Whittington Castle resides on a 12-acre property in the village of Whittington, in the district of North Shropshire, in the county of Shropshire in England. It abuts the A495 (Castle Street) and is easily noticed by visitors, providing one is not using any kind of a GPS device to find the castle. For some reason, unknown to me, our Garmin (in September of 2016) began ingesting a variety of “Alternate Facts.” It would take the truth and spin us off the B5009 and away from the castle. It set us adrift in the fields to the west of Whittington and offered us the Whittington Senior Citizens Hall as a castle. I was close to giving up but decided to fight through the frustration that comes with being fed misinformation. It is a skill that now serves me well in America in 2017.
The castle is owned and managed by the Whittington Castle Preservation Fund on a 99-year lease dating from 2002. The trust recently completed a £1.5 million renovation project. It really is a comfortable castle and site to explore. This is not one of those huge fortresses like Ludlow or Caernarfon. It is more typical of the various smaller ‘castles’ that dotted the countryside every ten to fifteen miles along the English border with Wales. It is what one historian has described as a manor house that became a fort. The system of forts was well conceived by the Normans. Each fort was an easy days ride to the next fort and garrisons of cavalry and foot soldiers could respond effectively to a Welsh attack on another fort. This system of log palisade fortresses was used 650 years later in our ancestors settlement of Kentucky.
Photos of the present day castle (2016)
The Gateway, moat and remnants of the wall. The wall and moat continue to the left of this scene and the property includes the gardens of Fulk’s wife, Maud le Vavasour, who took great pride in a state of the art project. In the distance, to the right in this photo is the original Inn and Tavern of Fulk fitz Warin.
Standing along the moat and walls of her ancestral home, Betty acted quickly in laying claim to the castle and grounds for her clan in northwestern Illinois. Without hesitation she shouted “I call dibs on this!” as she stepped onto the property. No one paid attention. She added, “With a little paint we can have this place ready for a good card game!”
William Lloyd undertook the restoration of the Whittington gatehouse in about 1808, renting it out as a farmhouse, or ‘letting it’ as a Brit would say. The gatehouse continued to be occupied as a home until the 1990s. The Lloyd family name does appear in the annals of Whittington history in the mid 16th Century as a Jenkin Lloyd married Dorothea Walters, sister of Maria Walters. Maria is a many times great grandmother in the Littleton/Whittington Family tree that leads to the present Whitington clan hunkered down in the hills of northwestern Illinois. I have no idea if William Lloyd (c.1808) is a distant cousin of any kind and I doubt that he is still alive to share his keys to the castle with us.
Maria Walters is however available for visitation at the St. Lawrence Cathedral in Ludlow. This great grandmother passed away some 500 years ago, but her friends and family built a substantial sarcophagus for her and hubby, Grampa Edward Littleton, to sort of keep her image in front of worshippers. I personally advised her not to come out of there any time soon.
Note: For those of you who wish to don armor and skewer your drinking buddies I point you toward the annual Historia Normannis re-enactment of battles that have become popular at Whittington Castle. This event is not for sissies. I would personally stay away from the weekend when they reenact the sacking of the castle in which the defenders were massacred.
The village and Whittington Castle lies on the English side of Offa’s Dyke, which was the Norman boundary between England and Wales. The castle was originally a motte-and-bailey structure, which means it basically began as a wooden palisade surrounding a wooden tower, comparable to something Daniel Boone and my great uncle Bailey Smith constructed in the Kentucky wilderness in the 1700s. They basically cut down trees, turned the trees into logs, buried the butt end of the tree in the ground and propped one log up next to another until they had a fort. This wood was replaced in the 13th century by a fortress of stone and mortar with buildings around a courtyard whose exterior wall was the curtain wall of the inner bailey. Apparently they learned that stone does not burn as readily as wood.
In 2003, a historical and archaeological investigation by Peter Brown and Peter King located the remains of what had been two elaborate gardens surrounded by water in the 14th century. This discovery was significant in that it proved the advanced state of English gardening habits. The “lavish” garden was installed by one of the FitzWarin family. The FitzWarins are many times great grandparents in the Whittington family tree and they descend as a clan in the family tree for 500 years or more of the previous millenia.
The orginal manor house of Josce de Dinan was fortified as a castle for William Peverel, in 1138, in support of Empress Matilda (the daughter of Henry I) against King Stephen (nephew of King Henry I and claimant to the throne) during The Anarchy. In the late 1140s, the lordship of Whittington, like Oswestry and Overton ceased to be part of England and became part of in the Kingdom of Powys and then became a Welsh marcher lordship. All of the people mentioned in this paragraph are great grandparents in the Whittington lineage. Using information found in our family pedigree:
William Peverel is a 25th great grandfather; as is Josce de Dinan. King Henry I is a 24th ggf, Empress Matilda a 23rd great grandmother and King Stephen? Well Stephen only qualifies as a great uncle by way of his marriage to Adelia, daughter of William the Conqueror. All of these characters were, by the way, hanging around the family dinner table at The Conqueror’s feast. Some of them were bastard children like William Peverel, others were legit, all were engaged in war when they weren’t engaged in reproductive activities. The most ferocious of the warriors was the Empress Matilda herself. After her daddy died (Henry I) she was going to make sure the kingdom passed through the hands of her son. She waged war against King Steve for 20 years and her son eventually came out the winner, twenty years later!
