Sunday, June 25, 2017

CastleTravel: A Road Trip to Arundel Castle and Hever Castle

A guest post by Sophie. 
In the South of England, in the county of Sussex, lies Arundel. In the village you find Arundel Castle. And that castle was the main reason of my road trip (aside from the Diana exhibition). My parents used to travel frequently to the UK before I was born, with family, friends or just the two of them. And Arundel Castle was a thing they always got back to, because they found it so beautiful. As a royal history buff and Castleholic I got only more intrigued. So now in 2017, after 35 years my mother last visited it, it was definitely time to cross the Channel and visit. Would it hold up, after all the stories of my parents? Would I enjoy it? Time to find out!
But first a little history (I know, but hang on!). It is one of England's oldest castles, being established by William the Conquerors nephew Robert de Montgomery in 1068. William awarded his nephew for protecting his property in Normandy while he was busy conquering England and Wales. Robert also got the title of Earl of Arundel. Interesting trivia: thanks to his conquering and protecting of his properties in England and Wales a lot of castles and fortifications were erected that still exist today, like Caernafon Castle. 
After Robert died, the castle reverted back to the crown, under King Henry I. At his turn, Henry left the castle in his will to his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. She married later William d’Aubigny. William restructured the castle and fortified the keep. Till 1243 the castle would be in hands of the d’Aubigny family. That year the last in the male line died, and because of the marriage of Isabel d’Aubigny to John Fitzalan, the castle and titles went to the Fitzalan family. The Fitzalan family got to keep the castle and the titles until 1580, when Mary Fitzalan married Thomas Howard, 4rd Duke of Norfolk. He, however, got executed for conspiring to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Once again, everything reverted back to the crown. Then in 1660 (!) everything would be returned to the Fitzalan-Howard family, who still own it today. Quite remarkable, because the Catholic family survived the country turning to Protestantism in Tudor times and survived also the struggle between William III/Mary and the Jacobites. More history? There is a great documentary with the great Dan Jones as presenter about Arundel Castle on Netflix, part of the series Secrets of Great British Castles.
The current Duke of Norfolk still lives with his family in the castle. There is a private section in the castle, but they also use the rooms open to visitors. After 5pm (and in November, when the castle is closed) they wander and sit around. You can see the rooms are still used, because photographs of the current Duke’s family and of his late parents are almost in every room. There is also a wedding picture of the current Duke’s son, the Earl of Arundel who got married last year. And lots of pictures of the family meeting the Pope.
There are also a few pictures of the Duke acting in his role as Earl Marshal to the Queen. Yes, that is correct: a Catholic nobleman - who is the premier Duke in England, eg. the Duke of all Dukes - is responsible for organising coronations and state funerals and assisting in the Opening of Parliament. Sadly you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but it is really pretty and nice!  You get - as is usual in castles - led from room to room. I was very busy admiring it all, my mother had a “Oh yeah!”- moment here and there. She recognized the dining room and the picture gallery, though not the other rooms (albeit she must have walked through them back in the late 70’s and early 80’s). Suffice to say, we all had a blast and were impressed with the castle.
