The Siege of Raglan Castle, Claire Whittle, 1985

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THE SIEGE OF RAGLAN CASTLE I am Simon Kent and I am a musket bearer in Raglan Castle. A quarrel between the King and Parliament over who should govern the country, led to a Civil War. In 1642, on August 22nd, the war started. By 1645 Raglan Castle was the main castle of the few strongholds which were still holding out against the Roundheads and defending themselves in the King’s name.

I was informed one day that a daring attempt to steal our horses in the night had been made by men sent by Sir Trevor Willliams.. Luckily, something aroused the sentry, probably the whinnying of frightened horses, and he and some other men attacked them. The attempt failed and three men could have been killed and more wounded.

I also have the honour of reporting to the Marquis from time to time. It was I who had to report the raid to the Marquis. I knocked on the door and the noise echoed around me and faded away. I heard the Marquis’s voice saying, “Enter.” I opened the door, took a deep breath and went in.

“My lord, I am here to report a grave matter. Our horses were almost stolen last night.

“Well,” said the Marquis - his usual face was jolly, but it was now troubled. “Well, these Roundheads are getting more adventurous. I shall have to think about this. Tell me, who do you think sent these men?”

“I was informed, my lord that it was the tyrant Sir Trevor Williams. That man would like our castle to fall more than anything in the world.” “My lord, three Roundhead men were killed.” I said.

“Tell me, as a matter of interest, how it happened.”

“Well, the men crept up to the field and, probably thinking we were asleep, did not seem cautious. This, however, startled the horses and they may have trampled one of the men. Anyway, the sentry was alarmed by this and gave the warning. Guards rushed to the scene to put up a fight and three men could have been killed. “

“Thank you, that will be all.” said the Marquis. I went out. The very next day I learnt that seventy horses had been stolen. The Marquis was horrified and ordered the village houses to be burnt down so that they would not provide shelter for the Roundheads again.

Up on the battlements I could see the whole thing happening. A party of our foot soldiers had burning torches in their hands. The villagers were shaking angry fists at them, and women and children were crying. At a word from the leader the soldiers set the houses alight. As the sun went down the houses blazed in the sunset. The Marquis gave orders to offer them a place in the castle and a sum of money as compensation. Some did not want to stay in the castle so took the money and left.

We are quite confident that we can withstand a siege however long it will last. We have many weapons and food and we are stocking up even more. There are hunting parties going out every day and we have had a very big powder magazine transferred from Caerleon. We have eight hundred fighting men in the castle. I am one of them. Eight hundred men who can’t wait to get their revenge on the Roundheads.

Then one thousand five hundred men came with Sir Trevor Williams. After the siege I learnt that Oxford had surrendered, and that was why Colonel Morgan came to join the siege with three thousand five hundred men, bringing the total to five thousand.

The sight of these men arriving was quite fantastic. My mate John Tuddle said “We are definitely going to have a long siege.” With Colonel Morgan came a man called Captain Hooper. He was to lead mining operations. I learnt later that he was Parliament’s most skilled engineer.

At this time the siege began in earnest. My companions were falling dead or wounded around me. My companion was aiming at a Roundhead officer, but to do this he had to put himself in danger of the Roundhead musketbearers. He aimed and was just about to pull the trigger when he gave a shriek of wild pain, for a musket ball had hit him in the chest. He was gasping for breath when I ran over to him and he said, between gasps, “Tell my wife not to be too upset.” and died.

So the days went by. The Roundheads were putting up a long and fierce siege. It was a most bloodthirsty siege. Dead bodies lay rotting all around my place on the battlements and the smell was almost unbearable. The centre of the attack was a part of our beautiful open court, which is between the towers of the Library and the kitchen. Many people including Roundheads were killed by falling stones.

One day I was in the kitchen talking to my friend Sarah Secombe when she said to me, “I was taking some food to the Marquis when a musketball glanced off a marble pillar and hit the Marquis on the head. He was in the drawing room at the time and he said “Those who had mind to flatter me told me in my younger days that I had a good head, but I must have an even better head in my old age or else it would not be musketproof.”

The Marquis was now a troubled man, plagued by bad news. Colonel Morgan during this time repeatedly asked him to surrender. The Marquis was also informed by him that Sir Thomas Fairfax had finished the fighting in England, and was marching steadily onwards to Raglan with large amounts of heavy and dangerous weapons. But the Marquis refused to give in although the castle was falling around him as the Roundheads battered it down.

The Marquis wished to send a messenger to the King to ask his opinion of the situation. But this was not allowed. Now this bloodthirsty horrible siege had been going on through June and July when one day Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived.

It was a distressing sight although I hardly had time to watch it. I heard he was camped at Cefn Tilla. For ten days he corresponded with the old Marquis. The castle, meanwhile, was really being battered.

I could see from my place on the battlements, Sit Thomas Fairfax commanding the siege almost every day. I could see Captain Harper setting trenches from the big towering battlements.

Then I learnt a grave thing on the 17th August. I learnt that Articles of Truce had been signed at Cefn Tilla and two days later the Marquis surrendered. At the news all the Roundheads gave a cheer and threw their helmets in the air. The noise echoed around the battlements and walls of the castle and died out.

We marched out of our brave castle on the same day. The Marquis was taken prisoner in his own battered castle which had stood on gallantly against the Roundheads. But the garrison was allowed to go free. I was pleased by this but reluctant to leave the Marquis to his fate.

At noon we got ready with all our weapons to leave. We marched out with “drums beating, colours flying, trumpets sounding, matches lighted at both ends, bullets in our mouths and every soldier with twelve charges, powder matches, bullets, and we were allowed to go anywhere within ten miles of the castle.” It was a truly wonderful sight, although very sad, for we did not want to leave our beautiful castle. The fall of our castle now meant almost the end of the Civil War. The Parliamentarians celebrated this sad day with a day of thanksgiving.

The poor old Marquis of Worcester was taken prisoner to London, where he was lodged with Black Rod who was an official of Parliament. Then he was moved again to Windsor. I also learnt that he had thrown himself on the “mercy of Parliament”, but had failed to come to terms with them. Just before he died he looked around and said “Oh well, I can see I shall inhabit a better castle when I am dead, than when I was alive.” He died on the 18th December 1646 at the age of sixty nine. He had had a very good sense of humour and I miss him a lot. I went to a cousin of mine and decided to settle as a small farmer. But I went back to Raglan to see the castle. There were lots of people watching something. I went up to one of them “what’s going on” I asked.

Well, he said “I understand that Fairfax is knocking it down even more. Because it took so long to fall he doesn’t want anyone to live there and put up a fight again.”

“What is happening to the furniture” I asked.

“You are very lucky” he said .” “I asked someone that very question just a moment ago. Well, all the really valuable things are being taken up to London. The rest were sold in the courtyard or looted – I had a couple of things myself.”

The lead from the roof was taken down and sold for six thousand pounds. I heard some carved stones were taken to be used on a cowshed or for a farmhouse and other outbuildings.”

“You don’t by any chance know what has happened to the library do you?” I asked.

“It was destroyed.”

“What a pity, it was once of the best libraries in Europe. People came from all over Europe to see the lovely books and Welsh manuscripts.” With this, I turned and walked away leaving the beautiful castle, where I had once lived.

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