Castle in the Air?


Does this look real to you?

It doesn’t to me, and I was there, a coupld of days ago on All Hallows Eve, taking this photograph. It’s a view I’ve captured before, but somehow these ruins of Ludlow Castle set high above the River Teme, always manage to look like some idealised Victorian watercolour; or a film set; even dream-like. Yet there was nothing dreamy about the conception of this massive fortification. Its construction began in the 11th century with the sole intention of keeping the Welsh princes in their place behind the nearby England-Wales border.


It’s other significance, in my mind at least, is that in the winter of 1501 Prince Arthur Tudor, heir to the English throne and Henry VIII’s older brother, spent his honeymoon here. He had married the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, both of them still in their teens.   You can read more this story here: Honeymoon Destination Anyone?

But in any event, even with the walls intact, and some well tapestried royal chambers somewhere within, it takes a great leap of imagination to consider this an ideal honeymoon venue. Presumably Arthur’s presence  was a political gesture to impress the Welsh neighbours. In any event, it did not end well. It seems that both Arthur and Catherine fell ill with the ‘sweating sickness’, a strange and passing disease of Tudor times. Catherine recovered but by April 1502 Arthur was dead. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My own experience within the castle walls dates back to the late 1960s. It was a summer’s evening and the time of the Ludlow Arts Festival which every year staged a Shakespeare play inside the castle’s massive inner bailey. Open air of course and on very hard wooden seats. My mother had tickets for Shakespeare’s Richard III. It had poured with rain all day, and I (in grumpy teen mode) didn’t want to go. But by early evening the sky cleared and so we set off for Ludlow, armed with cushions and blankets and a flask of coffee.

There was no set to speak of. Only a platform with a throne against the looming backdrop of the bailey walls. Swifts and swallows whisked by overhead, but as it grew dark it was the turn of the bats to swoop and dive around the battlements. And then came Act 5 scene 3 – the night before the battle of Bosworth Field when Richard is visited by the ghosts of all those he has murdered. And out of the shadows, from different spots around the castle walls, echoed the eerie voices. It was thrilling. Unforgettable. And to think I hadn’t wanted to come.

#Lens-Artists: Flights of Fancy  Johnbo has set this week’s challenge. Go see his different approaches for this theme.

32 thoughts on “Castle in the Air?

  1. Yours is surely a flight of fancy, though I gather that you maybe weren’t 100 percent on the flight. >grin<
    What a great setting for period plays. Thanks for an interesting read and for the photos that went with it.

  2. A familiar sight (site) Tish. I spent many an hour walking around that castle and river walks. We also attended one of the Shakespeare plays in the castle walls before they stopped. It is very atmospheric among the ruins at dusk.

    1. We went to quite a few plays over the years. It was always intriguing to see how and where they set up the stage, and how parts of the walls, entrances and windows were worked into the play. Saw Ian McKellan as Richard II doing a monologue – way, way up at a high window looking into the bailey – this obviously before the scene with the nasty despatch. Midsummer Night’s Dream required a leap of imagination. They had some kind of pop-up tree come May Pole thing and it poured with rain, and Kate O Mara did a very wet bodice moment!

  3. Oh how fabulous to see Richard III in such a setting. It must have been magnificent. I also enjoy all the stories of the European monarchy – in every country marriages weren’t made in heaven but in whatever was needed to secure the throne. Presumably this is why Henry proceeded to marry his brother’s widow.

  4. It’s a beautiful castle and your opening shot really does make it look like a storybook one! Your memory of seeing Richard III there triggered one of my own from I reckon 1973. We were studying King Lear for A level and the school arranged a trip to see it there – a long drive from west London! I remember finding the whole thing incredibly dramatic. I also remember our teachers turning a blind eye when even those of us not yet 18 bought beer in the pub we stopped at on the way home 😁

    1. I certainly remember seeing King Lear there, though not sure if it was in ’73 or much later. Whenever it was, it was pretty chilly. I remember being impressed by that the woman sitting in front of me had her feet in a sturdy zip-up shopping bag.

  5. There was a special (I think it was a BBC/ABC join production) about Catherine of Aragorn and the spent a lot of time on this period — AND this castle. I spent a little time looking up the sweating sickness, the cause of which is still unknown (that some kind of hantavirus seems to be the current possible culprit). It’s interesting with all they know about the disease and its symptoms that they still don’t know what it was, except that it was one disease that afflicted the wealthy rather than the poor. Some people took that as an omen.

    But that castle where Arthur got sick and died has such a prominent place in the history of the Crown. I wonder what other secrets lie hidden within?

    1. Thanks for that further info (or rather lack of) on the sweating sickness. It featured of course in Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. Thomas Cromwell’s wife died of same. As to Ludlow Castle and its secrets, now there’s a project to pursue.

      One thing I did not mention about the ghost scene in Richard III, was that the two young princes who were said to have been murdered in the Tower of London on Richard’s orders, were at one time staying at Ludlow Castle, presumably to keep them safe in v. turbulent times! That did not turn out well either then.

      1. I’m always surprised when with all the tests they’ve run, they still don’t know what that disease was and why is seems to have disappeared. Maybe it’s the evil air at Ludlow Castle!

  6. What lovely memories. Theatre is all about heightened moments of shared reality. Such a pity Shakespeare doesn’t know how his work has lasted. I wonder if the castle looks unreal because it’s a light colour compared to the bridge, so it seems more ethereal – of the heavens, where the bridge is of the earth.

    1. That’s a very thoughtful comment, Susan. I think the colour of the castle may well have much to do with the slightly dreamy look as seen from below. And against the sky too.

  7. Ah, luckily you came along then! I love it when the outcome is much better than expected. You write it well, and I was almost there too…

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