It was great that every room had a member of staff, who were very knowledgeable. If you wanted to know something about a painting or a particular object, they were more than happy to answer questions.  Especially the lady in the library was very pleased that we were so interested in the history of the castle and the family. She also explained about noble families and death duties, why it can be almost ruining families and their collections (selling jewellery *shudders*) and how the Norfolks formed their own trust to prevent this. Quite important, since they have a really nice collection of furniture and objects that really show the evolution of the castle, family and England. Also, their collection is of historic and cultural importance, since they are a Catholic family and they have some first editions of books by Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. And let’s not forget they owned a manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci till the British Library bought it in 1831 (*drools*).
After admiring the castle we had a lunch and did some shopping at the museum shop and went outside. There we went on our way to visit the Fitzalan Chapel, where members of the family are buried and went to the beautiful gardens afterwards. Nice to know: the Collectors Garden was opened by the Prince of Wales!
Only one conclusion was possible when we were back in our apartment: yes, it was definitely worth a visit! My mother loved it seeing it again, and now knowing more about the history and the family (thanks to me…) it made the visit that much nicer for her. For me, the stories definitely holded up. It is a beautiful castle, with splendid architecture and furniture. It doesn’t feel empty or museum-like while walking through it, which you can sometimes have when visiting a castle (looking at you, Hampton Court). If you are a self-respecting history buff or Castleholic, you should really visit this one! By car is easiest, but there is a 1,5 hour train ride from London to Arundel and back which makes it a good destination for a day trip.  
Next castle on the roadtrip was Hever Castle, once owned by Anne Boleyn's family. It is a small castle in the Greater London area (close to Penshurst Place and Royal Tunbridge Wells). Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary grew up at Hever Castle, after their father Thomas inherited it in 1505. He was born there in 1477 and it passed onto him after the death of his father. After the death of Thomas Boleyn it came in possession of King Henry VIII. He gave it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of the settlement of their divorce. 
After Anne of Cleves, it was owned by the Waldegrave famiy, the Meade-Waldo family and the Astor family (of Waldorf Astoria hotel-fame). In 1983, the Astor family sold it to Broadland Properties Limited, owned by the Guthrie family. The Guthrie family still owns it today. The estate is used as conference centre, but the castle and gardens are open to the public. It is even possible to marry at Hever Castle!
As tourist attraction they draw on the link with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Consisting of three floors, you see Anne’s bedroom, a room where ladies did needlework and a few rooms dedicated to the Astor family. On the second floor you get to see Anne’s prayer books, a letter from Henry to her and from her to Henry. Their love story is also a bit acted out with wax dolls in life size. You see Anne receiving a letter and rose from Henry, and Henry standing next to Anne while he rejects Anne’s sister Mary. 
It is a small castle, so you better combine it with something else for the day. Still, it is very nice to visit. Though if you are a complete Tudor geek, Hampton Court is a far better pick. For Castleholics it is a nice castle to visit and put on the list.
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About the author
Sophie is since her young years interested in royalty. It all started for her with Princess Diana. Since then royal jewelry, Queen Maxima, history and castles has been added to her list of royal obsessions. You can find Sophie on Twitter and on her own - Dutch - website All Things Royal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Real Alcázar de Sevilla

