Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Anarchy - Castles Tour '13

No, it's not a reference to a punk group on tour. My wife and I are doing the tourist thing. We visited three of the medieval castles here in Norfolk and Suffolk - Orford, Castle Acre and Castle Rising.

All three were built during or just before the civil war (rather erroneously known as The Anarchy) which followed the death by shipwreck of Prince William, son of Henry I and heir to the English throne. The war lasted the eighteen years from 1135-1153, and involved English, Scottish, Welsh and French armies, as well as Flemish settlers and powerful knights and barons. 

Some of the latter two turned marauder, bringing terror to the surrounding countryside, especially the area bordering the Fen country of East Anglia. Peasant, lord and Church were not spared from looting and burning. The war ended with a compromise that saw Henry II become king - the first of the Plantagenet line that ended with Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485. Many aspects of the war remind me of the Very British Civil War - although the VBCW is far more civilized in comparison! 

Orford Castle on the Suffolk coast is perhaps the best preserved of the three we visited. Built in the 1170's by King Henry II, it was designed to guard the developing port of Orford, and to keep a watchful eye on Hugh Bigod, the powerful Earl of Norfolk. The Earl owned extensive holdings nearby in the shape of four castles, and he had already caused problems for Henry. He once said to the Earl of Norfolk "By God, Bigod - If I had two men like you in my Kingdom, I'd hang one as a warning to the other!"  

The designer of Orford is unknown, but he seems to have been a very astute chap who put a lot of forethought into his plans. It's adequately provided with fresh water supplies, kitchens, living accommodation, chapel - and garderobes! The castle is unique in the shape of the keep, which is cylindrical, within a polygonal outer shell, and has three turrets. 

The castle was owned by the Crown for two hundred years before passing into private hands. It had a circuit wall, which, like many a castle across the country, once it fell out of use became a source of ready-cut stone and other building material. The last remaining part of the wall collapsed on 4th July, 1841 with a crash that woke the entire village. Extensive earthworks remain, and a program of archaeology is gradually piecing together the shape of the defenses. In World War Two, the tower keep served as the platform for a radar mast, and a concrete roof was built to support this. I don't think many other 900 year old structures have served their country for so long or so well.

Castle Acre in the north-west of Norfolk was built by William de Warrenne, Earl of Surrey, to guard his own interests in the area. It has a well-preserved motte and outer earthworks, and fairly substantial keep walls. The defensive position is a good one, with excellent views all round. During The Anarchy the defenses were enhanced, but as far as I know it wasn't seriously threatened.  

Castle Rising isn't really a castle at all, more of a fortified and highly decorated hunting lodge. When we arrived I looked at the surrounding terrain and thought "This isn't the right location for a castle." The motte is high and steep, and commands excellent views of the approaches to the north and east. South and west, it's dominated by higher ground. A besieging force would've been able to set up their artillery there and drop whatever they liked into bailey and keep, without the defenders being able to do much about it.

As it happens, the castle never had to suffer a siege. It was built by William d'Albini as a country house from the first, and it later became the dowager house for the mother of Edward III following the assassination of Edward II. His eldest son, the Black Prince, used it as a hunting lodge. It passed to the Duke of Norfolk, and a branch of the family owns it today. 
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So, all this exposure to the era of The Anarchy has had a result - I'm now tempted to develop a wargames army of the period. Luckily my recent trawling through my lead pile turned up a batch of 15mm figures ideal for the period! Using the basing system in Impetus rules, I think I have enough for a moderate-size army, or perhaps two.

These are Minifigs, acquired second-hand for free in the late 80's and left untouched since. A bunch of them were already painted in what appears to be enamel. Some I think I can live with - after giving them a touch-up. Others, like the mounted knight on the right, should really be stripped and repainted. If anyone can suggest a method of doing so, it'll be appreciated.  

Minfigs are something of an acquired taste due to the lack of animation in the figures - although I'm not refusing a freebie here. My first metal wargames figures came from the company back in 1978, so I have a touch of nostalgia for them too. The poses in this collection are what you see in the photos. I have three knights on foot, two types mounted, two kinds of archer, a crossbowman, and sergeants on foot with spear and falchion. In the fullness of time I'll add command elements and perhaps a few more poses to give units a more irregular appearance.

I've not forgotten the Colonial era, but I'm likely to be busy for the next few weeks before we head back to America. 


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Minifigs are a bit of a marmite figure.. you either love them or hate them! :o) I love them, and have many happy memories of going to the factory shop in Southampton...

A J said...

I agree, Steve, they are an acquired taste. My first Minifigs were 25mm Napoleonic Austrians. I still have them, and they look rather poor compared to the excellent figures around today. I won't sell them, though, as they've literally been through fire and flood. =)


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