Old Wardour Castle Old Wardour Castle

The Lovells

Titchmarsh Castle

Minster Lovell Hall

Other Lovell Castles

Francis, Viscount Lovell and Sir Thomas Lovell
Old Wardour Castle (Wiltshire) is, without a doubt, the most spectacular of the main residences of the Lovells of Titchmarsh. Though like many other medieval castles, it was severely damaged during the Civil War, the ruins are still spectacular.

Old Wardour Castle, which is now in the care of English Heritage, was the second of the Lovells' main residences that I visited. Like my trip to Titchmarsh Castle (or more correctly the place where that castle once stood) it was not until years after I had finished my thesis that I finally visited it (2005). Again, many years later (June 2017), I visited the ruins again. Sadly this stay was by far not as long as I had hoped, since my way there was prolonged excessively by getting lost in the woods, the satnav having never heard of the place, and a fallen tree blocking the road.

Did Francis Lovell have Children?

The Great Lord Lovell?
Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle

John Lovell VII (c. 1344-1408), who was also known as John Lovell the Rich, was responsible for the construction of Wardour Castle, as it was known before New Wardour Castle was built between 1769 and 1776. The place came into his hands around 1390. It was part of the St. Martin estate, and Thomas Calston who had inherited it, "apparently sold his share" of the lands to John Lovell "probably a kinsman".[1] Exactly what happened is unfortunately not known, only that Thomas Calston's co-heir, Henry Popham, was far from happy about this deal, which led to a long drawn-out quarrel that was only ended in 1410, when Popham resigned his claim on the lands.

Wardour had once been the property of the Kings of Wessex, and, around the year 900, Alfred the Great gave judgement in the chamber there. Some sort of manor must have therefore existed at Wardour since that time, but where it was, how large it was and where it was situated is unknown. When John Lovell acquired Wardour, he decided to rebuilt it on a grand scale and in 1393 received the necessary 'licence to crennelate'.

Front of Old Wardour Castle

Front of Wardour Castle

John Lovell was also determined to create something spectacular and unusual. Though tower houses are far from unusual, Wardour Castle with its hexagonal shape is quite unique. (The Yellow Tower of Gwent at Raglan Castle were built later.) In their search for what may have inspired John Lovell or his architect to choose this unusual design researchers have looked as far away as Castel del Monte in southern Italy, Bellver on Mallorca or the Château de Concressault (Département of Cher). Closer to home was Queenborough Castle in Kent, that Edward III had built between 1361 and 1377. As John Lovell was at this time involved in the royal administration, it is possible that he may have actually seen the castle himself accompanying Edward III on one of his inspections there.

Like the Château de Concressault, Wardour is hexagonal in shape, like Queenborough Castle (which had a circular plan) the surrounding walls echo that of the castle. What is different are the two projecting towers creating a distinctive 'front' at Wardour castle.

New and fals windows

Enlarged and  false windows  added by Sir Matthew Arundel

Wardour Castle was not built to be a heavily fortified stronghold. Its main purpose was to provide comfort to the inhabitants. Any residence also was and is a reflection of its builder's aspiration and a symbol of his power. Though, as Mark Girouard points out, John Lovell was not in the same league as the builders of the castles that were cited as possible inspirations for Wardour Castle, he was an enormously rich baron.[2] In one 15th-century document he even was referred to as 'Lord John Lovell who is called the Great'.[3] Though Wardour Castle is not situated prominently on a hill, as Castel del Monte is for example, its size and grandeur must have impressed the contemporaries and indeed is still impressive even in its ruined state.

It says a lot about John Lovell that he had decided to built on such a grand scale. The construction must have been very expensive. Considering that he did not spend much time at Wardour, as for a significant part of his time he was at court or on campaign, the function of the castle as a symbol of his power was at least as much on his mind as its use as a comfortable country retreat. It is also interesting that John Lovell's descendants soon lost interest in Wardour. His grandson William Lovell apparently preferred to live at Minster Lovell, where he oversaw a major rebuilding programme. William Lovell's son, another John Lovell, lost possession of the Wardour Castle for having fought on the Lancastrian side in the opening stage of the Wars of the Roses and, unlike the majority of his estates, Wardour Castle was not returned to his possession.