You don't really notice the vibrant beauty of the Royal Alcázar of Seville when you first walk up to it. Thick walls and high towers guard the splendours of this royal palace complex dating back to the days of the Muslim rule over the Iberian peninsula, though most of its beautiful rooms were actually built - by Moorish workmen - for the Christian King, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360's. Still, the style of the palace is heavily influenced by the Muslim rule of Spain that lasted from the conquest in 711 until 1492, when Granada was recaptured by Christian forces.
The word Alcázar actually comes from the Arabic word for castle, al-qasr. And that's what it is. An extensive castle complex including some stunning gardens that actually double as the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones. The Real Alcázar still houses the official residence of the King of Spain whenever he visits Seville thus making it the oldest royal residence in Europe in use.
While use of the area dates back to the first century, the history of the Alcázar begins in 914 when the Umayyad dynasty began with the construction of a fortification with a quadrangular wall attached to the old Roman wall of the city. Inside there were some simple outbuildings attached to the walls, such as warehouses, stables and barracks.
During the 11th century, the power of the Umayyad dynasty started to decline. The Córdoba Caliphate effectively collapsed during a civil war between 1009 and 1013, although it was not finally abolished until 1031 when al-Andalus broke up into a number of mostly independent mini-states and principalities called taifas. These small principalities were unable to defend themselves against the Christian northern states of the Iberian peninsula and thus invited the Almoravids, Berber Muslims from Morocco, to help them.
The Almoravids, however, soon took control of all the taifas. The Almoravids were followed by another Muslim Berber dynasty, the Almohades. They gained control of Seville in 1181 and soon embarked on a building frenzy constructing a number of baths, towers, a grand mosque and Al-Muwarak (The Blessed), the fortress-like palace today known as the Alcázar.
However in the 13th century, the Spanish Reconquista was in full swing and the area was reclaimed by the Catholic Kings of Spain who claimed the palace as their own. This marked the beginning of a new era for the palace. During the following years, elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design were combined to the original Islamic structure leading to the unique blend of styles known as Mudéjar.
Of the original Islamic style structure only the Patio de Yeso, the Sala de Justiciathe Patio del Crucero and the Patio de la Casa de Contratación remain. The rest of the buildings were either completely rebuilt or newly added to the original structure during the Middle Ages.
Seville had been reclaimed by Christian forces under Fernando III of Castile in 1248 after 16 months of siege. The Alcázar soon became a favourite with the new Christian rulers of the city. For decades the Kings of Castille continued to use the palaces of their Muslim predecessors. Between 1252 and 1260 King Alfonso X of Castile used the space of the main building to build the Gothic Palace.
During the 14th century, King Pedro of Castile demolished three palaces of the Almohad dynasty in favour of a new palace built in the Mudéjar style. Mudéjar being a style of medieval Iberian architecture and decoration, particularly of Aragon and Castile, strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship with the word Mudéjar actually coming from an Arabic word meaning 'allowed to remain'. The works commissioned by Pedro the Cruel and carried out by workmen from Granada, at the time still under Muslim rule, were finished in 1364.
Many of the Alcázar's most stunning rooms owe their existence to Pedro the Cruel (also occasionally called Pedro the Just), the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Ivrea. Pictures actually don't really do the palace justice as there are so many details that even standing in the palace's rooms, it is hard for your eyes to capture all of them: Arabic scripts, tiles, carvings, and many more from the floor all the way up to the ceiling.
Over the centuries, the Real Alcázar de Sevilla continued to be used as a royal residence. In 1478, Prince Juan, the only son of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon who lived to adulthood, was born there. In 1526, the wedding of Holy Roman Emperor Carlos (Karl) V with his cousin Isabel of Portugal was celebrated in the Alcázar. The palace was also the birthplace of Infanta Maria Antonia of Spain (1729–1785), daughter of Felipe V of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese. The King and Queen visited the city to oversee the signing of the Treaty of Seville which ended the Anglo-Spanish War.
During all those years, parts of the Alcázar were again and again adapted to suit the taste of the times though the Mudéjar-style parts of the castle complex remain the most impressive. Equally stunning are the gardens that are also part of the Real Alcázar. While there are many small courtyards with little pools, fountains and recessed seats, there is also a large 16th century Renaissance-style garden featuring a large labyrinth and a fine pavilion built during the times of Carlos V.
All in all the Real Alcázar de Sevilla is quite a wonderland and it made me fall in love with Moorish and Mudéjar architecture even more than the sights of Portugal last year. There is so much to discover and it actually made me want to hop on on plane and go to the Middle East or Northern Africa to discover more Muslim-influenced architecture. One improvement that could be made though are signpostings. There were moments when I actually felt a little lost but then again she who gets lost, sees more of life - or something along those lines...
Good to know:
The Real Alcázar de Sevilla is open between April and September from 9.30am to 7pm, they close two hours earlier in the winter. The palace is closed on January 1 and 6, Good Friday and December 25. Admission per adult is 9,50 euros. I did not purchase a ticket before visiting and the waiting time wasn't more than ten or 15 minutes. However when I passed the next day, the queue was much longer - so it is probably not a bad idea to buy a ticket online as you can thus jump the queue. For more information, have a look here.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Palacio Real de Aranjuez

