Monday, 23 April 2012

Taunton Castle and the Bloody Assizes

A-Z Challenge 2012 - T
Taunton Castle

Back in Anglo-Saxon times, c 710 AD, King Ine of Wessex “timbered him a burgh” at Taunton in what is now the south west county of Somerset. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle related that Ethelburga, his consort, destroyed it 12 years later when recapturing it from rebels.

A minster and a manor house built by the Bishops of Wessex were later to occupy the site before the minster became an Augustinian Priory in c 1120. Henry de Blois transformed the manor house into a mighty castle in 1138 during the Civil War in the reign of King Stephen.

Walls of Taunton Castle - 2009
In the first half of the 12th century Taunton was a typical Norman keep, 50 feet by 40, with three stories and 13 feet thick walls. Now it is more Edwardian than Norman in appearance.

The outer ward of the castle has been invaded by two hotels, but the great gate-house opening into this enclosure dates from the time of Edward I (1272-1307. The inner ward is ‘triangular in shape with the Great Hall on the north side.

Inevitably the castle has a reputation of being haunted, the Great Hall of the castle especially. Somerset has many traditions and legends relating back to the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Somerset people suffered at the hands of the authorities after the failed uprising. Taunton Castle was the scene for some of the trails of the Bloody Assizes.

The rebellion was led by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter. After the death of his father in 1685 Monmouth tried to win the throne from his uncle James II. Having captured Taunton his followers took up residence in the Castle where he was proclaimed King. His supporters celebrated at the castle with wine and dancing. Their high spirits were to be short lived.

In the early morning of 6 July 1685, Monmouth’s army was crushed at the Battle of Sedgemoor. ON 15 July James Scott was beheaded in London. The King sent the infamous Hanging Judge Jeffries west to dole out savage retribution.

Excalibur and Taunton Castle Gate - 2009
It was in Taunton Castle’s Great Hall that Jeffries condemned 200 of Monmouth’s followers to the gallows, with many more sold into slavery. The women who had taken part in the dancing were flogged.

The museum, now occupying the Great Hall is said to echo to the marching feet of soldiers bringing prisoners to trial. A man in period dress and wig, carrying a sword and pistol has been seen. In addition to poltergeist activity the ghost of a fair-haired woman in 17th century costume also appears in the castle.

Castle Hotel guests often hear the soothing strains of a phantom violin or fiddle which are said to be sounds of the Duke of Monmouth and his followers continuing to celebrate a ‘victory’ for which they were unknowingly to suffer Jeffries bloody justice.

Hilary Melton-Butcher’s chose ‘my castle’ in Kent on Saturday - Scotney Castle

·        Walls of Taunton Castle 2009; by Ken Grainger; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
·        Excalibur and Taunton Castle Gate 2009; by Ken Grainger; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
·        Images from Geograph project collection


David Robinson said...

Shows how much notice I take, Bob. I;ve been to and past Taunton scores of times, and I never realised it had a castle :(

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bob .. like DW I've been past Taunton and Okehampton hundreds of times and never take time out to visit - might do so now. Could even stay in the hotel and see if I hear the phantom fiddle .. or marching feet ... it's had a troubled history.

Glad we are yet again different .. same part of the world though! The west country ..

Cheers Hilary

Luanne G. Smith said...

I don't think you can walk into a castle in England without running into a ghost. And thirteen foot thick walls? That's incredible. That thing should be standing for another thousand years.

Robyn Campbell said...

Flogged! Yikes! This castle is positively ghostly. This one goes on the list for my castle tour, Bob. I just hope I get to hear the phantom fiddle.

L. D. said...

What a great piece of history. Good and bad I suppose. It is a fine building.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

One of my goals in life is to one day visit a Castle. I don't know if it will happen, but I'm still dreaming! Wonderful post.

Julie Flanders said...

What an interesting history, and I love the phantom fiddle music now, so eerie. Just catching up on your castle series and I love it, looking forward to the res of your A-Z entries.