A family trip to Chirk Castle cleared up a mystery that’s sat around in my head for a while. I’ve often wondered why the castle survived intact into the modern era when so many others are ruined and stripped of their stone following the English Civil War when Parliamentarians opposed King Charles and the country was divided between Royalists and Roundheads.
Chirk, which is on the Welsh borders, was constructed as a military fortress in 1295 by the Mortimer family, who famously were great friends of King Edward I and not the Welsh princes. Built to defend, its impressive walls and round towers present a formidable sight. The castle passed into the hands of the Myddleton family in 1593 and became a family home, which it remained right up until 2004. So how did it survive the ravages of a civil war that resulted in so many castles destroyed or slighted?
I asked this question of the knowledgeable guide in the entrance hall.
Thomas Myddleton started out a parliamentarian, who won the war and deposed the king. Ah, that explains it. He didn’t have his castle slighted because he fought on the winning side.
She smiles, the guide, and points out it wasn’t that simple.
There is a twist. In fact there are a few of them.
Thomas went off to fight in an uprising around Chester, which is to the north. He left his front door unlocked and the local Royalists took over the castle. Yep, he was caught with his pants down and had the ignominy of besieging his own castle. A task that lasted 3 years because wisely he wasn’t keen on slighting his home, especially since he’d have to pay for the repairs. The castle, being well constructed and supplied, didn’t fall that easily.
“Ah,” says I, “So that’s why it’s still standing.”
See, another twist. Thomas wasn’t too pleased that they cut off the head of the king. He switched sides to support Charles II, who was in exile. As a punishment, parliament destroyed the southern side of the castle.
But… the castle is still intact?
Because Thomas remained loyal to King Charles number 2, he was rewarded. If he’d sided with the parliamentarians in the deposition of Charles I, his land would have been forfeited and his head lobbed off, however, he didn’t. So, Charles II paid for the southern side of the castle to be rebuilt.
So it paid to bat on both sides and in a timely fashion.
The castle gardens are beautiful, one of my favourites with topiary and thatched summer house. The interior is a bizarre mixture of Tudor panelling, mildly Rococo stairwells and Victorian sitting rooms. Its exterior is pure Medieval and there is a dungeon deep beneath the cobbled courtyard. There in the cold damp cell, narrow chutes project skyward, offering the incarcerated tiny rays of sunlight. Good job Thomas Myddleton didn’t end up a prisoner in his own dungeon.