They told us the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea was very beautiful, so that was plan A. We chose a coastal route, hoping it would be scenic, and along the way, noticed signs to Sandringham House, one of Queen Elizabeth’s homes, and where Prince William and Kate also have a residence, so that became plan B. But before we even got that far – look! A castle! STOP THE CAR!
Castle Rising Castle (yes, that’s right, just so you’re sure it’s really a castle), has moats and huge piles of earthworks surrounding it. The earthworks are so high, in fact, that you can hardly see the top of the castle from outside, and when you’re within the grounds, you see nothing but the artificial hills hiding you from the outside world.
Why the huge defences in a peaceful corner of England that has never even stood a chance of coming under attack? Apparently the arrogant William d’Aubigny built it in 1139 to make himself look important after scoring a marriage to the widow of King Henry 1.
He designed the castle to impress. As his guest, first of all you would cross through the earthworks.
Then across a bridge and through the gate.
Then you would dismount, turn the corner to the left and enter this doorway.
Then climb up this stair case entrance to the building itself.
At the top, you would pause in a reception room.
And finally, you would be led in to the Great Hall, the floor of which collapsed five centuries ago, to see the important William d’Aubigny himself. Unfortunately his dynasty didn’t last, as he went through most of his own and his wife’s fortune building this and several other castles, and died without children.
The most famous owner of the castle was Queen Isabella of France, wife of Edward II. Her son, Edward III, sent her there to cool her heels until he got over being upset following the death of his father – which she had engineered with the help of her lover, Roger Mortimer. In her defence, Edward II had been unfaithful to her first, with several of his (male) courtiers. Mortimer took up the rule of England for three years after Edward II’s murder, and that probably ticked off Edward (Isabella’s son) too. When Edward got his act – and his crown – together again, he had Mortimer hanged, and then mother and son seemed to have a reconciliation.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Evidence of the past in this castle: these four kings carved into the ceiling of the chapel.
This “witch mark” carved into the mantel of the 1600s fireplace. These marks were often placed near doors, windows and fireplaces where eddies and currents of air would make people suspicious of the presence of spirits.
And, carved into a steep circular staircase, this picture of a ship. There are many medieval carvings of ships in churches; the significance is unknown. A wish for someone on a voyage? Symbol of a spiritual voyage?
Once you start looking, it is amazing how much graffiti there is.