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Another Day, Another Castle

Updated: Aug 15

We had another Castle adventure in Reading. Well, not in Reading, but from Reading.

It was a bit of a drive, but we were motivated. We went to Arundel Castle to see a jousting tournament. The advertisement said it was not a “staged” tournament (with paid actors and all—kind of like you might find in Las Vegas). Oh no! This was the real thing.

As the promotion declared, “Arundel’s Jousting Week [yes, it was on for an entire week] is the longest jousting tournament of its kind in the world and one of the most prestigious. Four international teams [England, France, Poland, Norway] will compete in the grounds of Arundel Castle in the pursuit of glory.”

They described how “Competitors will ride towards each other, lances at the ready. As they pass each other, they attempt to prove their dexterity by hitting their adversary on their plate armour—aiming for the shield for maximum points.” Actually, the goal was to shatter their lance on their opponent’s shield.

During the event, we learned a lot about their armor, heraldry, horses, strategies, and intricate rules behind the event. (It would have been fun to attend the entire week!)

Watch a video of an actual joust here (it’s all of nine seconds long): https://youtu.be/QZEIthz3u-4

The lady announcer was a spectacle of anachronism. Garbed in period dress, she was the emcee and judge for the event, broadcasting with a small over-the-ear microphone you can barely make out against her face. This alone was curiously enthralling.

Behind us, however, the castle beckoned. We could not resist its allure!

Arundel is a well-preserved Norman castle with a keep, gatehouse, Barbican, and curtain wall, combined with a large Victorian country house. It was founded on Christmas Day in 1067 when William the Conqueror, having successfully invaded England and won the throne, held his first Christmas Court at Gloucester. Arundel Castle well embodies much of English history.

I will, however, spare you all of the “begats” of the family tree and their myriad exploits (which are numerous!).

We headed directly for the outer ramparts of the castle, enjoying those until the guides opened the doors into the main rooms.

Built around 1070, the 4 storeys high Gatehouse Tower is the oldest part of the castle.

At the top of the tower, Robin was given a lesson in medieval music instruments from a musically versatile lass. She explained how the melodies were written to accompany the drone pipe, so all were essentially in the same key with little variation between them.

She demonstrated three different medieval instruments for him, and you can sample those melodies with this playlist (3:34 combined length): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCV3SRcFRFJ7dy8rblf8J-AsJffSOQTbL

At last it was time to enter the main part of the castle.

Now Arundel, like many of the castles we have recently toured, has a noble family still in residence (the Duke of Norfolk). What was different about Arundel was that we got to see parts of the castle where the family still inhabits the building—not the private bedrooms of the owners or anything, but still used guest bedrooms, lavish dining room, sitting rooms, and library were all on public view—although many were roped off so they could not be entered. But we could peer in aplenty!

I was awed by this enormous grand reception hall (called the Barons’ Hall), where the family still hosts its annual Christmas party. At 133 feet long and 50 feet high, it is breathtaking, not to mention filled with many impressive artifacts.

Robin was fascinated by the child’s coaster that was stashed in one of the corners.

Decorated with painted panels, the Rococo German sleigh he covets is dated to an 18th century origin.

The family has their own private chapel (which is larger than some of the full-service churches we’ve visited!) made of Purbeck marble. All of the current Duke of Norfolk’s children were baptized here.

When it was built, the chapel drew inspiration from examples like Lincoln Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and the stained glass was modeled after the glass at Canterbury Cathedral.

I’m pretty sure I spotted misericords down below, but not a prayer I was going to see them up close.

Speaking of chapels, the dining room (not shown) occupies the shell of a medieval chapel, and was converted into a dining room around 1795. We also passed through two elegant drawing rooms, both small and large, that were delightfully inviting. (Oh, to curl up in there with a book!)

Later on, we ambled through the bedroom that was remodeled especially for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1846.

Ironically, after all the effort they poured into making it luxurious for her, she never actually slept here.

The final room we passed through inside the castle was a magnificent library, said to be one of the most important Gothic rooms of the 1800s in the country. It is 122 feet long, entirely fitted out in carved Honduras mahogany, and was designed to look as if it were a church.

The library collection comprises over 10,000 books, many of them priceless antiques.

The luxurious, red upholstered furniture was also provided for Queen Victoria's visit in 1846.

We exited the castle (okay, we visited the gift shop first) and then headed off to a separate elaborate structure in the garden, which was the Fitzalan Chapel.

The chapel was founded in 1380 as a Collegiate chapel, and in the later Middle Ages it became a notable center of music with a fine choir. During the reign of Henry VIII, the college was dissolved; the chapel and other buildings were returned to the family and have been their private property ever since.

The chapel was damaged during the English Civil War and suffered thereafter from neglect. It was restored in stages in the course of the nineteenth century.

Amongst the many fine Caen stone effigies, it even had a large selection of misericords, and the guide allowed me to jump the rope and photograph all of their marvelous carvings!

The chapel is still used as the burial place of the Dukes of Norfolk and masses are said here every year for their souls.

This is me saying goodbye from the beautiful Fitzalan garden of Arundel Castle.

We spent so much time touring the castle that we never got back to the jousting tournament to see more matches… and we didn’t have time for the falconry exhibition or even a chance to walk around and browse the various booths selling Renaissance Faire kind of merchandise. Waaaahhh!

I would have loved to linger longer, but we had to hustle and get back home to Gucci. We left her alone for about six hours, and she was pretty distressed about being left all alone by the time we returned.

Heck, she gets distressed if we leave her alone for 30 minutes! She is an extremely sociable dog, and I get the impression she thinks she’s been a bad dog or is being punished whenever she's left alone, so we try to do that as rarely as possible.

Here’s Robin trying to make it up to her with some play fighting:

To see her doing her silly thing, check out the video I shot of her teasing Robin (1:20): https://youtu.be/3xdjGgMajNQ

I was planning to tell you more about my birthday trip to Cornwall on this go-round, but I’ll save that for another time—I need to get my Polish presentation together, and time is dangerously short. So I’ll save the rest of our Cornwall saga for another time.

You will survive somehow.

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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