Thursday 22 July 2010

Gruesome tales at Berkeley Castle

Recorded for: BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Saturday Breakfast Show

Berkeley Castle from the gardens
The other day I took a group of tourists to Berkeley in Gloucestershire to look around the oldest inhabited castle in the country. I was taking a guided coach tour around the South Cotswolds. The weather was absolutely glorious and, as we travelled down the Cotswold escarpment towards the castle, we enjoyed glorious views across to The Forest of Dean with landmark -May Hill and its distinctive top knot trees, clearly visible in the distance. We could make out the River Severn as it made its way out to the estuary.

The solid stone castle we were to visit guards the Severn estuary. Generations of the Berkeley family have lived there for over 850 year. In Medieval times they were noble knights who kept and trained a private army to fight for their king when needed.

When we arrived at Berkeley castle we were warmly welcomed and shown into the inner courtyard, which is completely surrounded by fortified buildings. The oldest part, the Keep dates back to 1117.

It was in the very first room of the Keep that we heard the gruesome story of how King Edward II met his early death. We looked down into a dungeon dropping 28 feet below us. This was where some prisoners were kept, but King Edward probably had more comfortable quarters in a small cell in the corner of the room. Legend has it that the king was held down in his cell, and a red hot poker inserted so that it went deep into his bowels, until his internal burns killed him. It is said that Edward’s screams were heard for miles around - hardly a good idea for those wanting to claim, as they did, that Edward had died a natural death. In actual fact, he was probably smothered, but why let a good story get in the way of the truth? Edward was killed on the orders of his wife Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer a very powerful and ambitious Marcher Lord who wanted to rule England.

Berkeley castle was involved in the Civil War in the 1640's when it endured a three-day siege and was captured by Parliamentary forces. A breach was made in the walling of the Keep which is still there today. In fact, the owners are forbidden by law even now to repair the damage!

The 14th century Great Hall with its lofty ceiling is typical for a medieval castle. It was where everyone who lived in the castle met and ate their meals. Pages and servants waited on table. Entertainment was a major feature of life in a medieval castle with music, dancing, jugglers, jesters, plays and masques.

We enjoyed our guided tour through all the state rooms, hearing about the Berkeley family through the centuries.

Outside, we enjoyed strolling around the well kept gardens before we got on the coach and headed back to Gloucester.

For a group guided coach tour to include Berkeley Castle contact

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