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The figures in the keep of Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England, captured the dire straits of the edifice’s Royalist garrison, as they were besieged by their Parliamentary foes during the English Civil War.
In one corner, a musketeer aimed his musket at long-gone potential targets. Behind him, a woman loaded another musket to pass him. In another corner, an officer presumed to be their commander, wrote dispatches requesting aid that never came.
Sick and wounded men on cots moaned in pain, without doubt adding to the unbearable conditions of the keep. Isolated behind enemy lines, the 800 men holding the castle defied their 5,000 besiegers for 17 days, until illness and dwindling supplies forced their surrender on Jan. 6, 1644.
The siege of the castle was one of the highlights of the building and the town of Arundel, which dated to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 under William the Conqueror. Standing over Arundel town and the West Sussex countryside, the castle and nearby Arundel Cathedral made imposing sights for travelers passing through the area.
Time seemed to stand still in Arundel, as the River Arun flowed on its stately path through this quaint town. Cafes, pubs and shops lined its High or Main Street, offering fare ranging from fish and chips and other pub grub, Italian cuisine to scones and homemade fudge.
Yet this peaceful picture of English rusticity belied the grandeur and bloody saga of the Fitzalan-Howard family, who as the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel wielded considerable power and influence in Arundel and the rest of England for 850 years.
A family seat for the ages
Arundel and its castle’s story started in 1068, when William the Conqueror permitted his follower Roger de Montgomery, the first Earl of Arundel, to build the castle after the king rewarded him West Sussex and other counties.
“The oldest feature [of Arundel Castle] is the motte, an artificial mound over 100 feet [30.4 meters] high […] followed by the gatehouse in 1070,” according to the castle’s official website.
The sense of history and heritage increased as one passed through the barbicans or fortified outposts leading to the Norman gate. Like its contemporary Windsor Castle, Arundel Castle was built as a Norman “motte and bailey” castles, in which the keep or bailey is built on top of the motte.
Yet it’s not all about display. One can relive the era by trying on a medieval costume or pose as a knight with a kite shield.
As with Windsor Castle, Arundel Castle is also open to the public. True to their standing as England’s preeminent Duke and Earl, the Fitzalan-Howards engaged in court intrigue worthy of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
“From the 15th to the 17th centuries, the Howards were at the forefront of English history, from the Wars of the Roses, through the Tudor period to the Civil War,” said the castle’s website. "[The Tudor era] were politically dangerous times […] the third Duke of Norfolk only escaped the death penalty because King Henry VIII died the night before the execution."
The ambitious third Duke engineered the marriages of his nieces Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard to the King, events that were depicted in the Showtime series The Tudors. The two were also the most unfortunate of Henry’s six wives, as both were beheaded for treason at the Tower of London.
Walking along the stone halls of the keep, it’s all too easy to imagine Henry charming and cajoling both women to be his queen. One wonders if Anne or Catherine (particularly the latter) willingly gave their consent, hemmed in as they were by their domineering uncle and the infamous monarch. Yet Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard’s grim fates did not lessen the family’s taste for court intrigue. The castle’s website said that “the fourth Duke was beheaded for plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots”.
A glimpse of the main palace from the walls of the keep, along with the ornate design of its courtyard, made them a fitting backdrop for the family’s schemes. Yet his descendant Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel or “The Collector Earl” steered the family away from politics to the arts during the equally tumultuous 17th century that culminated in the siege of Arundel.
His art was the first in a priceless collection that eventually ranged from Greek and Roman marbles to Renaissance, Baroque and Classical paintings by Canaletto, Van Dyck and Gainsborough.
A secret garden
Steps away from the keep await the lush, verdant landscape of the castle gardens.
Known as the Collector Earl’s Garden, the garden gave a glimpse of his neo-classical aesthetics. While British landscape and gardening designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman designed the present garden in 2008, they managed to capture the Earl’s age-old vision of the garden.
Walking among vined, shaded colonnades to the sound of streaming fountains, one can get away from the modern world outside the castle walls. One of the walls evoked a banqueting tradition from the 16th century, namely a duke or earl’s coronet suspended from a fountain. A greenhouse featuring an array of organically grown chilies and other vegetables for the present duke’s table showed the garden is as much form as function.
Arundel Castle’s gardens have also been known for its array of tulips, which numbered over 80,000 flowers. Featuring strains such as the Monte Orange, Foxtrot and Lilac Perfection, they attracted visitors throughout Great Britain and other parts of the world.
A chapel of memories
[...] The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
- Philip Larkin, An Arundel Tomb
British poet Philip Larkin’s observation rang all too true, as the stone effigies of the tombs at the Fitzalan Chapel — and the love between the figures in life — were made to last.
Founded by the fourth Earl of Arundel in 1380, the chapel contained his remains and that of his wife, as well as those of his descendants and their spouses. Staring impassive into empty space, one often wondered how they were in life.
The chapel also provides a glimpse of England’s medieval roots and historic divisions between the Catholic Dukes of Norfolk and the country’s Anglican Protestant majority.
“[The Fitzalan Chapel] is a fine example of Gothic architecture with carved timber roof and choir stalls,” observed the tourist website. “A glass wall now divides the [Fitzalan] Chapel from the [St. Nicholas Anglican] parish church; an unusual, if not unique, anomaly in England.”
No trip to Arundel would be complete without dropping in on Arundel Cathedral.
Both the cathedral and nearby Arundel Castle occupied the high ground overlooking Arundel town and the rest of West Sussex. Despite its medieval splendor of its spire and stained-glass windows, the cathedral was built in more recent times.
“Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, was responsible for the commissioning of [Arundel Cathedral] in December 1868. The architect was Joseph Hansom, known principally for invention of the Hansom Cab, who had designed a variety of Catholic churches, convents and other buildings,” said the cathedral’s website.
Yet the edifice gained cathedral status following the creation of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in 1965. Since 1973, the Cathedral has been dedicated to “Our Lady and St. Philip Howard. This followed the canonization of Philip Howard together with 39 English and Welsh Martyrs of the Reformation on Oct. 25, 1970”.
Otherwise known as the 13th Earl of Arundel, St. Philip Howard was martyred for his faith in 1595. A shrine to his memory was opened in the Cathedral’s North Transept in 1971, after church officials and the Earl’s descendants moved his remains there from the Fitzalan Chapel.
Since its opening, the cathedral attracted visitors with events such as the annual Corpus Christi ritual and the world-famous Carpet of Flowers and various concerts and recitals, among them a Beethoven festival next August to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Whether one goes for Arundel’s castle, its gardens or the cathedral would be a matter of preference. What is for certain is that this small town of wonders is well worth a visit. (kes)
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