In 1086, according to the Domesday Book, William de Gaulois held the Manor and Rape of Marchemont cum Fenton super Marsh. Previously, we know, Hringlaf the Dane had ceded it to one of King Harold's huscarls, named Tigti Yellowbeard, after Earl Tostig's defeat at Stamford Bridge in 1066. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions in passing that after short "glaednes ond myrgth" Tigti lost land and life, and perished along with Thrunt, Hruntig, and Thiggismund, who resisted with him the encroachments of William the Conqueror and his local deputy de Gaulois. There is a small 'cave' in a rock in the middle of the marsh, which was a hermitage a century later (and occasionally used by outlaws and gypsies afterwards even in modern times), that is still called Tigg's Hole, presumably a hide-out for this man, who was apparently a local hero for quite a number of years after his death; it is appx. 700 yards NE of the castle.
William de Gaulois, in addition to erecting a motte-and-bailey castle in the town of Fenton, refortified an older fastness in the swamp -- for which he became known as William de Marchemont (AS Sumpfenbyrg, later Simbury, as distaff members of the family came to be called). From that time until just recently there have been Marshmounts living in this area, a period of over 800 years.
William's son Robert, Abbot of Fenton Abbey, which was founded by St. Aegthigus in 622, died in 1142 by command of King Stephen (who for once found agreement with his wife Matilda on a political matter -- Robert was definitely no saint, until he was appointed to the post posthumously!) His body disappeared from the Tower of London on April 30 and was discovered on the high altar of Fenton Abbey on May 1, nearly a hundred miles from the city. This miracle was attested to by all 27 monks of the abbey. The abbey soon became a popular place of pilgrimage in the Wotshire region. To lie for an hour and six minutes (eleven turns of the 6-minute hourglass provided for a fee, representing the duration of the Abbot's death agonies at the hands of the royal torturer) in one of the 45 niches provided in Robert's shrine -- was reputed to bring about miraculous rejuvenations. The monks prospered enormously. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries Henry Marchemount removed "St. Bob's Bones" to the castle and converted one of the crypts into a bedroom. A stone coffin said to be Henry Marchemont's bed is to be found in one of the extant rooms in the castle underneath the chapel. [This was a form of pious meditation, not a sign of vampirism as was later rumoured.]
Robert's nephew Richard, taking the name of Marchemont, married Icktheow, Tigti's (or perhaps Thiggismund's) grand-daughter.* From this union sprang the Marshmount family, descending uninterrupted down to 1913, when Guichardo Marshmount, last of the line, disappeared on Safari in his 93rd year. Their successors for eight generations were all called Richard. The ninth was named Henry (born slightly after King Richard II had been murdered at Berkeley Castle--our Richard VIII had by some accounts** been there at the time); the next eight Marchemonts were called Henry, and thereafter, sometimes by design, sometimes by accident, the use of the same Christian name for every group of eight heirs was established. This has been the cause of some confusion and superstition. The tragedy of Guichardo the First is related in part to his senile delusions about the legend of St. Bob's Bones.***
Richard de Marchemont I refurbished and crenellated his grandfather's castle; this was probably a simple timber palisade and 'long house', for no traces whatever of the buildings remain. The Sump Stone, a basinlike rock in the center of the courtyard, is traditionally regarded as an importation of Richard's from the ancient stone circle at Fenton Grange. Legend would have it that the Sump Stone was once a Druidic font for the collection of human sacrificial blood; in Medieval times it was used as a horse trough.
Richard de Marchemont II was apparently a man of little wit. His wife died (in childbirth) when he was fifteen, and he spent the last 63 of his years in mourning. The local ballad of Poor Little Richie Boy is based on this simple and touching story.
Puir, puir little Richie boyMendelssohn is recorded to have said on his visit to Fenton in 1840: "I find myself unable to put such a theme to music." [Fensterwacht]
Richard de Marchemont III, however, was a successful and notorious Crusader, builder and lord of the infamous castle Ka-abdul al Qusul near Acre, where the captive Sheikh Aleigh Mohammed and his 200 followers, guested in the banqueting hall, were Christened and baptised in Welsh (which they did not understand) by Richard's Cymric chaplain and then sent to their reward with poisoned Malmsey as their communion wine. The third Richard is responsible for the construction of the first stone castle of Marshmount circa 1210, including the Old Hall within the walls, and the curtain wall itself.
