1: Castle Gatehouse


Is the Gatehouse , as we see it today, an early example of English Renaissance architecture? When one approaches the Gatehouse from the High Street, the general atmosphere is certainly Mediaeval. On closer inspection however, one can find the date 16_ _, a Tudor entrance arch, cruciform windows and a 17th cent. shell Grotto, all suggesting a somewhat later date. But then one expects ancient historic buildings to have been modified over time.


Research suggests that the original entry to the castle was made from the SW in the vicinity of its chapel. The comparatively great width of the Gatehouse passage certainly does not support the hypothesis that this structure is an early Mediaeval defensive gatehouse. Possibly however the base of one of the gatehouse towers ( S E ) is of ancient date and formed part of the original stone defensive curtain.


At a time when the grandeur of a country residence became more important than its military defence, perhaps this was when the present gatehouse began to take on its current form? A likely date may be when Henry, the future second earl of Cumberland, married Eleanor Brandon, a niece of King Henry the Eighth, in 1536. Surely a new grand entrance would be necessary to prepare one for the fabulous new Tudor wing built to honour this event? But this does not explain the later architectural features exhibited by the present structure.


A very likely explanation may be found in the interests of Henry, the fifth earl of Cumberland (1591- 1643 ). He was an amateur architect and poet and probably read Sir Henry Wooton’s ‘Elements of Architecture’ based on a study of Vitruvius and Palladio. He may also have been aware of the works of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, Northhampton who designed Lyvedon (1605), a building which included a frieze displaying sentences from the Vulgate- an intellectual curiosity inspired by the new humanism.


Whilst Henry did not accede to the earldom until 1641, two years before his death, he was in virtual control of the estate from 1620 onwards and had the opportunity to ‘modernise’ the Gatehouse in line with current architectural thinking. To support this theory we should take note of the following- if we examine closely the exterior masonry of the central large ‘Desormais’ room we find a frieze, after the example of Sir Thomas Tresham in 1605, displaying a quotation, inspired by Horace and written in Latin, which translated says ‘The merit of George is more lasting than marble and higher than the kingly structure of the pyramids. Neither the devouring rain nor a countless series of years and the flight of time can destroy it.’


The George referred to is undoubtedly Henry’s uncle, who, amongst his many attributes, was a sailor of note, going on several foreign expeditions. It is highly likely that the shells used in creating the Grotto and the plaster frieze within the Desormais room were collected on these expeditions.


The shell Grotto is thought to have been created in 1626 about the same time as that to be found at Woburn Abbey. The use of the family motto, ‘Desormais’ as a pierced parapet to both the South and North facades of the central Desormais room, is of a style used at the turn of the 17th century in houses of note. e.g. Hardwick Hall. Finally the coat of arms over the entrance arch is that of Henry, the fifth earl of Cumberland.


Some sources suggest that Lady Anne Clifford’s restoration of the castle, after the Civil War, includes the upper parts of the Gatehouse. She appeared to revere the memory of her father, George, the third earl, which could explain the quotation on the frieze and this appears at a higher level than the coat of arms of Earl Henry. It could also explain the use of the shells collected during the expeditions of George. The Grotto however appears to have been constructed in1626 when Henry was running the estate.


I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to who was responsible for what, but I think that there is little doubt that there are Renaissance influences here.


Barry Rawson, October 2013