I haven’t had a chance to research its date and context, and when I enquired on a recent visit there is no guidebook to the architecture of Powis Castle in print and the Internet offers me no obvious clues. Still, I’m keen to share with you one of the most overt examples of 19th-century Anglo-Saxonism I have witnessed. The northern gate of Powis Castle was augmented with neo-classical facade and balcony, each side bearing a pair of columns between which are niches with statues of historical personages.


The figures in question are not arbitrary, but relate to the early medieval history of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands and asserting English power over it.


To the south of the entrance is the tenth-century West Saxon monarch: King Edgar the Peaceful. He is best known in the region for the legend that he was rowed on the River Dee at Chester by the other kings of Britain as a symbol of his overlordship and their fealty. At the base of the sculpture it states: EDGAR. A:D 973. This was the year of Edgar’s coronation in Bath and soon after which he was rowed on the Dee, making the connection to Edgar’s peaceful overlordship of Britain all the more overt.

Note how Edgar wore late medieval plate armour!


Meanwhile, to the north of the entrance is a sculpture of King Offa of Mercia: a late 8th century ruler, whose monumental dyke (Offa’s Dyke) features running across the western prospect from Powis Castle as it runs from the River Severn at Buttington rising up the slopes of the west-facing hills through Hope and Leighton parishes to Forden and from there into the Vale of Montgomery.

View east from Powis Castle towards Offa’s Dyke

Offa is depicted with an extensive, almost god-like beard, and while his right hand has broken off, his left holds a charter. At the base, is inscribed: OFFA. A:D. 775. Now, I’ll be honest when I say that the significance of the year 775 escapes meat present, but perhaps denotes the time when Offa’s hegemony had expanded over southern and central England.

I’m no doubt there is a more specific story behind these sculptures and the details of their form and positioning. In general terms, however, I suspect both figures connote the pre-Conquest history of the region: order, peace and power, and both connect to the region’s monuments and rivers. Placed side-by-side at the castle’s entrance issues a sound statement about the legitimate root of the Clive family’s aristocratic inheritance, power and prestige over their estate, communicating to neighbours and visitors. While the castle is packed with allusions to Roman imperial pasts and trophies and tokens of the family’s widespread role in British imperial ventures and fantasies, it is notable that it is Saxon kings that frame its northern approach from the deer park and nearby town of Welshpool.

The wider implications should be clear. So often, the early/mid-19th-century origins of Anglo-Saxon history and archaeology are caricatured as a nationalist project. They were not, they were as much about class and the colonial and imperial project. The stories of England’s origins were very much caught up in imperial imaginings about India and the Americas, and the relationship between England and Wales – the conflict between the early Teutons and the ‘Celt’ or ‘Briton’ was central to these narratives. I’ve discussed this elsewhere in print for another aristocratic estate: Audley End in Essex and the archaeology of Richard Cornwallis Neville.