“On the south western border of Wiltshire about half between Salisbury and Shaftesbury and in the parish Tisbury stand the ivy crowned remains of the old castle Wardour.”
The Antiquary, Volumes 3-4 Front Cover.W. Allen, 1873
Old Wardour Castle was built as an impressive fortified home for Lord Lovell in the late 14th Century. But before the end of the century, the family lost possession when the lord lost his head for taking up arms against Henry VII at the battle of Blackheath on the 22nd of June 1497 was beheaded on Tower Hill.
It eventually found its way into the Arundell family and through succession to Sir Thomas Arundell the husband of a sister of Catherine Howard the fifth wife Henry VIII. He too suffered the same fate as Ms. Howard, being beheaded on Tower Hill.
The estates of Wardour were confiscated but when the new owner had little interest in the estate, they again came into the possession of the Arundells having been purchased by Sir Matthew Arundell, who was made a lord. He was used to titles, as in 1595 he been, according to The Antiquary, “made a count of the Holy Roman Empire as a mark of recognition of his gallantry at the siege of Wan in Hungary where serving under the banner of the Emperor Rudolph of Germany he captured the Turkish standard with his own hands.”
This foreign recognition didn’t sit well with Queen Elizabeth, who refused to recognize the honor, saying “there was a close tie of affection between the prince and subject and that as chaste wives should have no glances but for their own spouses so should faithful subjects keep their eyes at home and not gaze upon foreign coronets that she for her part did not care that her sheep should wear a stranger’s mark or dance after the whistle of every foreigner.”
Then came King James who continued the game of castle ping pong and once more granting him lordship. But the game of back and forth continued through a few more generations, with more disastrous results.
By the twentieth century, the Arundell family had died out. With that went one of the more picturesque supernatural occurrences at the castle. It was said that as a member of the family was approaching death, through natural or other causes, white owls would fly about the castle towers.
People still think the castle and castle grounds, as well as the woods adjacent are haunted, though recent evidence lacks the color of the older tales.
Twilight Shadows Paranormal has done at least two investigations of the woods and tunnel there, reporting voices in the tunnel, the sound of stones being thrown, a mist developing inside, an oppressive and disturbing atmosphere.
Old homes, building and castles take on a folklore of their own, sometimes for no other reason than they look the part. Castle Wardour certainly looks the part of the haunted castle, and has all the ingredients one would think would lead to hauntings. I could find no credible modern accounts of any ghosts here, just little more than what could be family traditions or local tales. That doesn’t deny their validity of course. It just requires more imagination.
The most famous ghost at Old Warder Castle is believed to belong to Lady Blanche Arundell, who with only herself, her children, a few maid-servants, and twenty-five men, held out for nine days against 1300 Parliamentary forces of thirteen hundred men and artillery during the British Civil War. It is thought that it is she who has been seen over the centuries, wandering among the ruins, looking down from the tower winder and strolling the grounds by the lake at twilight.
Before her husband hand gone off to war, “he had exacted from his wife a promise that if his castle should be attacked in his absence it should be defended to the тегу last extremity and as will be shown she proved truly worthy of the confidence which her husband had reposed in her resolution and fidelity.”
It was pretty obvious from the start that the castle would fall, it was just a matter of time and how many people died in the process. Old Wardour Castle was built for beauty, more so than defense. As such, it was surrounded on three sides by high ground, which allowed enemy artillery to shoot down into the castle.
The leader of the the Parliamentary forces besieged Lady Blanche to surrender, which she steadfastly refused to. When her waiting maid announced to the Lady that the opposing artillery was in place on the rising land beyond the castle, she jumped into motion.
“The number within the walls was small for our fifty males only twenty five were regularly accustomed to use of arms and had it not been for the assistance by the maid servants who steadily loaded their muskets they would have been exhausted with fatigue and want of sleep before they could have held out long enough to negotiate honourable terms for all.”
“Over and over again were conditions of surrender proffered by Sir Edward Hungerford as these promised quarter to the ladies alone and not to men under arms they were one and all stoutly and rejected by Lady Blanche Arundell and her gallant band of defenders”
The Antiquary, Volumes 3-4 Front Cover.W. Allen, 1873
It’s often thought that Lady Blanch died at the end of the siege, some going as far to say she was abused and tortured. Of course, it makes for a better story except when real people were involved. In reality, so impressed were the attackers by the spirited defense that she did manage to negotiate for the lives of her people.
“That all the men within the castle come forth and yield themselves prisoners unto us who shall all their lives excepting such as have merited otherwise by the laws the kingdom before their coming to this place and such as shall or neglect to come forth unto us.”
“That there shall be care taken said Lady Blanche shall have all things fitting for a person of quality both for her journey and for her abiding until the give further order and the like for the other gentlewomen who all have their wearing apparel That there shall be a true of all the goods which shall be put in safe custody until pleasure of the Parliament be signified therein”
From Memorials of Old Wiltshire, edited by Alice Dryden
The terms of the surrender weren’t completely honored, and she did lose much of her possessions. According to The Antiquary, “No sooner however had they done so than the commanders violated their engagement in every article except those respecting the preservation of lives Not only was the castle plundered of all its valuables but many of costly ornaments and pictures were destroyed and Edward Hungerford and his troops apparently out of revenge and spite laid waste the whole place with a zeal the effects of which are felt down to the present day”
But Lady Blanche Arundell was spared, was locked away in Dorchester for a while. The Antiquary finishes her tale “On the release of Lady Blanche Arundell from captivity she retired to Winchester where she lived in seclusion leading a life of piety and charity and there she ended her days in October 1649 having survived for some six years or more the loss of her husband and the siege of his castle.”
Old Castle Wardour is set in a picturesque landscape of rolling hills, forests and the light at twilight, when we visited can bedazzle. We arrived too late for a tour of the inside, which from all accounts is still impressive, despite its ruined state.
We didn’t arrive too late though, to catch Lady Blanche strolling across the park, which is most often reported at twilight. But the little old lady didn’t show that sunset, leaving us instead with nothing more than a beautiful Wiltshire sunset, against the castle walls, beaten down by time and war.
We weren’t disappointed.