When this land was once separate from all those in Wales,
And that dyke built by Offa to demark the fields,
Some semblance of peace came for a short while
As princes and kings came to enjoy the calm.
But peace did not reign long in these border pastures
So there were the Marches which men made their own
To keep for the king lest they came to be captured
And curtail the powers of great English lords.
So was the case of the men they called Mortimer
Who with warlike power did marshal these lands;
With great iron grip and gritty resolve
They conquered with castles which they came to build.
And here we are now at the one they called Wigmore;
A bastion of boulders brazen above
The small town below which cowers beneath it.
A short climb through brambles to crumbling walls
Rewards now the traveller with towering turrets:
A shell keep, some baileys and stretching views
Over fields and lands and with wildlife free roaming
Which in the past were not safe to walk through.
But for all of their powers that Mortimer family
Came in the end to fall far from grace:
Killers of Edward and crowning a kingdom
They were by his son deposed of their powers.
That first Earl of March grew far too big
Roger was disliked
He overplayed his hand;
At Tyburn was he spiked;
And the king then took command.
Wigmore castle in the county of Hereford is a castle of the marcher lords. These lords, in managing difficult border lands, possessed many unique privileges which enabled them to govern almost as semi-independent lords with distinct powers to fight, hold court and to collect certain taxes. The castle dates back to the 11th Century although much of what survives today dates from the early 13th Century and later. Much of the current building reflects the work of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (1287–1330), although some of the masonry is later.
Roger Mortimer became de facto ruler of all England after he and Isabella, the estranged queen of Edward II arranged for the king’s deposition and murder in 1327. Despite enjoying some influence at the beginning of the reign of Edward III, the king had him arrested in 1330 and executed for treason. Wigmore was returned to the Mortimers in the later 14th century, although its heyday was by then over. Roger’s heir, also called Roger (1328–60), went on to become a founder member of the Knights of the Garter.
The castle today is managed by English Heritage. When I first visited the place in the 1980s it was overgrown with brambles and almost inaccessible. Today, while some of this wildness has been preserved, the visitor is able to walk around by way of demarked pathways which did not exist until the 1990s.
New Book by the Author: Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here