The Fairytale Castle

Its name sounds like a setting from “Lord of the Rings” and it looks like it’s from a fairytale.  No wonder Arundel is one of the most impressive castles in the country. Arundel has a history of over 900 years, dating back to the days of the Normans, and it once sheltered Empress Matilda while she was preparing to fight for her right to be the Queen of England.

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The castle itself is mostly Georgian and Victorian, built in the gothic revival style, and earning its final look from not one but two rounds of reconstruction during Victorian times in the 19th century. Arundel was built by Roger Montgomery in the 11th century who became the first earl in the new Norman era. The castle then changed hands and was taken by the crown, at which point it was massively extended. It is hard to imagine, but under the Victorian plaster, you can still find the shell of the old halls that were built by King Henry II in the 12th century. Later, the castle moved to the FitzAlan family who maintained the Earldom of Arundel for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, a great match was created with the Howard family who brought with them the title of the Dukes of Norfolk. ( You are welcome to read about the 4th Duke who was a serial husband in my Arundel castle stories).

The Howards were always considered to be the first non-royal family of power in the country and they had held the prestigious role of the “Earl Marshal” since the days of the first Duke in the 15th century. The family still lives in Arundel castle, which is now the home of the 18th Duke, Edward FitzAlan-Howard. The Howards saw some turbulent times during the 16th-17th century when the tension between the Catholics and Protestants reached its peak and more than one Howard literally lost his head.

Most of the Howards have managed to stay loyal to the “old religion” and at the same time to remain in the top ranks of the peerage. The best example of this unique ability can still be seen in the FitzAlan chapel in the castle grounds. This is the only chapel in the country that is divided between a private Catholic chapel that is used by the family (also as their burial ground with beautiful effigies) and an Anglican chapel that serves the local community. The library in Arundel Castle is still home to one of the largest collection of Catholic books in the country.

During the English civil war, the Duke of Norfolk managed to stay abroad, but the castle was besieged twice. First by the royalists and then later by parliamentarian forces who inflicted great damage and made it uninhabitable. As with many other castles in England, that was supposed to be the end of its history, but the Howards did not let go. They did the same thing as the Berkeley family and sold most of their London real estate to fund the rebuild of the castle.

Works began during the days of the 10th Duke, but most of it was done by the 11th Duke of Norfolk at the end of the 18th century. This duke was known as the “Drunken Duke” and had at least six illegitimate children. He decided to turn the castle into an entertaining ground for the royals and the English elite. One of the reasons he wanted to renovate Arundel was to celebrate the 300 year anniversary of the family’s elevation to dukedom.

The later dukes continued the reconstructions, but they mostly concentrated on the interior of the castle, creating gigantic staterooms which are packed with the FitzAlan-Howard treasures. One of the most dazzling rooms in the castle holds the gold treasures of the family and  amongst these, a golden rosary can be found. This is the rosary that belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. When Mary was arrested by Queen Elizabeth, her servants dyed the rosary black, to make it look like it was nothing special. The trick worked and the rosary remained with Mary. After her death, many of her belongings ended up in the hands of the wealthiest Catholic families in England. The rosary, amongst other belongings, went to the Howards and it stayed with the family for a few decades before an extremely fanatical servant decided to give it a wash. Suddenly, the black colour came off, and the golden beads popped out.

The 15th Duke added another great feature to the castle. He was in charge of building the beautiful Arundel Cathedral that can easily be viewed today from the castle gardens, giving a new meaning to the concept of follies. The job of rebuilding the castle and the cathedral next to it was done to a very high standard and when Queen Victoria visited in 1846, she said that Arundel reminded her of Windsor Castle. Today, the castle is still held privately and is partially associated with HHA (it offers member free entry to the gardens and to the FitzAlan chapel).

For more information: Arundel Castle official website

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The Castle that Lost its Two Stars

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Arundel Castle last July, just before the beginning of the summer break. We knew in advance that exploring it all in a single day would be a challenge, but the combination of its sheer size and the scorching heat during our visit, made us raise a white flag. Exploring the castle, I really loved the fact that there was a clear division between the old castle and the new one. The keep and the Norman gatehouse, along with some rooms in the “old” section, did a great job of telling the stories of The Anarchy and the English civil war.

It was also enjoyable and informative to chat with a guide who could add more information about the early days of the castle. The challenge began in the “new” castle. As always, I was looking for a guided tour: however, there was no such tour offered. This was really quite a surprise as I had considered Arundel Castle to be a member of the “premier league” of castles including Alnwick, Raby and Blenheim. But while the other massive castles were extremely engaging with their visitors and offered more than one type of guided tour, Arundel did not. I later learnt that there are tours available, but not every day, so this is worth checking in advance of a visit.

There were plenty of guides in the rooms and they were extremely knowledgeable, but you really need to know what to ask them to learn about Arundel. In a castle with almost 1,000 years of history, and a family that was at the top of the political sphere for hundreds of years, it is impossible to know precisely the right questions to ask. Here is an example: one of the staterooms had a piece of unique memorabilia related to Mary Queen of Scots – at least that’s what I had read in advance of visiting the castle. I actually passed it twice without identifying it. I could only find it once I had chatted with one of the guides. Without my previous research, I would have probably missed it altogether as it was neither sign-posted or high-lighted properly.

Next, it was time to explore the gardens. I have seen many beautiful gardens since we started “chasing castles”, but what made Arundel Castle Gardens so unique was the amazing and dramatic background of Arundel Cathedral. The grounds also include the FitzAlan chapel, with its unique effigies of the Howards. There are divisions between the private, the Catholic chapel of the Howards and the Anglican church that is used by the parish. What I could not find is any climbing area or dedicated playground for kids, again something every castle in the “premier league” should ideally have.

To sum things up, Arundel Castle is by far one of the most impressive places we have ever visited, but it is a really confusing one. If you read other posts in this blog, you probably know by now that I like to rank castles like the Michelin guide ranks restaurants. On the face of it, you would assume that Arundel therefore would score the perfect three stars, but to be honest, although it could have been a three-star castle, in our opinion, it is not. In fact, it is not even a two star castle when you compare it to places like Castle Howard, which is in a different league altogether. Arundel castle undoubtedly has a rich history and a big wow factor, but the lack of proper tours makes it hard to truly engage with, and appreciate, this. It is also not really a family friendly place and so I would say, that in its current state, it is a one-star castle. Arundel Castle is privately owned and still lived in by the Dukes of Norfolk. Admission to the castle is not cheap, but you can get a discount if you hold an HHA membership (you will also in this case get free entry to the gardens and you are able to upgrade to go inside the castle).

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