A Day at Dover Castle
I do intend to blog about my Richard III Tour, but I have had to put it off for a while as I fight the Deadline Dragon, who came back again as soon as the galley proofs for A King’s Ransom landed with a resounding thump on my front porch. Before I disappear into the dragon badlands again, I want to put a new blog up, for the current one is probably collecting cyberspace cobwebs by now. So here is the story of my day at Dover Castle.
After the Richard III Tour was over and I’d done what I needed to do for my British publisher in connection with the hardback publication of The Sunne in Splendour on September 12th, I had five whole days for myself. By pure chance, my friend Stephanie Churchill Ling and her husband, Steve, were visiting the UK at the same time and we were able to get together on the weekend before they flew home. On Saturday we went with my friend, Dr John Philipps, to the Globe Theatre in Southwark to see a performance of MacBeth. This Globe is a reconstruction of the original Globe theater in Shakespeare’s time, and it was such a remarkable experience to watch one of Shakespeare’s plays in a sixteenth century theatre. They even had standing room space in front of the stage for the “groundlings.” We were wimps and sat in the sheltered section, having rented cushions to soften the hard wooden benches; John has often been to the Globe and we benefited from his expertise as it was the first visit for Stephanie, Steve, and me. Here is a link to a great website offering the history of the original Globe theatre and a certain playwright from Stratford on Avon. http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm And this site has some striking photos of the new Globe. http://www.londontown.com/LondonInformation/Entertainment/Shakespeares_Globe/8f9c/imagesPage/15462/
On Sunday, John drove us to Dover Castle as I was eager to see the renovations that had been done since my last visit. They have set up interior chambers that look as they would have done in the time of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. This was one of the highpoints of my trip, for we usually have to rely upon our imaginations in order to envision a medieval bedchamber or garderobe or kitchen. At Dover, no imagination needed! I will try to post a few photos with this blog, but we’ve had trouble doing this in the past and I am not sure the problem has been resolved. However, Stephanie found this wonderful virtual tour of Dover Castle, which is almost as good as being there. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/dover-castle/great-tower/virtual-tour/ Be sure to click onto the interactive map on the left side of the page. On certain days, Henry is there to greet visitors, muttering about his troublesome wife and sons; if you click onto the great hall introduction on the interactive map, you’ll get to see a brief video of his grumbling.
I’ve been fortunate enough to pay numerous visits to Dover Castle over the years, and whenever I crossed the Channel from France, I enjoyed watching the white cliffs of Dover come into view. ( I’ve never taken the Chunnel as I am not crazy about tunnels, especially underwater ones.) I am an even bigger fan of Dover Castle now, for I kept thinking that if only I turned around fast enough, I might catch a glimpse of Eleanor’s skirts as she entered the stairwell or see Henry striding across the great hall, bellowing for his hounds and huntsmen, eager to indulge his passion for the hunt.
Castles have atmosphere, at least to me, and they are often claimed by the ghosts of the people who lived in them. At Middleham, I never think of the Kingmaker, only of Richard and Anne during the years when he was the Lord of the North. Kenilworth stirs no echoes of Simon de Montfort, for I think it belongs to Elizabeth Tudor’s great love, Robert Dudley. I can easily envision Edward I at his Conquest Castles in Wales, probably one reason why I much prefer the strongholds of the Welsh princes! When I visit Clifford’s Tower in York, I can think only of the medieval Masada, the tragedy that engulfed the city’s Jews in March, 1191. Fougeres Castle in Brittany puts me in mind of my fictional characters, Justin de Quincy and Durand de Curzon, who were entombed in its underground dungeon.
But Dover Castle never evoked the spirit of the Angevins to me—not until this last visit, looking at it through Henry, Eleanor, and John’s eyes; I don’t sense Richard’s spirit there, am not even sure if he ever visited it during the six months that he spent on English soil. The key to the kingdom, they called this awesome fortress, and getting to see it with friends on a rare sunlit day was about as good as it gets for a woman whose favorite century is the twelfth and whose favorite king is the second Henry to rule England since the Conquest.
November 16, 2013