And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
I went somewhere I have never been this summer. I’ve never been to warwick. Never been to the Cotswolds. Stratford-upon-Avon, none of them, and I never even thought abut it until a couple of days before going there when my Mum said, I’ve got an idea, how about going to Warwick? Warwick, I thought, that’s in like the Midlands somewhere I think, oh yeah Warwick the Kingmaker, he had a castle I think. My years of studying maps of the UK and reading British history was not wasted then. I quickly saw that it was a bloody great idea, and it really was. I never see much of England, ever, usually if I go somewhere when I’m back in London I go abroad to the foreign lands where they speak foreign. I forget how lovely Britain and its countryside beyond the M25 can be. We used to go all over when I was a kid, Mum or Dad would drive us to lots of places around the country, Cornwall or Norfolk or Lancashire, and to be honest when I became an adult my interest in visiting different parts of Britain kind of fell away in a kind of “well they’re not going anywhere” kind of way. Warwick hadn’t even occurred to me, but let me tell you I’m glad it occurred to my Mum because it was great. Warwick Castle was one of the best castles I’ve ever been to – still pretty complete, full of rolling ramparts and sweeping towers, but also highly touristy with lots of swordplay medieval action going on – yeah, I LOVE that stuff! I sketched the towers above while we watched a falconry display.
And I did some archery. There I am look (a French shirt with an English longbow) getting my best Hawkeye on, bro. I was pretty good too, hit the yellow target many times, and didn’t hit a single caravan unlike the last time twenty odd years ago. Doesn’t half work your arm muscles though, but then so does standing around with a sketchbook. This was one of several little activities set up for kids and bigger kids, another was teaching young kids how to best use a sword. My Mum said, oh you’d get so bored standing doing that all day wouldn’t you. I’m like, eh, dressing up like a knight, playing with swords all day and teaching kids how to knock the stuffing out of dummies? That sounds like great fun!
We watched some pretty intense jousting down in the meadow by the river, before settling down to watch a display of medieval weaponry and warcraft. Yeah, I love it, all those swords and axes. Well actually I decided to have a little wander up some steps to the higher towers first, and sketched very quickly the scene below as the crowds (you can’t see them) gathered for the fighting demonstration. I didn’t add much detail to this one but here it is anyway.
Now a bit of history. Warwick Castle is about a thousand years old, with William the Conqueror building a motte and bailey fort shortly after the Norman invasion upon an existing Anglo-Saxon burh. That’s an old fortified settlement the English used to create to protect against Danish invaders. London was a burh once too, in the days of Alfred the Great, Lundenburh. The burh of Warwick was located near the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, which was really handy, making this a vital position. William gave Warwick to one of his Norman henchmen, Henry de Beaumont, who became Warwick’s first Earl. In 1260 the castle had a major upgrade when they decided stone walls might be better than the old wooden ones. Simon de Montfort came and conquered it in 1264, but the castle soon passed into the Beauchamp family, and eventually passed to the Nevilles. The most famous of the Neville family was probably Richard, known as the “Kingmaker”, which sounds like a really cool name for an old pistol, but was actually a fairly bogstandard indie band from the early 1990s. No, he was important during the Wars of the Roses, but died in the Battle of Barnet (again, probably a reference to early 1990s indie bands’ haircuts). His daughter Anne married Richard III, who actually took possession of the castle and made a number of significant improvements, yet ironically did not think to build the car park less than twenty minutes walk from the castle. Funny how karma works, eh Richard. There’s Richard the Third on the right. I didn’t sketch him, but I did do his famous “Now…” speech from the Shakespeare play, “Now something something something”Other stuff happened down the centuries, withstood a siege in the Civil War, Capability Brown came and did some landscape gardening, Canaletto came and did a painting, and then finally I came along and did a little bit of archery, that pretty much brings us up to date. More history lessons next time!
We went into the armoury to wait for a tour. What actually happened next was that the sky decided to turn into an unbelievable storm, nringing a downpour so heavy that almost everybody in the castle grounds tried to squeeze into the same room as me. No tour, then. Convenient timing. It gave me an opportunity to do a little more sketching, so I sketched the antique firearms above, including the long-barreled 18th century Blunderbuss. “You homo sapiens and yer guns.” The rain did not let up, so I sketched the armour of a jousting knight on horseback. This only took me fifteen minutes. I sketched really quickly, while my Mum went looking around the Royal Weekend Party rooms.
The rain stopped in time for the long walk back to the car park, and time for some much-longed-for fish and chips on the way to the hotel, in the nearby village of Barford. Yeah, Warwick is really nice. Good suggestion, Mum!