Sussex Life May 2016 Poetry + solution
Solution for the “The Picture in her heart” piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life May issue
Where is it? ‘The Picture in her Heart’
An island set in a silver sea,
a castle set in a silver lake.
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Towers at its corners, towers in the walls,
a Hall for his servants, a Hall for the Lord.
Garrison, gun loops, gatehouse, guards,
a show of wealth, a show of force.
A home for the Knight of the Sussex Shire,
through blood, through marriage,
and on through the line,
Until ... divided, united, slighted,
bought and sold, and sold, and sold.
Fallen from grace, awaiting a saviour.
Step forth the Squire, the Baron,
the Viceroy, the Nation. Bewitched,
the romance endures. Two hundred years
to awaken a sleeping beauty.
Restored to grace, we share the magic,
Of Knights with falcons on their wrists,
Of jousts, of battles, pounding hooves,
The warder’s challenge, drawbridge raised,
‘Till, tired with wassell and with glee,
Withdrew that noble company’,
and, bound for home, we lived the dream,
could this be real, this fantasy?
Solution – Bodiam Castle, Nr. Robertsbridge, East Sussex.
Explanation of embedded clues
The poem title arises from the impression made upon the future wife of Lord Curzon upon first setting eyes on Bodiam Castle. Lord Curzon had first seen Bodiam in 1905 and fell in love with it, but at that time he was unable to buy it. However, after the death of the owner, Baron Ashcombe, an opportunity arose. Simon Jenkins, in England’s Thousand Best Houses, takes up the story. It was 1916. The widowed Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, took his young American friend, Grace Hinds, to see Bodiam Castle. He made Grace keep her eyes closed until they reached the top of a bank overlooking the Castle. When she was allowed to open her eyes, she also fell under its spell. She later wrote, ‘I have that picture in my heart for all time ... I dared not take my eyes off it, for fear that when I looked again it would have disappeared in a mist or a cloud – it could only be a fairy castle’. Lord Curzon proposed, Grace accepted, he bought Bodiam.
Bodiam, “a castle set in a silver lake”, can also be seen as a reflection of our island nation. In Shakespeare’s words in ‘Richard II’ ... ‘A precious stone set in a silver sea’. Borrowing this phrase seemed particularly appropriate as Richard II was the King who granted Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a “Knight of the Sussex Shire”, the ‘License to crenellate’ (fortify) his existing manor house in 1385. It was during the Hundred Years War, and a French fleet of some 1200 ships had gathered across the English Channel. Sir Edward thought it preferable to tweak the terms of his license and instead built Bodiam Castle. Planning permission was obviously more flexible in those days.
“Reflections” would also be those of the castle in its moat, given the right conditions, a favourite photographic subject. The internal and external features described in verse two illustrate the dual role of many castles of the fourteenth century. They were intended both as a status symbol, “a show of wealth”, while also being “a show of force”, a secure, but still comfortable, home for the Lord and his retainers.
Ownership of the Castle and estate remained under the Dalyngrigge name until 1470. By marriage this then passed to another prominent Sussex family, the Lewknors. Sir Thomas though backed the Lancastrian side during the Wars of the Roses with the result that when Richard III, of the House of York, gained the throne in 1483, Sir Thomas was accused of treason and his property confiscated. Just two years later though the tide turned again.
Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, and the new King, Henry VII, restored most of his lands to Sir Thomas. It would be nearly another sixty years though before the Lewknors regained all of their original holdings, only for the estates, the castle and the manor to be split upon the death of Sir Roger Lewknor. The castle and the estates were “bought and sold” separately until being re-united by John Tufton, 2nd Earl of Thanet, in 1639.
Unfortunately, John Tufton was no better at picking sides. He was a Royalist during the English Civil War. They lost. This time the winners, the Parliamentarians, although inititially leaving him with the Castle, not only confiscated most of his lands but fined him the equivalent of almost £1.5million at today’s values. He had no choice but to sell the Castle to help pay the fine. Needless to say, it was a Parliamentarian, Nathaniel Powell, who bought it.
As was the case with many castles during and after the English Civil War, Bodiam was “slighted” (partially dismantled) to prevent it from being re-used. After some eighty years ownership by the Powell family line, it was sold again, in 1722. This time to Sir Thomas Webster, whose descendents retained it for over a century.
At last there was some stability, but the “slighted” castle was allowed to deteriorate into a picturesque ivy-clad ruin. This was in the period of the ‘Gothic Revival’ in architecture in the mid 18th Century when such ruins from medieval days were first considered ‘romantic’ tourist attractions rather than eyesores. Compared with its heyday though, Bodiam Castle had “fallen from grace, awaiting a saviour”.
The fourth verse of the poem identifies the four “saviours” who over a period of nearly two hundred years have “awakened a sleeping beauty”. It did in fact take the last of the Websters fourteen years to find a buyer. It was in need of more than a little ‘care and attention’. It would have presented quite a challenge for any modern-day estate agent.
The first saviour, “the Squire”, was John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller M.P., from Brightling. Fuller was a controversial and eccentric figure, but a man with his heart in the right place. He did a lot for the poor and he did a lot for poor Bodiam Castle, saving it from possible destruction. The torch then passed to “the Baron”, George Cubitt, later Baron Ashcombe. He commissioned the first detailed survey and stabilised ‘at risk’ parts of the structure, notably the southwest tower which was in danger of imminent collapse. His period of custodianship though was during the fashion for ‘romantic ruins’ and so the ivy and the trees invading the courtyard were left.
This is the point at which Lord Curzon, “the Viceroy”, comes onto the scene. During his time in India Lord Curzon took a leading role in the preservation of historic buildings, legally protecting all the key Moghul sites and personally overseeing the restoration of the Taj Mahal. When he returned to England and first saw Bodiam Castle he vowed that ‘so rare a treasure should neither be lost to our country nor desecrated by irreverent hands’. As explained in the opening paragraph, he was as good as his word. He bought it with his own money and working with the architect William Weir of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), ploughed his money and his time into its restoration right up until the time of his death in 1925. In his Will, Lord Curzon bequeathed Bodiam Castle to “the Nation”, in the form of its current custodian, The National Trust. Bodiam Castle is now a Scheduled Monument, A Grade 1 Listed Building, and internationally important. It is now well-protected. The National Trust continues the work of restoration and renovation.
“Restored to grace, we share the magic”. The magic manifests itself in many ways. It may be by the personal emotional impact upon one’s first sight of the Castle, in a setting sun, or rising from the mist on the moat. Or, as pictured in the final verse, it may be the thrill of being swept up in the colour and clamour of medieval re-enactments. The borrowed extract, ‘Till, tired with wassell and with glee ...’ is taken from Bodiam Castle: a poem, in six cantos, by an unknown poet, published in 1818. Bodiam has already been working its magic for almost two centuries.
Acknowledgement of sources
• Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Houses (pp. 751-754).
• Marquis Curzon of Kedleston, K.G., Bodiam Castle, Sussex : A Historical & Descriptive Survey (1926)
• William Shakespeare, ‘The Tragedy of King Richard II’ (Act II Scene I, Gaunt’s speech, ‘This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle ...).
• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Bodiam Castle’, ‘Poems about Bodiam Castle’, ‘Sir Edward Dallingridge’, ‘Lord Curzon and Bodiam Castle’.