This is the second installment in our series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. March 1st was St. David’s Day, a celebration of Welshness, and so for the second installment of our Land of Lords preview series, I thought I would discuss the areas we’ll be visiting in the Welsh Marches, the territory along the border of England and Wales: Shrewsbury, Powys Castle, and Ludlow.
First up: Shrewsbury, probably the most Shakespearean-ly famous of the sites we’ll be visiting in this area, thanks to the climactic battle in 1 Henry IV, where King Henry, his sons, and his allies overcome the forces of Harry “Hotspur” Percy.
To-morrow, good Sir Michael, is a day
Wherein the fortune of ten thousand men
Must bide the touch; for, sir, at Shrewsbury,
As I am truly given to understand,
The king with mighty and quick-raised power
Meets with Lord Harry: and, I fear, Sir Michael,
What with the sickness of Northumberland,
Whose power was in the first proportion,
And what with Owen Glendower’s absence thence,
Who with them was a rated sinew too
And comes not in, o’er-ruled by prophecies,
I fear the power of Percy is too weak
To wage an instant trial with the king.
Shakespeare stays reasonably close to the historical story: Henry IV was actually on his way north, ostensibly to support the Percys against the Scots, when he learned of their treachery. Henry swiftly changed directly and managed to reach Shrewsbury before the Percys could capture the town. Owain Glyndwr’s forces did not arrive in time to bolster Percy’s forces, allowing the king to cross the River Severn, cutting off Percy’s line of retreat. (At right, a 1781 imaginative illustration of the Battle from Thomas Pennant’s ‘A tour in Wales’)
Percy did have aid from his uncle Worcester, including some excellent Chesire bowmen who, according to one chronicle, made the king’s men fall “like leaves in autumn”. One arrow struck Henry, Prince of Wales — Shakespeare’s Prince Hal — in the face. He recovered, but was permanently scarred.
As in Shakespeare, Walter Blount was killed by the Earl of Douglas. Hotspur was killed not by Prince Hal in single combat, however, but during the charge, apparently due to an open visor. As Shakespeare depicts at the start of 2 Henry IV, there was some initial confusion about whether Hotspur or Henry IV had died. Had it not been for Hotspur’s death, the rebel forces might have won, as the king’s forces sustained much heavier losses.
The 1403 battle isn’t Shrewsbury’s only claim to frame, however. The town has ancient roots, serving as a capital for pre-Roman Britons and as the outpost of Viroconium for the Roman legions. Anglo-Saxons took over the area and built fortified earthworks in the 9th century; the Welsh tried to take it back in 1069, but were repelled by William the Conqueror. Shrewsbury came to further prominence during the late middle ages thanks to the flourishing wool trade. Today, the town retains its largely unaltered medieval street plan and boasts over 660 historical buildings, including several examples of timber framing from the Tudor era.
From there, we’ll cross the border into Wales itself, to Powis Castle (above), seat of a dynasty of Welsh Princes. It takes its name from the ancient Kingdom of Powys, a territory covering much of current Wales and Shropshire. (We can blame the English for turning that y to an i in the name). Owain Glyndwr, Shakespeare’s Own Glendower, was descended from these princes, and it was on that basis that he rebelled against King Henry IV at the turn of the 15th century.
Glyndwr proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and began his revolt in 1400, taking territory and castles throughout Wales. In 1405, he signed the Tripartite Indenture with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy (Hotspur’s father), an event which Shakespeare places before the Battle of Shrewsbury. Despite this alliance and help from the French, however, the rebellion foundered after 1406.
Owain remained free, a guerilla leader, and was never seen alive after 1412. He is presumed to have died somewhere between 1415 and 1421. However, he was never captured, nor was his body ever found, and so rumors of his survival continued for many years. He has since become something of a Robin hood figure for the Welsh, a noble and legendary hero.
And really, what better legacy could we want for the man whom Shakespeare has claiming:
at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.
We’ll finish the day with tea in Ludlow, a market town in Shropshire that’s about 28 miles south of Shrewsbury, nestled in the bend where the River Corve meets the River Teme. The de Lacy family, who came in with the Normans, began building Ludlow castle in the late 11th century, and the area rose to prominence during the Plantagenets’ various attempts to conquer Wales.
Like the town of York, Ludlow also featured heavily in the Wars of the Roses. The Duke of York (later executed in York) used it as a stronghold early on, but Lancastrian forces captured it in 1459 at the Battle of Ludford Bridge. When Edward IV became king, he set up the Council of Wales and the Marches at Ludlow and sent his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there. The prince was there when his father died, and that is what brings Ludlow into prominence in Shakespeare. In Act Two, scene two of Richard III, Richard and the Duke of Buckingham discuss fetching the prince from that stronghold.
Above, you can see the medieval town of Ludlow as it appears from St. Laurence’s, the parish church. Ludlow remained important in the Tudor period, remaining the headquarters of the Council of Wales and the administrative center for the Welsh territories. It was also where Prince Arthur, son to Henry VII, wed Catherine of Aragon.
So much for Wales! Next week: Hardwick Castle and the tale of Bess, Mary, and Elizabeth.
We do still have room in the trip, so if you enjoy beautiful venues, good company, excellent conversation, and all the history you can shake a stick at, register now!