We’re a little late this month, but in these strange times, I’m hoping you’ll forgive me! This month, we’re heading to the north of England, to the mighty Alnwick Castle, in the town of, yes, Alnwick…
I appreciate that for the younger generation, Alnwick Castle will now forever be known as one of the sets of the Harry Potter films, but for me, if we’re talking about sets, then it has to be for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or, going back even further, the wonderful Blackadder, both of which were filmed in and around the castle. Going back even further, my favourite ‘version’ of Lord Darnley in a film was also filmed there – in Mary, Queen of Scots. That favourite being Timothy Dalton, of course.
That’s the modern side of the castle though – when it comes to actual history, then truth is far, far more interesting than fiction. For example, why one of the religious books of Anne Boleyn found its way into the castle’s archives? Henry VIII was not the first man to fall for the charms of Ms Boleyn. Henry Percy, the 6th Earl of Northumberland, fell for Anne in the early 1520s, and they actually became engaged during Percy’s time working in the household of Thomas Wolsey, but this was absolutely not the marriage his father, the Earl had in mind for him (that lady being Mary Talbot, a far more worthy heiress!). The young man was told off for his actions before the whole of Wolsey’s household, and the couple were ordered to break off their engagement, with Henry marrying Mary, as planned by their fathers, and Anne of course marrying the king, although at the time, it’s not considered that Henry had a part in breaking up the engagement due to his personal interest in Anne. Unsurprisingly, Henry Percy and Mary Talbot did not have a happy marriage, and he died in 1537, but not before being sent Anne’s manuscript, which remains in the archives to this day.
Now for some factoids… Second to Windsor Castle (see, I have a plan here!), Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in England, being the home of the Dukes of Northumberland down the centuries (and Earls of Northumberland before that), a title still held by the Percy family.
Another interesting fact that I didn’t realise until a couple of years ago, was that one of the gunpowder plot gang was a Percy! Thomas Percy, a cousin of the Earl of the time, was killed whilst fleeing capture during the plot, and the 9th Earl himself was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a result. When I was writing Kindred Spirits: York, I was very excited to feature Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, one of the most famous of the Percy family, and I decided to throw poor Thomas into the mix as well, just to see how they would be getting on, all these years later…
One of these days, I would love to write about Hotspur going back and spending a lot more time in the town which has recently erected a statue in his honour, especially as that will involve going back and visiting this magnificent place.
Have you visited? What stood out for you? I’d love to hear!