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Plate 2.11: Sandal Castle
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.11. Commentary by Katharina Boehm.
Plate: View of Sandal Castle engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) after a drawing from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The original drawing belonged to a cache of nine Elizabethan drawings of castles held by the office of the Duchy of Lancaster. They were produced to illustrate a survey of the properties of the Duchy of Lancaster, undertaken by the Chancellor of the Duchy, Ambrose Cave (c. 1503-1568), in 1561. Smart Lethieullier’s (1701-1760) discovery of these drawings during a visit to the duchy office ultimately led the Society of Antiquaries of London to commission Vertue to engrave eight of them on 20 April 1732 (SAL Minutes I.288). Plate 2.11 is part of a series that also includes Plates 1.39, 1.40, 1.41, 1.42, 1.44, and 2.13.
Object: The plate shows Sandal Castle, West Yorkshire, based on a drawing completed in 1561 when Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, ordered it to be surveyed along with the other properties of the duchy. The castle overlooks the River Calder and occupies a large sandstone ridge in Sandal Magna, a suburb to the south of Wakefield. The imposing keep with its circular towers is fronted by two drum towers designed to protect the entrance of the keep. Proceeding clockwise from the keep, the engraving shows the bailey and domestic buildings nestled against the curtain wall, gatehouse and bridge, barbican tower, the great hall and further domestic buildings, as well as a number of crenellated towers. The castle is surrounded on three sides by trees, which appear to indicate the deer park that surrounded the castle in the sixteenth century. Part of the foreground is populated with staffage figures. Sandal Castle was constructed as an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification in the early twelfth century by William de Warenne, second Earl of Surrey, who had been granted the Manor of Wakefield by Henry I. The castle, which served as administrative center for Wakefield, was rebuilt in stone and significantly extended in the thirteenth century. In the fourteenth century, the castle came briefly under Lancastrian control before reverting to the Crown. A Royal garrison was stationed at Sandal Castle throughout the Civil War. It was besieged in the final year of the war and taken in the autumn of 1645, having been one of the last Yorkshire castles still in Royalist hands. Ordered by Parliament, demolition began in 1646. Today, the lower courses of the barbican, foundations of some of the towers, the base of the keep, and fragments of walls from the great hall and kitchen can still be seen (Butler 1991; Mayes and Butler 1983).
Transcription: SANDAL CASTLE in YORKSHIRE. / This castle was built by John earl of Warren in the reign of K. Edward the second. Near which a remarkable battle was fought between the families of York and Lancaster, on Wakefield green, December the 31, 1460, in the reign of K. Henry the sixth where Richard duke of York, then owner of the castle, and his second son Edmund earl of Rutland, with many other eminent persons, were slain by the Lancastrians. In memory whereof King Edward the fourth, son to the duke of York, built a very beautiful chapel, which is yet standing on Wakefield bridge, but much defaced. The castle likewise remained till the year 1648, when it was demolished. But this print was engrav’d from a drawing taken in the reign of Q. Elizabeth, and still preserv’d in the Dutchy office of Lancaster, with several other draughts of antient castles, 6 of which have been already published by the Society, in the 1st volume of their VETUSTA MONUMENTA. / G. Vertue Sculpsit. Published Oct. 25th 1753 according to Act of Parliament Sumptu Societ. Antiq. Lond. 1753
Commentary by Katharina Boehm: Vertue’s engraving of Sandal Castle, along with Plate 2.13, completes the series of eight castles in the Duchy of Lancaster, engraved from Elizabethan drawings, begun in Volume 1 of Vetusta Monumenta. Smart Lethieullier’s discovery of these drawings during a visit to the duchy office as well as the Society of Antiquaries’ (SAL’ s) commissioning of George Vertue to engrave eight of these drawings on 20 April 1732 (SAL Minutes I.288) are discussed in more detail in the commentary on Plate 1.39. Vertue’s proof sheet of his engraving of Sandal Castle was discussed at a meeting on 25 October 1753 (SAL Minutes VII.80). Vertue delivered the prints on 8 November 1853; as per usual, the members of the SAL ordered three prints to be sent to each member (SAL Minutes VII.80). Continued demand for this plate was discussed at another meeting on 14 November 1754, and Vertue was tasked with producing a second print run of fifty copies (SAL Minutes VII.154).
