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" Als we descended the hill towards Rochester
, how solemn the appearance of the Castle, with its square ghastly walls, and their hollow eyes rising over the right bank of the Medway, grey and massive and floorless-nothing remaining but the shell !” Such was the memorandum of her visit to this scene, left by the author of the Mysteries of Udolpho, as she descended Strood Hill, and gazed upon the magnificent ruin to which this portion of our work is to be directed. Viewed from this point-the hill above named the Castle appears to great advantage. Soaring in lofty pre-eminence over the surrounding buildings, and even the Cathedral, it conveys to the spectator's mind a deep impression of what it must have been in the palmy days of chivalry, when mailed warriors lined its ramparts, when joust and tourney aniniated its courts, and banners floated from its towers. condition it bears that resemblance to its former self which a skeleton bears to
In its present
the living body. The framework is there, but the life is filed,—the light is extinguished; and in the full glare of day, like the wreck of mortality, it assumes only a more melancholy aspect. But still, the interest connected with this landmark of antiquity is increased, rather than diminished, by contemplation. Fancy repeoples its courts, rebuilds its towers, restores its original order and dimensions, till we enjoy the picture which imagination thus embodies, and seem for the time, as if we were transported into romantic ages and took a part in those historic scenes of which its walls were once the theatre. one of those loop-holes and unlatticed casements, we seem to discern the warlike forms that once animated the building, and hurled defiance on the assailants. We hear the sound of revelry in the hall, the clang of arms in the " bayle, and the rattle of the portcullis as it drops from the lofty archway, and fastens its iron teeth in the pavement.--But we need not proceed with
a picture which so vividly presents itself to every imaginative pilgrim who halts on the bridge of Rochester, and surveys the vast and venerable pile which here crowns the adjoining bank, and takes undivided possession of the scene.
Rochester Castle is beyond doubt one of the most complete Norman strongholds that the slow waste of centuries and the ravages of war have left in our island; and, in its noble style and elegant proportions, offers one of the best examples extant of that class of domestic fortresses by which the early barons rendered themselves so formidable to the crown.
The castles or
stone-built fortresses of England, previously to the Conquest, were few and inconsiderable. Those of Roman foundation had fallen into ruin; and although the great Alfred had strengthened the frontier and more assailable points of the country with fifty or more of these towers of defence, they had not been kept up with the same vigilance by his successors; and to this deficiency of national bulwarks may be attributed the speedy reduction of England to the Norman yoke.
FEUDAL CASTLES-BARONIAL WARS.
At the period in question, the castles and places of strength in general* appear to have been constructed principally of wood: in proof of which, the only mechanical implement which the vassal was required to bring with him in aid of the work, was a hatchet. Aware of their great importance in securing the fruits of conquest, the Norman ruler immediately adopted the policy of the Roman, and began to measure the duration of his power by the number and strength of his castles. In process of time the great martial tenants of the crown followed his example, and, by erecting places of strength in the various provinces assigned to them as the spoils of conquest, secured to themselves and their families the newly-acquired domain. At the close of Stephen's reign, the number of these domestic strongholds appears to have amounted to eleven hundred; a fact which led to the most deplorable consequences. Contempt of allegiance, family feuds, mutual acts of violence and outrage—a state of society which admitted no superior, respected no law but that of force, and accepted no arbitrator but the sword—were daily opposed to the right administration of affairs.f Such, however, was the prelude to happier times, when the castles-after having been for a season the strongholds of lawless domination—were transformed at last into temples and sanctuaries for the regeneration of native freedom. It was in the recesses of those embattled walls that the rights of the people were at length asserted, that their wrongs were redressed, and that the sword of despotism was transformed into a sceptre of
peace. It was by the masters of those castles that the bloodless victory of Runnymede was achieved, and freedom established on a permanent basis.
The continual struggle, however, in which these generous efforts involved the early barons, had for a time its full portion of evil as well as good. It distracted society, fostered suspicion and distrust in the people, awakened presonal animosities among the nobles, and occasioned disunion among those who had but one great object in view, that of securing and consolidating under one legitimate head the interests of all. But the unwearied vigilance, prudence, and personal intrepidity which were necessary to carry forward those labours to a successful crisis, had the happy effect of bringing into full play the noblest qualities of the human mind, and were the certain forerunners of that political wisdom and military prowess which in every subsequent reign have distinctly marked all our great national events.
But to return to the subject before us—we may observe that at the period of the Conquest the security of the new dynasty depended as much upon
the faithful attachment of its great vassals in time of peace, as the late victory
# M. de Caumont. † Jean de Culmien, in his “Détails sur l’Architecture des Forteresses," has left us a vivid picture of this
wretched state of society; for which see " France Monumentale," vol. iii., following Note.