A 45-minute train ride away from central Madrid lies the town of Aranjuez famous for its asparagus, strawberries and a royal palace: The Palacio Real de Aranjuez. It was the year 1523 when the palace became a royal residence by decision of Holy Roman Emperor Carlos (Karl) V. He gave the estate the dignity of Real Bosque y Casa de Aranjuez (Royal Wood and House of Aranjuez) using it for his hunting trips when in Spain. Previously, the estate had belonged to the Order of Santiago.
Already in the 15th century, the order's grandmaster Lorenzo I Suárez de Figueroa ordered the construction of a palace located to the north of the present Palacio Real to be used for recreational purposes by the members of the order. In the reign of Carlos V improvements were carried out by Luis de Vega (from 1537).

Carlos' son, Felipe II commissioned architects Juan Bautista de Toledo and later Juan Herrera to extensively enlarge the royal residence in Aranjuez. He envisioned the estate as a large Italian-inspired villa. The palace of Aranjuez was built in a combination of white stone from Colmenar de Oreja and brick, giving a two-toned effect that was adopted for the rest of the palace. In 1571 work began on the cuarto nuevo, as the new palace was described, beside an already existing chapel. However, the Palacio Real as planned in the 16th century was not completed as after Felipe II's death in 1598 both interest and financial means declined.
It was Felipe V of Spain, the first king of the Borbón dynasty, who took a new interest in the palace of Aranjuez. From 1715, a north wing was added by Pedro Caro Idogro, the western facade completed and the structure that would shape the current palace charted. Felipe originally envisioned Aranjuez as his own Versailles though he later abandoned the plans in favour of a new palace near Segovia, the Palacio Real De La Granja de San Ildefonso.
In 1748, Aranjuez Palace as well as the surrounding town were heavily damaged by a fire. King Fernando VI, Felipe V's son, decided to rebuild the palace and commissioned Giacomo Bonavia to restore both palace and town. He was responsible for the vestibule, the great imperial staircase and the main facade (1744), in the centre of which is a portico surmounted by the ceremonial balcony of honour. It was also Bonavia who added a third storey to the palace. Three statues on the balustrade of Felipe II, Felipe V and Fernando VI - the three Kings most invested in the creation of Aranjuez - by Pedro Martinengo were added in 1752.

Fernando's palace was enlarged under Carlos III (1716-1788) in order to meet the increasingly elaborate etiquette of the court. Two wings at right angles to the main facade, forming a U-shaped entrance courtyard in the French manner, were added by Francesco Sabbatini in the 1770's. Carlos liked his palace in Aranjuez so much that he made it his summer residence moving the court from Madrid in mid-March only returning to the capital in October.
The Palacio Real de Aranjuez is surrounded by several extensive gardens. A small palace for Carlos' son and heir, the future Carlos IV, and his wife Maria Luisa of Parma, was built in one of them: the Casa del Labrador. On March 18, 1807, Aranjuez was the scene of a popular uprising known as the Mutiny of Aranjuez that brought about the end of Carlos IV's reign. The revolt was led by soldiers, peasant and the general public who supported Carlos' son Fernando. The mutineers made King Carlos dismiss his Prime Minister Godoy, who was deeply unpopular, and, two days later, the court also forced the King himself to abdicate in favoor of his son and rival, who became Fernando VII.
Following the restoration of the Borbóns to the Spanish throne - after a short-lived reign of a Savoy prince and an unsuccessful Spanish republic - in the person of Alfonso XII in 1874, the Palacio Real de Aranjuez was temporarily used by the Duke of Montpensier. His daughter, Mercedes, became the first wife of Alfonso XII though she died only six months after the wedding from typhoid fever.

With the family of Mercedes ended Aranjuez's days of royal splendour. Both Alfonso's second wife, née Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria as well as his son, King Alfonso XIII and his wife Ena preferred the Palacio Real De La Granja de San Ildefonso as their summer residence. These days, the Palacio Real de Aranjuez is open to the general public though unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the palace.
A special treat of the exhibition are several wedding dresses of the Spanish Royal Family. Shown are the dresses of Queen Letitia, Queen Sofia as well as Infantas Elena and Cristina. In addition, the uniforms and dresses worn by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia during his proclamation as King. I was most enchanted by Queen Sofia's wedding dress that features many more details in its design than I previously realised. Unfortunately non of my quickly snapped pictures do the dresses any justice - so I guess it is best if you simply go and see for yourself!

Good to know:
The Palacio Real de Aranjuez is open from April to September between 10am and 8pm. During the winter months the palace closes two hours earlier. The palace is closed on January 1 and 6, May 1, December 24, 25 and 31. Admission per adult is 9 euros. For more information, have a look here. When you visit Aranjuez also make sure to visit all the royal gardens, which will take several hours.