Shell-headed seats

One of the shell-headed seats added by Sir Matthew Arundel

n the latter half of the sixteenth century, Sir Matthew Arundel ordered major improvements on the by now rather old-fashioned building. The windows were enlarged and a number of blind windows added to increase the symmetry of the facade. Fashionable architectural details were added and the interior improved and sumptuously furnished.[4]

Renaissance portal

Renaissance portal, another addition by Sir Matthew Arundel

Though Wardour castle was not primarily a military fortress, it could be easily defended (even with the enlarged windows) as the two sieges in the Civil War prove. When the castle was besieged in 1643 by parliamentarian forces, Lady Blanche Arundell, holding the castle with only twenty-five men who were ‘partly aided and partly hampered by a considerably number of female servants’, was able to withstand the attack of 1,300 parliamentarians for nine days.[5]

vew on the massive damage to the back of Old Wardour Castle

  The castle's heavily damaged side

The royalist Lord Henry Arundel, who had succeeded his father as owner of Wardour Castle shortly before, naturally wanted to regain possession of it. This second siege lasted even longer, from December 1643 to March 1644. When the parliamentarian garrison inside the castle were already hard pressed and short of food, one of the mines was accidentally set off and large sections of the walls were destroyed. The garrison finally surrendered. Though Henry Arundel had thus regained possession of the castle, it was now uninhabitable.

More damage

More heavy damage to the castle's walls

The family decided not to restore the castle. In the later half of the eighteenth century, Henry Arundel instead built New Wardour Castle nearby. The ruins of the old castle were included into a romantic garden. Among the additions were a small Neo-Gothic banqueting house and a stone circle. A grotto built partially with stones from the ruined castle was added in 1792 to enhance the romantic scenery.

Romantic grotto

The artificial grotto added to make the ruins even more romantic

They ruins of Old Wardour Castle were used as the set of the destroyed home of the Earl of Locksley in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. - Unfortunately the entire castle is seen only at night in the film, and during the shot of the front Kevin Costner is blocking most of the view. The grotto, on the other hand, can be seen very clearly. Morgan Freeman and Walter Sparrow carefully keep to the side.

Kate and I in Wardour

Kate II and I on our memorable trip to Old Wardour Castle, 14 June 2017

[1] Roskell, J.S., Clark, Linda S. and Rawcliffe, Carole (eds.), The House of Commons, 1386-1421, 4 vols. (Stroud, 1993), vol. iv, p. 114
According to the Victoria County History, John Lovell's sister Elizabeth was married to Robert of London. Robert's sister Maud in turn, was married to Robert of Ramsbury. Her granddaughter (of no name) was married to Thomas Calston, VCH, Wiltshire, vol. xii, p. 49.
[2] Mark Girouard, ‘Wardour Old Castle – I’, in Country Life (Feb 14, 1991), p. 44.
[3] Magdalen College, Oxford, Adds. 99. (Lovell Papers)
[4] An inventory of the furnishings exists from 1605, Brian K. Davison, Old Wardour Castle (English Heritage Guidebook, 1999), p. 28.
[5] R.B. Pugh and A.D. Saunders, Old Wardour Castle (London, 2nd ed., 1991), p 19.

Additional Sources:
Laurence Keen, ‘Excavations at Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire’, Wiltshire Archaeoloical Magazine 62 (1967), 67-78.

W. Mark Ormrod, Edward III (2011, paperback 2013).
R.B. Pugh and A.D. Saunders, Old Wardour Castle (London, 1968).
Simon, M.E., 'The Lovells of Titchmarsh. A Late Medieval Baronial Family (1297-148?)', (unpubl. DPhil Thesis, University of York, 1999).

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