Monday, 11 May 2015

HLD#5: Sopwell Nunnery & Hertford Castle

The last remains of Sopwell Nunnery

     Heretic is well under way!
Since my last post, I have taken time away from the tour to get cracking with the novel itself. I have already written the opening chapters and the plot is all but decided. I am very excited with how the book is shaping up and I hope when the time comes, that you guys will benefit from the extensive research that I have put in. 
     As this is a prequel to Mercenary, which in itself is an unusual tact to take, especially with the sequel already in the pipeline. It is therefore important to me that Heretic really give you a flavour of, not just the period, but a background to the whole story and the characters we have come to love.
     The Easter holidays brought a reprieve from the desk and during my two week break I was able to finish off the bulk of the tour. The fifth leg of my journey took me east across Hertfordshire to the county town of Hertford. But not before a quick stop off to see another site in St Albans.
     What you see in the picture above you is that of the remains of Sopwell Nunnery. That is slightly misleading however, because the nunnery was actually torn down by Sir Richard Lee, who bought it in 1539 from King Henry VIII, following the dissolution of the monasteries. He built on top of the old site and what you see now is the remains of Sopwell House.
     As far as Heretic is concerned however, I only care about the Nunnery, which at the time was a cell to St. Albans Abbey. It was built by Geoffrey de Gorham, the Abbot of St. Albans in 1140. There is not much to tell in terms of history but it is believed the 15th century prioress Juliana Berners, wrote the Boke of St Albans, a very popular book at the time.
     Hertford Castle was the jewel of the day. Although little of it remains, the gatehouse cuts a pretty impressive figure and some of the outer wall is still standing. Set in beautiful grounds surrounded by the old town, it is a very beautiful place to walk around.
     The castle was built way back in 911 by Edward the Elder. The castle didn't really come in to fruition however until after the Norman conquest. They updated it to a motte and bailey and it was surrounded by a moat. It was granted to Peter de Valoignes, the High Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire by William the Conqueror.
     During the rule of the Valoignes family, King Henry II, seeing potential in the castle had it modified in the 1170s. These modifications included the gatehouse, a drawbridge and new flint walls. After the death of Robert de Valoignes in 1184, the last of his line, the castle passed to Henry's son Richard I. However it was later claimed by Robert Fitzwalter, the son in law of Valoignes. He put his own garrison in place but was soon evicted by Richard's brother who became King John.
     After a French invasion, who besieged the castle and then held it for a time, the castle became less of a military stronghold and was used as a royal residency. Edward I gave it to his wife Margaret in 1299 and during his sons reign, Edward II it even held some of the Knights Templars prisoner.
     His wife Isabella spent much time there with her son, Edward III in 1309...

...But to find out what happens at the castle next, you'll have to wait for Heretic!

Flint outer walls of Hertford Castle with the gatehouse in the background.