Saturday, June 5, 2010

Winding Through Warwick

By Chuck

Today is Warwick day: We arrived at our camping site at the Racecourse and immediately began walking and winding our way up the hill into Warwick to see Warwick Castle, England’s finest medieval example.

Warwick Castle

It took a while for me to realize that this is the castle that the future Richard III grew up in under the tutelage of The Kingmaker, Richard Neville, The 16th Earl of Warwick (1428-1471). He was the wealthiest and most powerful English peer of his age, with political connections that went beyond the country's borders. He was one of the main protagonists in the Wars of the Roses. For an interestingly different take on Richard III, and his relationship with The Kingmaker, read The Sunne in Splendour.

Warwick Castle

Victorian Boat House

There were two highlights that stand out for me: The trebuchet demonstration and the Flight Of The Eagles performance. As a child I first learned about catapults and similar devices from books; I was fascinated. As demonstrated, it had a counterbalance load of 5 tons, but was capable of carrying 10 tons—a larger counterbalance could carry a heavier projectile farther. Sometimes, they were used after the advent of cannons to drop things over castle walls—dead (diseased or rotten) animals, live captives or flaming bombs—anything to shorten the siege of a fortified castle. It was armed by audience volunteers walking in two “rat wheels” in order to raise the ballast arm of the machine; this was an improvement over having to bring along bulls for the task in older models of the weapon.

A number of years ago I saw a program on NPR that described the building of a modern trebuchet in order to see how they work. The model they developed had wheels; I (and many others) had always assumed that the wheels were for moving the device into position; but, it turns out that the wheels actually served to displace the forces generated by the machine so that it rocked on its wheels, rather than shaking apart from the vibration. This device at Warwick, the largest in existence, had no wheels.


The moment I saw the American Bald Eagle fly toward the arena, I remembered sister Penny describe how thrilled she was when she saw her first falconry demonstration. It was like that for us. Several of the birds, including both Archie and Merlin, had wingspans of six feet! It was interesting to find out that not all birds of prey are alike—some like to fly and hunt and some like to sit and look until they find and pounce. We were surprised to find that Archie is 12 years old and his son, Merlin, is 18 months; the reason that the son is not piebald is because he is a juvenile; with age, his head and tail feathers will turn white.



The castle had a wonderful display of armour and weapons, as well as some lovely tapestry and room furnishings. Queen Anne’s bed and travel trunk was in one bed chamber and the entire room was redone for her; but, she cancelled and never used the room; years after, a later monarch gave the castle owner permission to keep the items.

Madame Tussaud Figure in Warwick Castle

There were a number of suits of armour on display. One was child-sized; this is rare, as children grow quickly and these suits are expensive. Sadly, this child did not live long enough to enjoy a man-sized suit of armour—but, he died of natural causes, I’m sure.

Small Suit of Armour

Mounted Armour For Horse And Knight

There was a fighting demonstration and jousting tournament that was a real crowd pleaser. It was somewhat hokey in that the villains imported to take on the good guys were Tamerlane, Genghis Khan and other time-travelers. When I was in graduate school in Maryland I was delighted to find that jousting was the state sport; but, the target was a two-inch ring, not a live person. The fiery ring was used for part of this exhibition; today, the bad guys were more adept.


Knight representing the House of Lancaster

The Earl of Warwick

The Warwick Warriors was a combat show that combined fighting and a demonstration of period weapons, with explanations of what was real and what was “Hollywood.” For example, metal shields were a fiction from this period; if a heavy metal weapon hit your metal shield, your arm would be numb and you would be a relatively useless warrior—your shield would be wooden with a leather cover. The mace was a good weapon for braining your opponent; besides, ecclesiastics were forbidden to use weapons with sharp edges; so they often used the mace when they went to war. Knights using the one- or two-handed broadswords would not try to clink blade on blade; that would destroy the weapon; they would, rather, aim for the opponent’s body.

Claire’s foot is still badly swollen; so, she returned to Homer early, missing the Warwick Warriors and the climb up and down 532 steep castle steps. Our favorite travelers, Scott & Cheryl, said this was their favorite European castle; I can see why! Not only is the state of preservation outstanding, there is plenty to do and to engage children of all ages, provided that you can tolerate a touristy environment.

Some of the child (and adult) attractions were the warm up acts for various demonstrations: Story tellers, maids in costume, juggler and fire eater. Sometimes the audience was directly involved: One boy was throwing stuffed "rats" through the city gate to illustrate a story.

Colourful Characters at Warwick Castle

Peacock—these birds were used as watchfowl in some countries in days of yore; their screech is quite loud.

Have fun storming the castle! ~ The Princess Bride


Elisabetta said...

Horses, eagles & peacocks ~ oh my!

The man + animals working in harmony really made the experience come alive, even if it was mostly about killing things!

All your Germany/British photos are so sharp & vibrant. Did you switch cameras since the winter? Cheers! E*

Chuck and Claire said...

Haven't changed the camera. I think it just depends on how bright the day is. Gray days make the photos look pretty dull and washed out. My little pocket size canon has worked out really well overall. Thanks.