The medieval castle of Sandal fits in well with the general prominence given to medieval subjects in this second volume of Vetusta Monumenta. The Duchy castles had either been entirely destroyed or lay in ruins by the late seventeenth century. The SAL’s use of the sixteenth-century drawings as a visual source that allows for the restoration of these long-perished royal strongholds in the medium of print became the model for the production of several other plates included in Volume 2: James Basire’s engravings of Richmond Palace (Plates 2.23-24), Placentia Palace in Greenwich (Plate 2.25), and Hampton Court (Plate 2.27)—all of which had been destroyed or, in the case of Hampton Court, significantly altered by the eighteenth century—were also based on early modern drawings and paintings. The existence of earlier pictorial representations made it possible to preserve in print these vanished castles and palaces.
However, this method of working from visual records that were shaped by earlier aesthetic conventions and idiosyncrasies in the artists’ approach must also have introduced its own conundrums; at least it is likely to have raised issues unlikely to come up in the engraving of still-existing objects or monuments. Eighteenth-century antiquarian approaches to engraving differed greatly; yet as Sam Smiles and Stephanie Moser have shown, the period saw an intensified interest in engraving as a research tool for the production of accurate, quasi-objective visual data that facilitated typological and comparative projects (Smiles 2000, 26-45; Moser 2014). In order to give viewers quick access to the visual information on which historical deductions could be based, the graphic medium itself had to become almost transparent, "neutrally" processing information without calling attention to itself. By contrast, working with pre-eighteenth-century drawings and paintings may well have made Vertue (and other members of the SAL) aware of the fact that the distinctive nature of the medium constrains visual documentation to varying degrees, and that changing aesthetic conventions and differences in artistic skill inevitably leave their mark on the visual record of the object.
This is particularly apparent in the Escheresque perspectival oddities of the original Elizabethan drawings that Vertue used for the plates of the Duchy castles. For instance, the awkward angle at which the curtain wall meets the tower furthermost to the left in Vertue’s engraving is even more pronounced in the original sixteenth-century drawing, held by the National Archives and measuring 45cm x 86 cm (MPC 1/97). Given the fact that Vertue’s proof sheets for each engraving of the castle series were discussed at meetings of the SAL, it is safe to assume that the majority of present members approved of Vertue’s modus operandi of closely following the original composition. However, not all members appear to have been in agreement: Thomas Wilson, who was elected to the SAL in 1751, grumbled in a letter: "I hear Mr. Vertue is now engraving Sandal Castle, in this County, from a painting in the Dutchy-chamber of Lancaster. I wish they would employ Vivares in perspective and landscape" (Nichols 1818, 371). Francis Vivares was a well-regarded, London-based engraver of picturesque landscape subjects who worked from Old Masters, contemporary British landscape painters such as Thomas Smith, and his own designs (Miller 1992). Wilson’s comment provides an apt reminder that the immediate audience of the engravings that were eventually collected in Vetusta Monumenta—comprising not just members of the SAL but also customers of John Boydell’s successful print shop in Cheapside, which retailed the SAL’s prints from 1756—looked at these plates through very different lenses (Bruntjen 1985, 53). For Wilson, aesthetic considerations and the pleasures of picturesque detail seem to have trumped the concern with accuracy in the reproduction of the Elizabethan originals. By contrast, other members of the SAL may well have seen these sixteenth-century drawings not merely as the sole surviving record of the medieval architecture of long-lost castles, but also as valuable artifacts in their own right that might speak, for instance, to the management of royal estates during the reign of Elizabeth I and to the administrative history of the Duchy of Lancaster. Vertue, who was collecting material for his projected Museum Pictoris Anglicanum, a comprehensive history of the arts in Britain which remained unfinished at the time of his death, might also have seen these Elizabethan drawings as intriguing records of art history (Bignamini 1988).
