Encountering ancient castles while travelling in U.K, Ireland and Europe in 2013 brought to life many fairy tales, myths and historic battles. It was an exciting, overwhelming and profound experience.
As a child tales of castles, knights, princesses and dragons held great fascination for me . Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shallot” was a favourite creating a long held desire to visit the supposed locations of the Arthurian Legend. However, life intervened before the opportunity presented. As it turned out many of these places we only whizzed past gazing at the mythic ruins of Tintagel from afar, viewing St. Michael’s Mount through thick fog, only a fleeting glimpse from a bypass of Glastonbury and mystic Avalon.
The era of knights and damsels tends to be regarded as one of chivalry and honour, but in reality it was a harsh and cruel period. Many knights were not noble heroes, rather sadistic, violent thugs who mistreated women, their servants, and animals as well as the lower orders of society. Their intent, all too often, was to amass wealth and power, if not for themselves then for a ruler or the Church, more often than not it was not to protect the meek and mild. They raped, plundered, murdered. Even Lancelot, that great knight of the legendary Round Table, was unable to live up to the lofty ideals assumed to be their code of conduct. After all he seduced Guinevere, his royal master’s wife.
“Children of the New Forest” was another book that stimulated curiosity and a desire to visit England. Although I had studied the history of the English Civil war between the Royalists and Cromwell’s forces in 1642 – 49, it was confronting to encounter the widespread devastation of Oliver Cromwell’s efforts to obliterate opposition and Catholicism to impose his austere Puritan governance as Lord Protector.
Cromwell is regarded by some as a great man, by others as an evil, villain. I go with the latter opinion having seen the far reaching destruction that he ordered. Stark and sad ruins of castles, keeps, and tower houses dotted the landscape throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The far reaching area that his forces travelled, the cruelty and the damage inflicted lingers on through the centuries and is quite frightening to behold and contemplate. Sadder still is the fact that, in spite of the lessons history has offered, humankind has not learnt to tolerate differences or live harmoniously with each other.
A small church in the village of Burford has a plaque that honours soldiers who took shelter there during Cromwell’s watch. They had refused to go back to Ireland to participate in the atrocities, land acquisitions and massacres. Three men who no longer wanted to participate in such deeds were executed in the churchyard. This murderous act was witnessed and recorded by one of their group who had escaped up into the bell tower .
Cromwell is still a figure of hatred in Ireland, his name being associated with massacre, religious persecution, and mass dispossession of the Catholic community there.” As Churchill notes, a traditional Irish curse was mallacht Chromail ort or “the curse of Cromwell upon you”. “(Wikipedia quoting from Winston Churchill in “The History of the English Speaking Peoples.The Age Of Revolution.” Dodd, Mead and Co.New York, Page 9).
Being able to see these castles was a thrill that did not wane.
A character has since emerged.This could be the beginning of a series although more whimsical than historic. Perhaps also wishfully wanting to believe that the knights were protectors and guardians who practiced chivalry and were steadfast proponents of justice and fair play.