Yesterday I visited Montgomery Castle and yet again I was struck by a beautifully conserved Cadw-managed ruin in a striking location above the small Powys town with amazing views north, east and south. The castle itself is a early 13th-century construction of Hubert de Burgh. Replacing the earlier Norman castle at Hen Domen (on private land), Montgomery Castle was built initially in timber and its core replaced in stone.
This striking castle was paired with the oldest royal borough in Wales (1227). Regarded as a key gateway in and out of Wales, its strategic position led to it being attacked by Llywelyn ab Iorweth twice (1228 and 1231). It also saw action in 1267 for the treaty between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and the English king Henry III. While the town was burned by Glyndwr’s forces in 1402, the castle was successfully defended.
I didn’t get to visit Hen Domen or the town museum (which was closed), but I did enjoy exploring the ruins’ innards and perambulating its outards (or whatever the opposite of innards is). I also (would you believe it), noticed some particular Archaeodeath delicacies.
This is a juicy one for Cadw, a rare instance where the precise spot of a death, possibly a murder, gets its own heritage board. And of course the victim is a woman. Apparently on 1 Jan 1288 a widow called Maud Vras was killed at the gatehouse to the inner ward by a rock that fell on her head. She had been there to reclaim a saucepan lent to William of St Albans, the assistant constable of the castle. 9 years later an inquest was held and William was believed when he claimed he accidentally dropped the rock on her head when his new cloak dislodged it at the moment the widow passed below. Men killing women ‘by accident’? The jury believed him. Of course that would never happen today…
Civil War Death
Close to the castle to the north, between Montgomery and the bridge over the River Camlad, the Battle of Montgomery was found in 18 Sept 1644, resulting in the deaths of thousands. There is a heritage board at the far north of the castle overlooking the battle site. There is a strange and special subcategory of heritage boards dedicated to the English Civil War and they are particularly odd. This one was erected by the Cromwell Association. They always depict rather random maps that tell you next to nothing but give an impression of military accuracy, plus portraits of ugly elongated-faced toffs with long hair and beards who were the warmongers who wasted thousands of Welsh and English lives in a fight over precious little. There, that sums up the early 17th century for you.
Modern Military Death
I noticed one memorial bench and it was in a key position in relation to the castle. Following a pattern I have identified elsewhere, this memorial bench enjoyed a view, was prominently positioned, but was set apart from the main circuitous route below the inner ward. This gives it a discrete private sense of place even within a fully public and open location. See comparable examples at Criccieth Castle discussed here. Interestingly, the memorial bench flags up the deceased’s military credentials; apposite perhaps for the location.
Then there is the gazebo – with a ‘2009’ date in concrete within its floor. It already looks worse for wear after 6 years in the Welsh weather…