This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses."
- Macbeth, ACT I., SCENE VI.
BERKELEY Castle was founded, as has already been stated, in the last year of the reign of Stephen, A.D. 1154. Mr. Smyth says it was built out of the ruins of the nunnery which was suppressed in the reign of Edward the Confessor, by the machinations of Earl Godwin. Although the estates of the nunnery were given to Godwin, many of the nuns still clung to their old foundation, and, it is probable, had some countenance from Gueda, the wife of Godwin, who, in her detestation of the villany by which the suppression of the nunnery had been obtained, refused to eat of anything which came from the Berkeley manors, for which reason Godwin bought Woodchester for her residence and support. At all events, it is certain that some kind of religious establishment continued to exist at Berkeley, as in the great Roll of the Pipe of the last year of the reign of Stephen, there is an entry of an allowance to William de Berkeley, (of Dursley, who then held the manor under the crown,) for the garments of three nuns resident at Berkeley. We may therefore assume that no castle existed at Berkeley prior to this time, and that the "Castle of Berkeley" mentioned by Atkyns and Rudder, from which Roger the lord thereof was ejected for his adherence to King Stephen, must be considered to mean the castle at Dursley, the old family inheritance and residence of Roger, who was an adherent of Stephen, and who was also, up to that time, lord of Berkeley.
The visitor to Berkeley Castle, after passing through the churchyard, finds himself on turning to the left, in front of an arched gateway in a low, massive square tower, - the porter's lodge. He is now standing, though he would scarcely suspect it, on a bridge, which spans the moat on the site of the ancient drawbridge; this bridge was built of stone, by Henry lord Berkeley, in 1587, in the place of the drawbridge, which was of timber.
Passing under the archway of the lodge into the outer court-yard - a fine expanse of velvet turf - the lofty battlemented walls of the west front of the Castle present themselves; not darkly frowning as of yore, and bristling with arms, but peacefully clothed with fine pear trees and ivy. To the left is Thorpe's tower, over which floats the flag, bearing the armorial devices which have waved over those walls for seven hundred years. The effect here is somewhat marred by the gap or breach made by order of Cromwell, when the Castle was given back to George lord Berkeley after the Civil War, but it gives a glimpse into the interior of the keep. On the visitor's right is a low battlemented wall, below which are the terraces, bright with flowers, and leading down to the lawn, which is studded with majestic Scotch firs, cedars, and cypress.
The large bell which hangs here, in a frame of ornamental iron-work, was brought from China by Captain Dew, C.B., of H.M.S. Encounter, and presented by him to the late lord Fitzhardinge. It is a fine specimen of Chinese casting, and is covered with hieroglyphics, and inscriptions in Chinese characters. It formerly hung in a Buddhist temple, which was destroyed by the Tae-pings.
This outer court-yard was once surrounded by buildings, the substantial foundations of which have often been exposed in excavations made for drainage and other purposes.
A second arched gateway, on the right hand side of which the groove for the portcullis is still visible, conducts to the inner court-yard, which is surrounded by the domestic and other buildings of the Castle. On the left the walls of the keep tower upwards to a height of more than fifty feet. Facing the entrance are the steep roof and four deep-mullioned windows, rich with stained glass, of the great hall. The range of buildings on the right contains the drawing-rooms and some other apartments, opposite to which are the billiard- room, kitchens, &c. The principal bed-chambers are over the entrance gateway, and in the keep.
Entering through the porch into a somewhat dark lobby, a door on the right opens at once into the great hall, one of the finest baronial halls in England. The roof is supposed to be the original one, of the time of Edward III. The four large stained glass windows on the right, where
" ______ thousand heraldries and dim emblazonings And shielded scutcheons blush with blood of queens and kings."
contain the armorial bearings of the House of Berkeley, and all its alliances from 1115 to 1785, amongst which are some of the noblest names in English history. The windows on the opposite side, one of which communicates by a flight of stone stairs with the terrace walks beneath, command a view of singular beauty over the rich meadows which surround the Castle. Several fine family portraits of graceful ladies and stately warriors or statesmen ornament and enliven the walls; over the fireplace are some groups of ancient armour, and two tattered banners, which were carried at Culloden by the regiment under the command of Augustus, fourth earl and twenty-second baron of Berkeley.
This hall is sixty-two feet long, thirty-two feet wide, and thirty-two and a half high. It is now used as the dining-room of the family.
From the upper end a broad staircase of old, dark oak, leads to the drawing-rooms and the chapel. The walls and landing are covered with family portraits, among which the most noticeable are Frederic Augustus, fifth Earl of Berkeley, by P. Battoni, 1765, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, 1632, the Countess of Tyrconnel, and King Charles II., by Sir Peter Lely.
The chapel retains its original roof, the timbers of which, crossing each other and dividing the ceiling into square panels, are painted black and white. The gallery, or family seat, is of more modern date. The windows are of curious old painted glass, and round the floor, near the Communion-table, are some ancient encaustic tiles. A copy of Rubens' picture of the "Tribute money," has lately been placed over the Communion-table.
