One Woman’s Palace is another Woman’s Hovel


When Guildford Castle started out as a royal residence, the entrance was actually on the first floor to deter attackers – it would also have deterred anyone without a head for heights, I would imagine.

The king’s apartments would initially have been in the keep, where the ground floor had no windows for the same safety precautions.

English: S Knights, my pic, Oct 2007

The king’s chamber would have been on the first floor, where a wardrobe or closet with a latrine would have been installed. A chapel would have also been located on the first floor, showing the king got his priorities right: don’t let any marauding hordes disturb you when you’re

a)      busy praying

b)      busy reading the latest news from Portsmouth Harbour and Canterbury comics while testing your latrine

Ninth of Henry Holiday's original ilustrations...

Ninth of Henry Holiday’s original ilustrations to “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the second floor, touchingly and perhaps tellingly, there was a two-seater latrine, which would have tested anyone’s head for heights – the second floor brings the keep to just over 21 metres / 70 feet in height.

English: Guildford castle gardens

There were no fancy wall paintings, the chambers were just covered in plaster and white-washed. The roof would have been made from lead. Just as well it doesn’t rain as much in Guildford as it does here in Wales – the noise on a lead roof would have been deafening!

Eleanor of Castile, queen consort of Edward I ...

Eleanor of Castile, queen consort of Edward I of England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Henry III took on the castle in the 13th century, he ordered a number of improvements which included large new windows for my lady’s chamber, so the Queen could see what the Guildford burghers were getting up to (perhaps she was just as keen to keep up with the latest developments on the bowling green). Henry also had two marble columns added to the Queen’s apartments, probably so she slam his head against them and ask him for a larger clothing allowance.

The Great Hall also got a make-over and was furnished with paintings and coloured glass windows. Sadly, the hall was damaged during a fire in 1245. The king’s own apartments were painted green with twinkling gold and silver stars and he ordered a garden to be created that was surrounded by more marble columns.

Henry also asked for more rooms to be built in the Tunsgate area, which were for his daughter-in-law Eleanor of Castile and also housed his queen’s knights.

The year 1245 also saw Henry III buy another parcel of land along Quarry Street to enlarge the bailey, where a number of rooms were built for Edward, son and heir to the throne.

The mind boggles – perhaps Edward played his fanfare too loudly at dawn and was sent off like any other medieval child-pain-in-the-butt?

The seven-year-old Edward moved into his new chambers the following year – which puts a whole new spin on “children should be seen and not heard”. In this case, given the distance between Quarry Street and the Keep, young Edward would have needed a fanfare, drum kit and electric guitar to make himself heard.

മലയാളം: Guildford castle - UK

Actually, Edward’s private chambers seem to have done his self-esteem the world of good. During Simon de Montfort’s rebellion there was no fighting at Guildford, but Edward captured rebel Adam Gurdon in single combat action at nearby Alton and returned him to the keep at Guildford.

Rumour has it that Eleanor of Castile, Edward’s wife, took pity on the rebel and pleaded for his life. The man was spared and became allegedly a loyal servant during Edward’s reign.

When all the improvements were completed, Guildford Castle had acquired the description of “palace”, although by Queen Elizabeth II’s standards the castle-cum-palace would be more of a hovel.

A lady used to Windsor Castle, Balmoral, Buckingham Palace and all the other royal hang-outs would probably scoff at Henry’s idea of comfort and sophistication. What Queen Liz would make of the two-seater toilet perched 70 feet up in the air is anyone’s guess!

Naturally, my reasons for including Guildford Castle in this series are not just springing from nostalgia. The castle grounds contain one of my favourite gardens, thanks to the charming Alice in Wonderland statue that stands there, in close proximity to the house once occupied by Reverend Charles Dodgson…aka Lewis Carroll, one of the world’s most beloved children’s writers.

Guildford Castle may not be up to Queen Liz’ standards, but I couldn’t help imaging whenever I sat in the gardens that any queenly person sourced from Lewis Carroll’s imagination would have wholeheartedly approved of this pocket-sized castle with palace pretensions.

English: "Alice through the Looking Glass...

English: “Alice through the Looking Glass”, Guildford. Statue in Guildford Castle grounds based on the Alice character in Lewis Carroll books. Lewis Carroll lived nearby in The Chestnuts, Guildford and is buried in the borough too, in The Mount cemetery. In the background is Guildford Castle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the Grunters of this world, who started me off on my castle fixation: Off with their heads, she cries!

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