When you think about ‘castle’, you might have an image of male power. Here in Ludlow Castle, many people may be familiar with stories about male occupants, such as Roger Mortimer, Prince Edward and Prince Arthur. However, the castle had been passed on to different families through marriage with the heiresses. These ladies of the castle were not mere companions to their husbands. Many of them were the owners of the castle in their own right. There were also some dramatic events that happened to female residents of the castle. So here are the stories of our heroines…
The Tale of Marion de Bruere
Ludlow Castle was built by the Norman de Lacy family in the late 11th Century but one male was exiled and the other died without issue. King Henry I decided to give the castle to Sybil, the niece of an exiled Lacy. However, after the death of Henry, the war between his daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen caused turbulence for the ownership of the castle. This conflict, called the Anarchy, was mentioned in the document called ‘the Romance of Fulk fitzWarin’ and it contains a very sad story of a lady who was residing at Ludlow Castle at that time.
During this time, Ludlow Castle was held by Joce de Dinan. He captured the son of the exiled de Lacy and his friend, Arnulf de Lyls, and kept them at the castle. Soon Arnulf developed a relationship with a young lady called Marion de Bruere, and for the love of him, Marion helped them to escape. A few days later, Arnulf came back to the castle and Marion invited him in. Once he was inside the castle, he opened the gates to de Lacy’s armies and the castle was taken by them. When Marion learned about her lover’s betrayal, she killed him with his own sword and leapt to her death through a window of the highest tower in the castle.
Joan and the de Geneville Legacy
After the recapture of the castle, the de Lacys were back in charge and remained as the owners until the middle of the 13th century when the male heir died before his time and, as a result, his two sisters, Maud and Margaret, inherited extensive lands of the de Lacys along the Welsh borders. Maud was given Ludlow Castle and later, King Henry III arranged the marriage between her and one of his favourites, Peter de Geneva. However, just five years later, Peter died and Maud was remarried, again by the king’s arrangement, to Geoffrey de Geneville a few years later. Having a close friendship with the royal family, Geoffrey must have felt a need to improve the castle in order to entertain them and he built the Solar Block and the Great Hall. The de Geneville line didn’t last long as the male heirs again died before their father and left three daughters. To prevent dividing the vast inheritance in three ways, the younger two daughters were sent to a nunnery thus the eldest, Joan, inherited it all.
The story of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, and Queen Isabella is well known. However, the story of his wife is not known by many people. His marriage to the Geneville heiress, Joan, had made him one of the most powerful men in the country. She brought him huge wealth, not only lands in the Welsh borders but also many in Ireland. Their marriage took place a few years before Edward II became king. During the time of Edward’s first favourite, Piers Gaveston, the young couple didn’t have much trouble. However, when the king’s second favourite, Hugh Despenser, came to power, things went wrong. Fearing losing his lands to Despenser, Roger rebelled against him and was imprisoned at the Tower of London. He managed to escape from the Tower and joined Edward’s ill-treated wife, Queen Isabella, in France where their romance started. At what point Joan became aware of their relationship is unknown but when Edward II was deposed and Roger started acting as a king, the whole country knew that he and Isabella were lovers. It is not hard to imagine how Joan felt to hear and see them together openly. Legend says that Roger built the new chamber block at Ludlow Castle for the queen, to avoid the embarrassment of asking his wife to give up her rooms to his lover, the queen, in his wife’s castle. Her suffering ended with Roger’s execution by the new king, Edward III. Roger’s properties were confiscated by the crown but Joan’s were untouched and Ludlow Castle was returned to her the following year. She held the ownership of the castle until her death.
Anne Mortimer and Cecily, Duchess of York
The Mortimers again had a problem with the early death of male heirs and the inheritance was passed to Anne, the sister of the last Earl of March. She married a grandson of Edward III, Richard of Conisburgh, but only five years later, she died of childbirth bearing her son, Richard. As Anne’s grandmother was the daughter of Lionel, the second son of Edward III, her son Richard became a strong candidate as heir to the throne. And this led to the Wars of the Roses.
The conflicts between the house of Lancaster and the house of York over the crown of England, known as the Wars of the Roses, took place all over the country and one of them happened in Ludlow. Two chroniclers mentioned that Anne Mortimer’s son, now Duke of York, and his wife, Cecily, with all of their children were at Ludlow Castle when King Henry VI and his army came to the other side of Ludford Bridge. To avoid a direct battle against the king, the duke fled from the castle through the postern gate with two of his elder sons, Edward and Edmund, plus two Yorkist earls, Salisbury and Warwick. Cecily was left with the younger children to deal with the king at the castle. When the Lancastrian army looted the town and the castle, Cecily would have surrendered herself with her children and asked for the king’s mercy. Later, she was sent to her sister’s castle in Kent and kept there under her watchful eye. Cecily had little connection to Ludlow after this event but her eldest son, Edward, came back to the area and won the battle against the Lancastrians at Mortimer’s Cross, about 10 miles southwest of Ludlow. He then moved to London and proclaimed himself king as Edward IV. Therefore, all his inheritance through his Mortimer grandmother, including Ludlow Castle, became crown property.
Cecily Neville, Duchess of York
Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary (Mary I)
When Katherine of Aragon came to England to marry a grandson of Edward IV, Prince Arthur, England had just come out of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty had started. After their wedding ceremony in London, the young couple travelled to Ludlow where Arthur had been residing as Prince of Wales and presiding over the Council in the Marches which was established by his grandfather when he sent his eldest son, one of the princes in the Tower, to Ludlow Castle. However, a tragedy struck them only five months after their marriage. Arthur died shortly after he contracted an illness. Katherine herself became ill as well but she survived. Hearing of her husband’s sudden death, Katherine must have felt so scared and worried about her future in this strange country and far away from her family in Spain. She was sent back to London eventually but her life there was not easy either because of the disagreement about her dowry between her own father and father-in-law. After seven long years of misery, Katherine finally fulfilled her parents’ will – becoming the queen of England – by marrying her late husband’s younger brother, Henry VIII, after her father-in-law’s death.
Their only surviving child, Mary, was sent to Ludlow when she was nine years old, as was the custom started by her great-grandfather. Katherine must have thought about her days there and had mixed feelings. She might have asked Henry to make sure Mary could have a comfortable life there. Mary was accompanied by a large entourage and also had many tutors for her education. She enjoyed some exercise there as well, as a legend said that she used to go out through the Postern Tower and walked around outside the castle. This walk is still known as ‘The Queen’s Walk’. However, her days in Ludlow didn’t last long. Only three years later, she was called back to London for the negotiation of her marriage to a French royal. After her, no sons or daughters of the monarch were sent to Ludlow although the Council stayed there until William III and Mary II abolished it.
These are the stories of incredible ladies who lived through a time of upheaval in England within the walls of Ludlow Castle. I hope you have enjoyed their stories.
Katherine of Aragon
By Noriko Horiuchi from Ludlow Castle