I began with Alnwick, a castle that has stayed in one family for 700 years and near the end of the alphabet I reach Warwick, which has had 36 different owners and during a period as crown property, seven monarchs oversaw its ownership.
Warwick began life in William the Conqueror’s time as a wooden motte and bailey. The original location is still visible. By the 12th century the castle was converted into stone. Sixteen earls of Warwick then followed, including the 16th, Richard Neville the Kingmaker. Famed for switching sides during the War of the Roses, from Yorkist to Lancastrian, the Kingmaker tried to overthrown Edward IV and was killed in battle. Given that he’d imprisoned Edward in Warwick castle at one point, it’s not a surprise that Edward was a bit miffed.
The castle came under the control of Edward’s brother George, who famously came a cropper when Edward accused him of treason and allegedly had George drowned in a vat of malmsey wine. Although according to Shakespeare, wicked Richard III , George’s other brother, was responsible. In this week, when Shakespeare is being honoured, let’s not criticise his historical accuracy and applaud his writing.
From then on Warwick castle was passed around until James I granted the Greville family the honour of owning the castle, beginning with Fulke Greville (not a spelling error, that was his name.) Fulke was murdered by his servant because he omitted him from his will. There’s a definite theme of backstabbing. Fulke’s cousin Robert, a parliamentarian, fought against the besieging Royalists. The castle was used to house prisoners. Robert was also killed in battle.
During the 18th century Warwick castle was substantially renovated over a fifty year period. Capability Brown lay out the gardens and Canaletto painted the castle. A new batch of earls were created – it’s very confusing when they go back to number one. The second 8th earl sold the castle to the Tussauds Group, famed for their wax figurines, and then on to other commercial owners. So the castle survived quite well, but hasn’t been a private home since 1978.
I visited many years ago and since then much has been added to the attraction, including a huge working trebuchet that has fired thousands of shots. The things they flung with it are not pleasant.
“Okay, sarge, we’ve run out of stones and rocks,” informed the young besieger.
“What that big pile?” The sergeant mopped his sweaty brow with his sleeve.
“Aye. So what now?”
The sergeant scratched the back of his neck. “I suppose there’s the manure.”
“Shit.” The soldier took a step back.
“No, I mean, I’d rather not shovel it into the sling, sarge. Why would we want to chuck that over into the castle?”
“Make ’em sick. What about a few dead animals?” The sergeant scratched underneath his helmet.
“Cows or pigs? There’s both lying around.”
The sergeant picked at the scab on his nose. “Pigs. They fly the best.”
“They do?” He took another step back.
The sergeant stemmed a fit of coughs. “Aye, pigs can fly.”
“I’ll remember that, sir.” The soldier sidestepped just as the sergeant keeled over.
Pigs were really the best payload! And as anyone who is a fan of Monty Python’s Holy Grail will know, flying cows too.