of the Council and many repairs and additions were made, including the porter’s lodge and prison in the outer bailey. He also built family apartments between the Great Hall and Mortimer’s Tower – and it is his coat of arms that you can see above the gatehouse.
The future Charles I was declared Prince of Wales in the castle in 1616 and during the Civil War, Ludlow and the surrounding area supported the Royalists, but after a siege the castle was surrendered to the Parliamentarian Army in 1646. The castle became abandoned in the years that followed, with everything of value taken away. It fell into disrepair and in 1704 there was a proposal by William Gower to demolish it and create a residential square on the site. Despite plans by various people over the years to restore the castle and turn it into a private home it seems that the expense involved was always too much and the ruins became a tourist attraction. Ludlow Castle is now owned by the Earl of Powis and attracts many visitors to both the remains and to the many events held in the grounds.
As I walked around on a beautiful sunny day, I reflected on how often Ludlow Castle features in the novels I’ve written. Not as a major setting, but often there in the background. I’m glad I managed to visit it, at last and it’s reminded me that I ought to do more research into this branch of the de Lacy family.