Sussex Life February 2016 Poetry + solution

Solution for the “The Christmas Castle” piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life February issue

January solution

December solution

Where is it? The Christmas Castle

From Sussex Downs to Sussex Coast, conquered lands.

The fortress on the hilltop, the watchful eye,

reward from a King, returned to a King.

Changing hands, changing tastes,

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restructured, remodelled, renewed,

fit for a dancing Queen.


Ancestry, eight fifty years of Dukes and Earls,

Norfolk in Sussex.

Defenders of the Crown,

Defenders of the Faith.

The worst of times, heads rolled,

the poet Earl, the plotting Duke,

Mary, Anne and Katherine, ill-fated Queens.


Shadows, ghosts,

the founder Earl, the watching eye,

the broken-hearted lover,

atop the tower,

the Blue Man browsing books,

the servant scrubbing pots,

the small white bird ...

foretelling Death.


A Collector’s Garden, a collector’s pride,

A consort casting envious eyes.

But lost to time. Until

the car park supplanted, the garden replanted,

once more evergreen,

once more players in

Oberon’s Palace.


Battles, jousts, crossed swords, crossed lances,

Leather on willow,

and the Castle the stand-in star.

Solution – Arundel Castle, West Sussex.

Explanation of embedded clues

Why ‘The Christmas Castle’? The founder of the first castle at Arundel, Earl Rodger de Montgomery, was awarded his Sussex “conquered lands” by William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1067 - quite a Christmas present! The extensive holdings included the site of the present castle, which over the centuries has grown to become the second largest castle in England. Rodger was a cousin of the new King and they had been best friends since childhood. Rodger had stayed behind in Normandy to look after William’s holdings there while his cousin went off to invade England. Arundel was one of the first of a series of fortresses that the Normans built to secure their new lands. Rodger’s specific task was to guard the southern coast and the River Arun against invaders.

Rodger’s son and successor though, Robert de Belleme, was not a King’s man. He unsuccessfully sided against King Henry I, was banished and the castle “returned to a King”. This seemed to set a pattern, the Castle occasionally “changing hands” between the Crown and the Earls of Arundel over a period of some 400 years.

The Fitzalan family (Earls of Arundel) gained the castle by marriage in 1243. It then passed, again by marriage, to the Howards (the Dukes of Norfolk) in 1555, who have held onto it ever since. Both families however had some significant fallings-out with the monarchs of the day.

On the positive side, “Defenders of the Crown”, successive Earls and Dukes fought on the side of the crown against the Scots (1300), the French (Battle of Crecy and the Hundred Years War), the Welsh (pursuing Owen Glendower), the Scots again (Flodden), the Spanish (the Armada, with Sir Francis Drake), in the War of the Roses and in the English Civil War.

On the negative side, the 2nd and 4th Earls and 4th Duke (“the plotting Duke”) were beheaded for treason as also was Henry Howard (1516-1547), the Tudor courtier and “poet Earl”. The 13th Earl died in the Tower of London for his faith. He was canonized in 1970. The female relations didn’t fare too well either, “Mary (Queen of Scots), Anne (Boleyn) and Katherine (Howard), ill-fated Queens”. All were also beheaded. The Rosary that Mary carried to her execution is on display in Arundel Castle.

The “poet Earl”, cousin of Ann Boleyn, also left a legacy. With Thomas Wyatt he is credited with bringing the Italian sonnet form to England and he was also one of the first to write in unrhymed blank verse. Both forms were subsequently raised to new heights by William Shakespeare, leader of the next generation of poets and playwrights.

“Changing tastes/restructured, remodelled, renewed” refers to the many transformations that the castle has undergone since the first motte and double bailey design completed in 1068. The plan is very similar to that of the, later, Windsor Castle, which explains why Arundel is often used by film-makers as a ‘stand-in’ for Windsor – “the Castle the stand-in star” (last line). The castle has been used in the 2009 film ‘The Young Victoria’, ‘The Madness of King George’ and even in a Dr. Who episode ‘The Silver Nemesis’ (1988) in which the Cybermen, as opposed to Civil War soldiers, are the enemy.

The first make-over was to replace the original timbers with stone. The Barbican was built at the end of the 13th century, as also was the square well tower in the keep. The former certainly strengthened the defences, surviving a battering in the English Civil War. The walls are pock-marked with the impressions of cannon balls. Another hundred years passed before the addition of the Fitzalan Chapel in Early English Gothic style in accordance with the Will of the 3rd Earl of Arundel, hero of the Battle of Crecy. The Chapel contains the tombs of Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk. Another example of the ‘Gothic’ style is the Library.

In 1787, Charles Howard (1746 – 1815) the 11th Duke of Norfolk added bedrooms and dressing rooms to the courtyard side of The Gallery. These were later refurbished for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1846 and so are known as ‘The Victoria and Albert Rooms’. There was in fact a major remodelling of the castle during the Victorian period, first in the English nineteenth century gothic revival style and subsequently in a more straightforward style – “changing tastes”. The castle is now fully restored and is still the family home of the Howards, Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk. The Castle is a Grade I listed building and a member of the Historic Houses Association.

