Matter of Epic or Romance: Comparing Castles in the UK and Latvia

On Easter Monday, me and my husband visited Ynys Mon, or Anglesey as the Saesneg call it, on a pilgrimage.
The goal of our pilgrimage was the sacred well at which St. Seiriol, a Welsh 6-th century royal hermit once lived. Later the place became a local centre of worship, with two Celtic crosses; the crosses are still there, presently placed inside the later church building, though originally they would have stood in the open. In the twelfth century, the Celtic monastery became reorganised as a Norman Augustinian monastery. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the place into the hands of a local family, who built a dovecot and a deer park next to the priory and the church buildings. In the eighteenth century, some enthusiasts of the Celtic revival added a brick structure over the well at which side St. Seiriol would have lived. The Penmon priory is thus a palimpsest, reflecting the history of the British Isles. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, next to the sea and the straits, over which the spirit of St. Seiriol seems to reside even to this day.
Meanwhile, I was going to talk not about the priory but about a less impressive and probably lesser known, but equally enticing and palimpsestic place, Aberlleiniog Castle. Originally, it would have been a motte and bailey structure, from which the Normans would have ruled over the Celtic barbarians. Naturally, the Normans with their castle would have been a thorn in the Welsh flesh, so an enterprising and warlike Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Cynan, conquered and burned it in 1094.
In the sixteenth century, a little fortress was erected on the motte, the property of Lord Thomas Cheadle. If the  medieval history of the place is the epic stuff, then the early modern phase is the stuff of romance. The castle was known as Lady Cheadle’s Castle; in turn, Ann, Lady Cheadle, before becoming Lady Cheadle, was wife of Lord Cheadle’s servant,  Sir Richard Bulkeley. There were rumours that Lord Cheadle and the future Lady Ann held rendez-vous at the castle. Then Sir Richard mysteriously died, and suspicion naturally fell on Sir Richard’s widow and the Lord Thomas. They were, however, acquitted and went on to marry.
Centuries passed, and the castle became a walled garden, and one of its towers was turned into a bower, acquiring a slated roof and probably benches and table for placing a tea tray or a book… It seems to have been the lot of many English fortresses, and they must have made truly picturesque gardens. The harsh twentieth century found the castle on the point of collapse, and it became restored in the twenty-first century with the funding of the Welsh heritage organisations.
So another version of history is incarnated in the castle’s not-so-ancient walls… It stands among woodland, which in spring looks particularly lavish. Looking at the castle history, one would think it can yield material for at least two novels, corresponding to two stages in its history – the epic and the romance.
The castle also teaches another lesson, that of how historical monuments can be managed if we want history to stay not only on book pages but also around us. In this days of abstraction and virtual reality (which sounds rather ironic, coming as it does from the computer screen) it is comforting to be able to put together what we are told about history with what we can see around us. Moreover, restoration works have the practical advantages for the study of history. First, they draw attention to the very fact that history is alive around us, and that we can and should be in touch with our heritage. Second, the process of restoration itself can yield findings that, potentially, may lead to reassess previously held assumptions about history.
Looking back at my own country, Latvia, I think that we do not lack places that, potentially, can be turned into places that in its attraction would at least equal the castle. Some such places are sadly neglected, and I was thinking particularly of the site at which the White Stag Hunt (first stage of the Interactive Quest Project) will take place. The Daugmale site once boasted a motte and bailey castle, strategically overlooking the Daugava; left of it is a picturesquely dented hill with a board in front recording the meagre archaeological works which once took place there. Little seems to be known about the castle’s early history, and it seems to me that the sight would definitely merit closer study, both in historical sources, such as chronicles, and archaeologically. And since we are speaking about restoration, it would not be so bad if something resembling the original fortress could be erected on top of the hill, even though purists would characterize this as following in the footsteps of Romantic Revival rather than implementing the more academically sound practices of the recent restoration. On the other hand, if one can make restoration on paper, like the following drawing on display at History Museum in Riga, why not implement it on the ground?
On the whole, I find there is remarkably little available on the Daugmale site on the web, and the available information is mostly in Latvian. So one of my next posts will probably deal with the Daugmale site in more details.
I will be very grateful if you express comments or suggestions, feedback or criticism on anything in the post.
Further photos from our ‘Anglesey pilgrimage’ are available here.
The following links may be prove of interest:
For more on Penmon priory and St. Seiriol, see
Wales Directory, for information on the priory and its church;
the Ochlophobist blog, for an icon of St. Seiriol and his friend from Anglesey St. Cybi;
the Early British Kingdoms, for a short vita of St. Seiriol, which I somehow prefer to the Wikipedia entry;
the Castle of Wales website, which hosts two photographs of the well and a note on its history.
Aberlleiniog Castle has its official website, but three further links may be of interest:
Anglesey Information website contains a short account of the castle history and its attractions;
Wales Online contains an article on the castle restoration and some information on the castle post-medieval history, which to date is not available on the official website; and
Antiquarian’s Attic, again, contains a post on the castle restoration.
Finally, I have found two useful links on the Daugmale site, both, unfortunately, in Latvian
Zudusi Latvija is a project hosted by the National Library of Latvia, and it contains a photo and an entry on the place; and
A list of castles that hold museum collections in Latvia: see the entry ‘Museums’ on the Latvia page of Ménestrel website.

About thegrailquest

Anastasija Ropa holds a doctoral degree from Bangor University (North Wales), for a study in medieval and modern Arthurian literature. She has published a number of articles on medieval and modern Arthurian literature, focusing on its historical and artistic aspects. She is currently employed as guest lecturer at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education. Anastasija’s most recent research explores medieval equestrianism in English and French literary art and literature, and she is also engaged as part-time volunteer horse-trainer. In a nutshell: Lecturer at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education Graduate of the School of English, University of Wales, Bangor. Graduate of the University of Latvia Passionate about history, particularly the Middle Ages A horse-lover and horse-owner
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2 Responses to Matter of Epic or Romance: Comparing Castles in the UK and Latvia

  1. Pingback: Hillforts in Latvia | thegrailquest

  2. Reblogged this on thegrailquest and commented:

    As all my attention is given to an article about medieval hillforts and stone castles in Latvia which I am currently preparing, I could not but glance back to my early musings on Daugmale hillfort – and a castle in Bangor, which I once visited in very romantic circumstances


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