He was a man of some ambition. In 1214 he deserted the baronial faction to support King John; the king, however, concluded that Richard later betrayed him with the criminous blackmail at Runnymede. He laid siege to the castle -- despite the pressure of other matters -- on his way to the Wash, and owing to the desertion of Richard's followers soon overran the fortress. Richard, alone on the walls, the king below in the courtyard, and with his eyes flicking between the one and the open road, is said to have cried out: "My castle for your horse!" This, nearly 400 years before Shakespeare. You will find it in the inscription over the bar at the Fen and Fancy in Fenton. (This public house was built in 1870, but the basis for the quotation is well-founded in local legend.*) Richard died after 10 days buried to the neck in the quicksand of the moat, of a surfeit of leeches.
His son Richard IV promptly raised a revolt in Wotshire, terrorizing the Fenton Hundred with his army of twenty serfs. The insurrection was finally suppressed by the Sheriff of Wotshire and the Marchemont properties temporarily divided between the deputies Ralph de Wimberbury and Gervase Goutland. Before long Goutland slew de Wimberbury, and was in turn slain by Richard -- then back in favour -- who was in his turn -- out of favour again -- disinherited in the name of his uncle, Sir Guy, and forced into exile in Sicily. Sir Guy was ward to Richard's son Richard, fifth of that name. Something nasty happened to Sir Guy, but what it was is lost in the mists of time.
[Note: This gets really fun now. Go have a drink first. --G.S.]
During the Barons' Wars with Henry III, Richard V took advantage of the confusion surrounding the mysterious death of his grand-uncle to seize the castle from the latter's son-in-law Gerard de Wimberbury. As Richard de Marchemont the fifth happened to be on the winning side at the end of the war -- not that he had been consistently on one side during it, mind you -- Phillip a Broile, the king's bailiff, permitted Richard to remain in possession of the lands provided he married Isabel d'Imfield, the niece of his brother-in-law Bishop Fosfrim of Wochester; Isabel was dowerless, but Richard's uncle Percy had married Matilda Shortstocking, whose father William was the uncle of Richard, third Earl of Complingate, and whose maternal great-uncle was Henry Parsifal, second cousin to the grand-nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor. The king's bailiff was the cousin of Simon de Montfort's brother's wife, who at the death of her husband had married the son of that same Austrian nephew and pledged her third son to the bailiff's arch-rival Matthew Farendon's daughter Joan (later Lady Gwalchmai of Skockholm Island, Pembrokeshire, whose son-in-law's daughter gave birth out of wedlock to Llwydd ap Maenclochog, erstwhile pretender to the native princedom of Nant-y-Gof Bwlch -- HIS descendent rescued Henry Tudor in childhood from a bog, was rewarded later with the title of Baron, and sired the line that was eventually linked by marriage to the Marshmounts in 1850). Bishop Fosfrim's uncle was David le Mons, cardinal, ex-marcher lord of County Durban, Earl of Capetown, and cousin to the Pope. At this time the gatehouse of the castle was partially rebuilt (reddish patches visible on the southeast walls, and new windows). Later in his life Richard built the sumptuous New Hall (and the so-called Keep, which was really a luxurious, for the times, set of apartments, and now sadly ruinous).
Richard VI was a retiring sort of man who spent most of his life in the castle with his wife and 19 children--all of whom were sons. Through the ironic hand of Dame Fortune, he lost all of them in random events of battle, murder, disease, and accident. A large tomb in the parish church of St. Aegthigus contains the bodies (or parts thereof) of all 19 of his sons, whose standing effigies -- in reduced bas-relief -- surround and uphold the stone figure of himself. The Latin inscriptions, or the translations provided in the church guidebook, should satisfy those with an eye for more detail. Of more interest is the fate of Richard VII: In 1321 he and his brothers Simon, Hugh, and Peter were executed for conspiring -- inexplicably, one must admit -- with Robert the Bruce of Scotland. The Sheriff of Wochester captured Richard by a ruse, and Lord Chief Justice Scrope himself tried and condemned him. He was hanged, drawn and quartered, his innards burned, his head spiked on the city gate (Berwick-upon-Tweed), and his quarters exhibited in London, York, Canterbury, and Fenton-on-the-Marsh. [He is still enumerated among the Richards, even though he never inherited.]