The Duke of Norfolk is England’s Premier Duke and the Earl Marshall of England, responsible for the organisation of state ceremonial occasions. “Defenders of the Faith” additionally refers to the historical role of the families of the Dukes of Norfolk as this country’s leading Roman Catholics. Depending upon the religious convictions of the monarch’s of the time this was either the best of times or “The worst of times”. The phrase is taken from the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ...’

Dickens’ story opens in the year 1775, but similar see-sawing fortunes had been a familiar tale for the ancestors of the Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk for generations before.

Any self-respecting castle must have ghosts and verse three lists the “shadows, ghosts” said to populate Arundel Castle. The founder Earl, Rodger de Montgomery, haunts the Keep, still keeping watch. Local legend recounts that a “broken-hearted lover” jumped to her death from the top of one of the towers following the break-up of a love affair. The Blue Man is a bit of a bookaholic, browsing, since 1630, among the ten thousand tomes in the Library. The “servant scrubbing pots” was reputedly a kitchen lad who was treated very badly, in fact eventually beaten to death. His ghost has continued scrubbing pots and pans for over two centuries. The “small white bird” of tradition is perhaps not so small. Before the Keep was restored a colony of white owls lived there. It is said that when a family member is about to die one of these reappears outside one of the windows.

Verse four is in tribute to Thomas Howard, the ‘Collector (14th) Earl’ (1585-1646). He was responsible for many of the treasures in the castle, furniture and paintings (particularly portraits), and for the ‘Collector’s Garden’ in the grounds. The “consort casting envious eyes” was Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. During their 3-day visit in December 1846, not the best month to view a garden, the Queen wrote in her Journal that ‘The garden is very pretty and full of evergreens, which made Albert extremely jealous for Osborne House’. “Lost to time” reflects the social and economic changes following the Second World War, during which time the Castle had been a base for British, Canadian and American troops. By the 1970’s the garden was derelict and became a tarmac and concrete car parking area.

Now however “the garden replanted”, but as an evocation of a Jacobean garden rather than a direct re-creation of the original. It is a memorial to the 14th Earl. The new Collector Earl’s Garden was opened on May 14, 2008 by the Prince of Wales. There are many interesting features in the garden, one of which is Oberon’s Palace. This is a green oak, seashell lined, version of a spectacle designed by Inigo Jones for Prince Henry’s masque on New Year’s Day 1611. Open Air Shakespeare plays, no doubt including ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are performed, perhaps to reconcile the King of the Fairies with his new abode.

“Battles, jousts, crossed swords, crossed lances” all refer to events in the Castle’s annual calendar. These provide professional historical interpretations of periods throughout the Castle’s history. The highlight is the Jousting and Medieval Tournament Week in the summer. “Leather on Willow” of course refers to the game of cricket, hopefully a less lethal form of combat. There has been a cricket field in the castle grounds since 1895. The Arundel Castle Cricket Club’s picturesque ground is one of three used by Sussex County Cricket Club for County Championship matches. It also hosts the Sussex Martlets C.C., the Duke of Norfolk’s XI and various celebrity and charity fixtures.

There remains perhaps one puzzling clue to solve, at the end of the first verse. The Castle “renewed/ fit for a dancing Queen”. No, this is not the ‘Dancing Queen... only seventeen’ of the well-known ABBA song. It is Queen Victoria at the age of twenty seven and already with five of her nine children, but still young enough to be ‘in the mood for dancing’. The occasion was the December 1846 visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Arundel Castle.

The apartments set aside for the Royal visitors had been especially remodelled and refurnished (The Duke and Duchess had had two years notice). On the last evening of their visit an entertainment was organised with music and dancing... ‘concluding with a very merry country dance which I danced with the Duke’ (Queen Victoria’s journal). The experience that both ‘Queens’ would have had in common was ‘the beat from the tambourine’. In the 1840’s, English country dance bands almost always included a tambourine player.

Acknowledgement of sources

• Sussex Top Attractions (Leaflet)

• Places to Visit: Sussex (Free visitor guide)

• England’s Thousand Best Houses, Simon Jenkins, Allen Lane, 2003 (p746-749)

• The Pocket Guide to Poets & Poetry, Andrew Taylor, Remember When, 2011 (Henry Howard p24)

• The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England, Ian Mortimer, Vintage, 2012 (p339)

• ‘A Midsummer-Night’s Dream’, William Shakespeare, The Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works, W. J. Craig (Ed), Oxford University Press

• A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, The Oxford Illustrated Dickens, Oxford University Press, 1978

• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Arundel Castle’, ‘Arundel Castle Cricket Club’, ‘Queen Victoria’s visit to Arundel Castle’, ‘Abba – Dancing Queen lyrics’.