As a great many castles in England, Ludlow started as a Norman fortress, and the 11th century gatehouse part of the keep survives. It was raised to four storeys in the 12th century, though the floors between levels are no longer extant. Unfortunately for us, the drawbridge and its entrance no longer survive as was – however, as you can see below, it is fairly obvious the size and position of the previous grand entrance (which in likelihood also held a portcullis), as is the remaining stonework that the drawbridge rested on. Opposite, over the dry moat I was stood in, is another piece of the drawbridge rest, which gave me all kinds of fuzzies. I do love a good drawbridge.
From its inception the de Lacy’s owned Ludlow, until the mid-thirteenth century. Then, the castle worked its way into the hands of the de Geneville’s. Through Peter de Geneville’s daughter, Joan, Ludlow passed into the hands of the Mortimers, when she married Roger, son of Edmund. Roger Mortimer, who, though his youthful years are not entirely documented, was a close companion of the young Prince Edward (II) and the infamous Piers Gaveston. After possibly being brought up from age seven at his uncle’s (also Roger Mortimer…) castle, Chirk, he was sent to court, eventually inheriting his father’s estates, including nearby Wigmore Castle, when Edmund was injured in a skirmish, and soon after died from his wounds.
All records suggest Roger Mortimer was a fine soldier even in youth – a major support for this presumption is the fact he was nineteen when he was awarded his inheritance, where men came of age at twenty-one, and you would have to be one damn tough bastard to be able to get your hands on a barony in your teens (if not royal, of course). Roger was made Lord Mortimer of Wigmore, his wife Joan his Lady, and though brief searches for him will always pull up his later affair with Queen Isabella, he was an important general for Edward II, particularly in Ireland, and well-respected for most of his life.
And thus, Ludlow Castle was chosen as the setting for the major baronial castle in my upcoming historical fiction, as it represents well what a baron could expect to possess as well as how fine a life he could lead with his family.
I’ve been to Ludlow three times over the past ten years or so, which is fairly conservative for me and castles, but it’s a bit of a trek without a car (though that issue is resolved now). As soon as I had created Laesborough Castle, the seat of the d’Avenals (in my WIP) I knew Ludlow was it. Apart from a small selection of Tudor & later additions, the building is fairly true to my time period, which is in the 1330/40s. The round building above is the remaining tower of the Norman chapel, and has some beautiful detailing on the archways, and also bears some carved heads within. No-one is really sure who these likenesses are, but we can pretend.
The opening of my WIP is a grand tournament at Laesborough, in the huge outer bailey. The best of the best knights of the realm are there to compete, as is Robert Thomas, the father of our heroine, Philippa. At seven years old, she shouldn’t be running around the castle on her own, but she is lucky to befriend a local boy who escorts her anyway, and shows her the delights of Laesborough, renovated only the year before, in time for the grand tourney. When she finally makes it back to the lists, and her furious mother, she is just in time for one of the most spectacular events she may ever witness…
Ludlow was actually renovated by Roger Mortimer in anticipation of a visit from Queen Isabella (his presumed lover at the time...well, if you're going to aim...). He converted the fairly comfortable base into what could conceivably be called a medieval hotel – part of the renovations included a tower called The Latrine Tower (I shit you not), which included a garderobe for every guest room, almost unheard of in that era. You can still view some of these amazing rooms on site (as below – I tend to gravitate towards privies), and also the large chute that let out the waste from these privies. He also had the fine rooms beside it (where the Lord & Lady’s chambers were) renovated. Though, Joan may not have been best pleased to have to give up her chamber for the queen, who was believed to be doing some level of dirty with her husband. Awkward.
You lucky people are also in the midst on someone who has been known to scale castle mottes and walls too, and so I climbed up the 20 metres or so of the outer ramparts to get a picture of said chute. Clue: it’s that big hole at the bottom.
Now, I do love a good medieval step. Or any old step really. I get rather excited when I find steps that lead to very specific and important parts of castles and the like. For example, the steps that remain at Kenilworth Castle, which once led to the private apartments of The Great Fornicator himself, John of Gaunt. I cannot describe how fuzzy my stomach went on finding those.
Ludlow castle is littered with steps and staircases, so I know Roger Mortimer and his family would have used most of the intact ones at one time or another. But there is quite a good ruined one as you exit the keep onto the battlements, towards the Oven Tower, which, though not accessible, is clearly an old staircase, and gives you a good understanding of how the old occupants could venture about their home, and also how relatively concealed and covered they were. Not that English people in the Middle Ages stopped doing anything for bad weather, of course, or they’d never have moved anywhere.
So, thus concludes this post on Ludlow. If you live in Shropshire and haven’t been there, I would question your sanity. If you don’t and haven’t been there, I would recommend it. Ludlow town is also one of the most beautiful and ancient of towns in England (a Norman ‘planned’ town) and still exhibits some stunning architecture from various periods, including one of the medieval city wall gatehouses. It’s worth a whole day. If you don’t live nearby and have been to Ludlow, you see what I’m saying right?!
Next on the WIP list is Stokesay Castle, approximately 20 minutes up to road (by car…).