At the age of sixty, Richard VI abandoned his castle and peaceful ways and became a mercenary for the Emperor in Constantinople. Richard VIII (son of the traitor) succeeded to the manor at the age of two, abandoned his wife at the age of six, and lived the rest of his life with his five female cousins -- for which he was excommunicated (though with three cousins in the Privy Council he was never prosecuted). He died in 1400, leaving no legitimate heirs. But he was given feudal rights in Farnish and Almondsey islands (a remittance?).
The lands passed to one of the aforementioned Privy Councillors, one Henry de Marchemont, grandson of Richard VI's son Henry who perished at the Battle of Stirling. Henry's father Henry had lived in Westminster (one must apologise for all these Henrys, but can be grateful that there were no more Richards), and his other children remained in Court and played prominent and complex roles during the Wars of the Roses. In 1450 the Marchemont family numbered fifty-seven. By 1485 there was only one survivor, not counting two dozen widows. The survivor, by a curious coincidence, was a Henry VII, seventh Marchemont heir of that name. His son Henry Marchemont VIII (the "de" was dropped at that time) returned to the abandoned castle after 20 years of family presence in the Royal Court; the neglected castle had become partly ruinous. Major improvements were done at this time, although because of its remote location it never became a showcase like Kenilworth.
Henry VIII, oddly enough, never married, his attempts at Court to obtain a consort, his subsequent attempts to obtain an heir at any cost, being constant target both to Court wits and to common charletans. A scatalogical version of "Greensleeves" (unfortunately no longer extant) lampooning these events was often sung at Hampton Court, according to Aubrey. At his death in 1561, the castle passed to his sister Jane, an ardent Roman Catholic and a spinster, who lived piously and alone in the room that contains St. Bob's Bones (also known as the 'Jane' as late as the reign of Edward VII), until her death at the stake in 1622.
In the early 17th century, a man named Tom Marshmount, merchant in the Shambles at Fenton-in-the-Marsh and a descendant of one of the sons of Richard VI, was made a baronet by King James I for services rendered to that monarch. Tom, who called himself Thomas Marshmount the First, had made a fortune in beef-bully provisions for the Royal Navy, and in other naval enterprises. Although he lost a goodly amount of it later in an attempt to substitute cannabis crops for tobacco in the growingly profitable plantations of Virginia, he kept his credit in the court of the king, and was indeed one of the first to bring a witch to book under the fashionable new emphasis on witch persecution. Jane Marchemont was his first victim -- after whose death he took possession of the castle and estates. He dismantled most of the domestic buildings inside the walls to furnish his new manor house just outside Fenton and plundered the dressed stone for new tenants' cottages and cattle pounds.* However, the strong rubble-and-mortar curtain walls of Richard de Marchemont III were to remain too durable for even the ferocity of warfare and the depredations of peaceful enterprise to vanquish.
Glory came to Marshmount Castle during the Civil War, when it suffered the second and most violent siege in its history. Defended by the formidable widow of Tom Marshmount -- a staunch medievalist after the death of her more entrepreneurally inclined husband -- and by her son Sir Thomas Marshmount II and by a handful of Royalists, the castle held out against the local might of Parliament from March 3, 1643, to December 25, 1647. On Christmas Eve of that last year a regiment of Cromwell's "castle-busters" reduced two sides of the fortress to rubble between Matins and Evensong. Marshmount Castle rose again from the ashes, but never again was it to participate in such momentous events.
The Restoration and Eighteenth-Century history of Marshmount Castle is pretty much uneventful, as it was to large extent abandoned to fall into a seedy decripitude, if not total ruin. It was re-inhabited during the Regency period, but that is another subject....
Note on the present state of the ruins
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