In 1165, Matilda’s son (Henry II) conferred Whittington Castle on Great Uncle Roger de Powys, to whom he gave funds for its repair in about 1173. Roger was followed by his son, Cousin Meurig (or Maurice), who was followed by his son Werennoc. A rival claim from Great Grampa Fulk III FitzWarin (who apparently claimed it under the Peverel name) was not recognised until 1204. To stake his claim Fulk rebelled against King John, attacked the King’s army, raised hell in a tantrum befitting a man of Welsh blood and was eventually pardoned. Kings tend to pardon those barons who have made it clear that they could easily destroy the king. The castle and lordship of Whittington was given to him. The castle then descended through the centuries in the hands of the FitzWarin family, all of the title holders were called Fulk. One Fulk followed another until the death of Fulk XI in 1420. For more about the life of Fulk III please proceed to this link: The Whittington Castle and Fulk III FitzWarin.
The castle was captured and destroyed by another of our 24th great grandfathers, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd in 1223. Llywelyn is one of several Welsh iconic heroes found in the family tree. He was such a great hero that he was called Llywelyn the Great, even while he was still alive. It’s true. He would go into a Starbucks, order a Latte Grande, three shots of espresso, skim milk, and a touch of hazelnut, with chocolate shavings and when the barista would ask what name to scribble on the cup, our gramps would throw back his shoulders, stare into the distant Welsh hills and in a deep baritone voice (channeling Thor and the great Norse gods) he would say simply “Llywelyn the Great.”
Llyewelyn returned the castle to the family of Fulks under a peace treaty, and it was at this time that it was rebuilt in stone. The tower keep and several new buildings were added along a curtain wall and five towers on a raised platform were surrounded by a moat, beyond which there was an outer gatehouse or barbican. For the next half century, the castle stood as a bastion defending Shropshire from invasion by the Welsh, until the conquest of Wales by Edward I in 1283.
King Edward I (1239-1307) is a 19th great grandfather in the Whittington family tree. Known as ‘Longshanks’ for his long and gangly legs, he was able to defeat the Welsh king. Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, a cousin. The castle became a stately residence for the FitzWarin family. While there was no color TV or wifi connection, it was considered to be a fine place to call home. However, after the death of Fulk VII in 1349, the castle went through a long period when the lords were almost always under age and usually absent from the Whittington landscape. They preferred the night life in London and favored battlefield brawls to the pastoral, rustic life in the boondocks of Shropshire. Minor repairs were made in 1402 and history records that the lordship was dropped from the English rolls of nobility in 1404 during the rebellion of Owen Glendower. The lordship was worth nothing in 1407, but that isn’t a problem for Whittington family members. The castle still stands and is open to our inspection.
The castle fell into disrepair and was considered useless during the English Civil War (1640’s). It became a weekend pad and love shack for a London merchant, Thomas Lloyd, in the 1670s. Lloyd was granted permission to take ‘freestone out of the castle’ and use it elsewhere. One of the towers fell into the moat and the stone was probably used to make the turnpike road to Ellesmere in 1776.
Was the Holy Grail Kept at Whittington Castle?
One of the most prominent legends concerning Whittington Castle regards the Marian Chalice, thought by some to be the Holy Grail. According to this legend, Sir Fulk FitzWarin, the great grandson of Payne Peveril and one in the line of guardians of the Grail and King Arthur. A story from the 13th century states that the Grail was kept in a private chapel of the castle when Sir Fulk was there. The coat of arms of Fulk FitzWarin is hung above the castle archway.
It is also claimed that the castle formed part of the lordship of a noble Welshman called Tudur Trefor or Tudor Trevor. That name should mean something to English history buffs. Tudor Trevor is the man from whom the Tudor dynasty of monarchs descends. You remember the name Henry VIII? The guy made famous by Herman’s Hermits? The king who dispatched his wives if they couldn’t produce a son was a Tudor. Whittingtons are cousins to the Tudors and several of Henry’s wives, including Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
The back story on the Holy Grail is interesting: At the crucifixion of the Christ, St. Mary Magdalene collected his blood in a small cup which thence became known as the “Marian Chalice”. A gal named St. Helen excavated the tomb of Jesus in the early 4th century. She tweeted that she had found the “Marian Chalice” thus creating a valuable piece of memorabilia that would look good in the Vatican and sell for a high price at a Sotheby auction. The chalice was taken to Rome, but carted off to safety in Britain when Rome was sacked by the marauding band of Visigoths in AD 410.
If the chalice did exist and went to England it was most likely taken to the chief city of Britain in the 5th century, Wroxeter, the capital of King Arthur’s domain. The great King and his descendants are therefore seen as the guardians of the Holy Grail, a lineage which traces to Payne Peveril and his great grandson Sir Fulk FitzWaryn. A 13th century ballad claims that the Grail was housed in Fulk’s private chapel at Whittington Castle in Shropshire. It was removed to Alberbury Priory on the death of Fulk and recovered by Robert Vernon in the late 16th century. It was eventually hidden in a statue of St. John erected in Hawkstone Park, near the family estate, in the 1850s. Here a small Roman onyx scent jar was discovered in 1934. Is this onyx jar the Holy Grail?
All of this conjecture about the Holy Grail is pretty much that: partly truth, partly fiction. Somewhere in the midst of the myth lies a reality that will always escape the grasp of speculators. Alternative facts will always frustrate those seeking reality.