August has been a hundred kinds of hectic and I haven’t had a moment for any castles or country houses, and also it’s been raining a lot, so I’m reaching back to last summer in this post. The weather was hot and lazy that day, I hid from sunburn under a vintage straw hat, and after the castle we went for a dip at the nearby river swimming club. Castles are usually stern places but Farley Hungerford castle felt soft and sleepy, and I’ve rarely seen a castle in England with such a beautiful garden.
But of course the picturesque ruin, hot sunlight and my grainy camera have romanticised a place with a long and real history. The castle was first built in the fourteenth century by Sir Thomas Hungerford, and then extended by his son, a courtier to Henry V, who made lots of money during the Hundred Years war. Sir Thomas didn’t apply for the proper licence to crenellate from King Richard II and so had to pay for a royal pardon. (That’s not a very interesting fact but I just have so much love for the phrase licence to crenellate – like a James Bond who is really into battlements.)
Some interesting women have lived Farleigh Hungerford – there was Agnes, who was hanged in 1523 for murder. It seems she and two servants killed her first husband and threw his body into the castle ovens, so that she could marry Edward, the current Sir Hungerford and courtier to Henry VIII. Edward’s son Walter, an associate of Thomas Cromwell, locked up his third wife Elizabeth in the castle for several years, and possibly tried to poison her. (He was later executed at Tyburn, charged with employing a traitor, predicting the length of the king’s life and homosexuality – but his treatment of his wife went unpunished.) The tall Lady Tower is named after Elizabeth.
But it was hard to imagine such dark things when Farleigh Hungerford lay dreaming in the sun.