Archive for June 22, 2010

I’ve already blogged little about Middleham Castle and mentioned the dvd, but I’d like to review it a little more, along with its companion disc Sandal Castle: The battle of Wakefield & Building Sandal’s castles.

Middleham Castle: a royal residence

Though the Nevills are mentioned in the commentary, and credit given to their castle extension and remodelling exploits, the dvd focusses heavily on the occupancy of Richard duke of Gloucester and his duchess, Anne Nevill. I thought there could have been at least some exploration of Anne’s earlier life in the castle, perhaps put alongside her time there as a young wife and mother.

The computer reconstructions of the castle, accompanied by the host, John Fox, walking through the ruins, was very well done. Fox’s commentary is a little stilted in places, but for a privately produced dvd it wasn’t so bad as to be offputting. The graphics of the interiors I found particularly good. A great deal of attention was paid to the two gatehouses, the Prince’s Tower (which may have served as the main living quarters for the Gloucesters) and the great hall and kitchen/cellars. I would have liked a little more on the other buildings. Suggested quarters/offices for some of the castle officials were pointed out, but very briefly.

Specific things about the Nevill occupancy of Middleham that I’d have liked to learn more about included where the family’s quarters might have been situated. As, at least brifely, all ten of the Salisburys’ children were living under the same roof, a sense of where they all slept would have been particularly useful. I would also have liked to know more about the grittier side of castle life – where were the stables? the training grounds? As these are very personal wants, and as the vast majority of purchasers of the dvd would have been more than happy with the details they got about the Gloucesters’ occupancy of Middleham, they’re not major criticisms.

In general, I was impressed with the quality of the reconstructions, the camera work, the connection between the reconstructions and the ruins and the research. I’d happily recommend this dvd do anyone interested in castles, and Middleham in particular.

There wasn’t a great deal that bounced off my nonsense-shield.

Sandal Castle: the battle of Wakfield & Building Sandal’s castles

Again, the computer reconstructions of Sandal castle – a magnificent building in its time, very different to Middleham – were excellent. This time, the host (again John Fox, much more relaxed and working with a better flowing script) was placed in a couple of the scenes and this worked fairly well. His eyeline was off in some places, but that’s not an easy thing to nail down.

The exploration and explanation of the battle of Wakefield left me with some problems, however. There are a good many different theories and ideas about this battle. It was certainly a monumentally shocking event and in my view it very much changed the tenor and conduct of the wars, but I’m not convinced that the explanation provided here is the right one.

There seem to be two major competing ideas. Firstly, that York rashly left the castle, underarmed and underintelligenced (yes, it is! I just used it) and got caught by the larger Lancastrian force. Some reasons given for this include an attempt to rescue stranded foragers and responding angrily to Lancastrian taunts. Secondly, that Sir John Nevill (cousin of the earl of Salisbury) arrived with reinforcements and changed sides in the ensuing battle. It is this second view that the dvd promulgates, not just as a theory but as a matter of fact. This is based largely on a negative conjecture: the duke of York, a seasoned soldier and general, would not make such a fundamental error as to leave the safety of his castle undermanned. While it may be unlikely, it isn’t impossible. Experience and past success doesn’t inoculate you against mistakes. If the first explanation is correct, I think it likely that it was an attempt to rescue foragers, rather than a temperamental response to insults. The possibility of betrayal can’t be ruled out either. I was less concerned with the presentation of the theory as I was with the vehemence and finality with which it was presented.

The other thing that was presented as matter of fact was the death of Edmund earl of Rutland. His ‘murder’ by Clifford on Wakefield bridge, in revenge for Clifford’s father’s death at St Albans, is presented without any room for doubt.

The beheading of Salisbury at Pontefract is mentioned without any discussion as to how he got there, Thomas Nevill’s name comes up only in the final role call of the dead and William lord Harrington (Salisbury’s son in law) isn’t mentioned at all. Also missing is Henry Fitzhugh, but perhaps I’m the only Fitzhugh-obsessive currently in existence.

Margaret of Anjou’s whereabouts were given correctly as Scotland; her determination to ‘get the Yorkists’ was put down to the disinheritance of her son under the Act of Accord and there was no mention of heads in bags, just on Mickelgate Bar.

In terms of Sandal Castle, the dvd is worth watching, but keep your nonsense-shields up when it comes to Wakefield.

The second documentary (The building of Sandal’s castles) I didn’t watch. This is not because I didn’t want to, but I ran out of time. I will get back to it some time soon and let you know how it goes.