This chapel, and another in the keep, now the evidence-room, were endowed with special privileges by a bull obtained from Pope Urban II., by Maurice, ninth lord, in 1364; by which forty days pardon and release of penance enjoined were granted
"To every one that should, in the said chapels, on the festival days of the year, hear masses, or say, kneeling, three Ave Mary's, or should give any vestments, ornaments, gold, silver, books, chalices, or any other aids of charity, to the said chapels; and whosoever shall there pray for the obtainer of these presents, and for the life and good estate of the noble lord Maurice de Berkeley, and of the noble lady Elizabeth his wife, and of their children, and for the souls of the lord Thomas his father, and the lady Margaret his mother, being in purgatory, shall be also released of forty days of the penance enjoined them."
This bull, for greater infallibility, is also under the seals of eleven cardinals, there being at that time three rival popes in the church.
On the wall under the arched passage between the windows, and on the timbers of the roof, are some traces of old inscriptions in black letter. They are the remains of the Book of Revelation, in Latin and French, translated by the venerable Trevisa, which were here written by order of Thomas, tenth lord Berkeley, to whom Trevisa was chaplain.
The great drawing-room is a noble apartment, pannelled with fine oak, and containing many full-length family and other portraits; one of the finest is that of George, lord Berkeley, 1625, by Cornelius Janssens; here are also original portraits of King Henry VIII., Queen Mary I., Queen Elizabeth, and King James I.
The second drawing-room is hung with ancient tapestry, and also contains many fine family portraits, by Vandyke, Lely, and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
In the music-room are some fine pictures, and a case containing a very valuable collection of snuff-boxes, many of which are jewelled and enamelled.
In the breakfast-room are several fine sea-pieces, by Vandevelde, and two views, one of Whitehall, and the other of St. James's Palace, from the park, painted for Charles II., by Danckert.
The bedrooms are mostly hung with old tapestry, and contain several ancient bedsteads, in carved oak, and other antique furniture.
Crossing the court-yard, a flight of stone steps leads to the keep. Over these stairs is a small room, originally a guard-room, which has been for many years shewn as the room in which King Edward II was murdered. The bed and walls are furnished with fine tapestry of crimson cloth; the room has evidently been fitted up for some prisoner of distinction, and may have been occupied by the unfortunate monarch during part of his imprisonment here; but there is most reason to believe, on the authority of Smyth, that the dreadful deed was committed in the dungeon-room.
A fine Norman doorway opens on the left into the keep, the area of which, now a grass-plot, was in 1712, full of trees. A flight of stone steps on the right leads to the evidence-room, formerly a small chapel or oratory, dedicated to Our Lady.
On the left is a range of buildings containing bed-chambers and other apartments; from the ante-chamber a doorway leads into the dungeon-room, a totally dark room, in which, there is little doubt, the murder of Edward II took place. Under the floor, visible by a lantern let down through a trap-door, is the dungeon, twenty-eight feet deep, in which the wretched king's gaolers, during the latter part of his imprisonment, placed putrid carcasses, to torture and poison him by the stench. It seems a room well suited for a deed of darkness and blood!
"Out of which dungeon," says Smyth, "in the likenes of a deepe broad well, goinge steepely downe in the midst of the Dungeon Chamber in the said Keepe, was, (as tradition tells,) drawne forth a Toad in the time of Kinge Henry the Seventh, of an incredible bignes, which in the deepe dry dust, in the bottom thereof, had doubtlesse lived there divers hundreds of yeares; whose portraiture in just demension, as it was then to me affirmed by divers aged persons, I sawe, about 48 yeares agone, drawne in colours upon the doore of the great hall, and of the utter side of the stone porch leadinge into that Hall; since by pargettors or pointers of that wall washed out or outworne with time; which in bredth was more than a foot, neere 16 inches, and in length more. Of which monstrous and outgrowne beast, the inhabitants of this towne, and in the neighbour villages round about, fable many strange and incredible wonders, makinge the greatnes of this toad more than would fill a peck, yea I have beard some who looked to have beleife, say, from the report of their Fathers and Grandfathers, that it would have filled a bushell or strike, and to have beene many yeares fed with flesh and garbage from the butchers; but this is all the trueth I knowe or dare believe."
On the opposite side of the keep is Thorpe's tower, formerly much higher than it is now. It is so called from a family of that name, long since extinct, who for many generations held the Wanswell Court estate by the tenure of Castle-guard, viz., that of finding a garrison for this tower in time of war. A broad flight of stone steps winds its way to the flagged area at the top, adjoining the flag-staff, from whence a view, unsurpassed for beauty and extent meets the eye. Northwards and southwards the broad Vale of Berkeley, rich with verdure of pasture and woodland, runs on into the far distance. To the east and south-east are the Cotswolds, rising abruptly here and there into bold bare masses, whose sides are clothed with beech-woods, and anon retiring into lovely valleys, which seem to invite the eye to range their recesses. On the west flows the broad estuary of the Severn, studded with many a white sail, beyond which are the dark wooded hills of the Forest of Dean, veiled by the smoke of its iron-works and collieries. Under the walls of the Castle, on the north and west sides, the little town seems to nestle, as though seeking shelter and protection from the grim old fortress, which was probably its origin, and has been its stay and support through so many generations.