While Vertue’s engraving reproduces the architecture of Sandal Castle as shown on the original drawing, his extensive use of gradations of shading helps the viewer to see the different buildings and parts of the castle in relation to one another. The Elizabethan line-drawing makes very little use of shading to add depth and perspective; the barbican, drum towers, keep and some of the domestic buildings all seem to occupy the same plane of the picture. Vertue also altered the uniform look of the castle’s walls and towers in the original drawing. He used shading to give the defensive walls of the keep a rugged appearance and to offer viewers a sense of the textures of the different building materials used in various other parts of the castle. Following the original drawing, Vertue framed the castle with a lush forest, but similar to his work on Plates 1.44 and 1.46, he replaced the symmetrical, smooth tree trunks and overly large, ornamental leaves of the original with more weather-beaten, picturesque oak trees. The prominence given to the forest in both the original drawing and Vertue’s engraving had its roots in an unusual feature of Sandal Castle; instead of extending to one side of the castle, as was more common in the early modern period, Sandal Castle’s deer park had surrounded the entire castle and was still in existence during the reign of Elizabeth I when the grounds were surveyed by Cave (Creighton 2002, 29).
The grassy slopes—added in by Vertue to adorn the ridge on which the castle sits—provide a backdrop to the groups of staffage included by Vertue but absent in the original drawing. Most plates in the castle series feature some staffage, but this plate stands out both for the number of staffage figures and for their unusual arrangement. To be sure, some of these figures are conventional enough; to the left of the bridge which leads to the gatehouse, three men are shown resting and chatting while their horses are grazing; meanwhile, two classically dressed men in the central foreground are approaching the castle, both with their backs turned to the viewer. However, to the right of the bridge, Vertue positions nine figures, including two riders, who turn their backs to the castle, face the viewer, and form a fairly regular row. This highly artificial grouping seems to arrest the men and women in the midst of the dynamic activities that we normally associate with staffage (walking, working, playing) and imbues them with a strange air of stillness. Two riders flank the group and two taller figures frame the two smaller figures at the center, giving the whole a sculptural aspect. Staffage figures usually bring landscapes to life by adding narrative elements (Wall 2019, 77-82). In this instance, however, the figures, whose dress evokes different historical periods ranging from the classical past to the eighteenth-century present, look like they are still awaiting narrative deployment, perhaps inviting the viewer to insert them into fancies relating to the many famous historical events that took place at Sandal Castle.
For Vertue and his contemporaries, the female rider prominently positioned at the head of the row might have brought to mind the earliest military conflict of note relating to Sandal Castle. As recorded by William Camden and others, John de Warenne (the last Warenne Earl of Surrey who held Sandal Castle) abducted Alice de Lacy (the wife of Thomas of Lancaster) in the early fourteenth century. Camden suggests that Warenne was driven by “lust,” although political differences appear to have been more likely motives (1722, 2.856). De Lacy’s willingness to cooperate in this abduction is still a matter of debate among historians today (Maddicott 1970, 197-98; Seabourne 2011, 148-49). In any case, Lancaster retaliated by besieging and ultimately capturing Sandal Castle as well as other lands that belonged to Warenne. The rivalry between Warenne and Lancaster, as well as de Lacy’s abduction, were well-remembered by eighteenth-century antiquaries. This history provided the author Jane West with “much dry reading” in preparation for her novel Alicia de Lacy; An Historical Romance (1814, 1.vi). It is likely that West came across Vertue’s engraving, which was the only easily accessible visual source of Sandal Castle in its medieval incarnation, during her research. West’s literary rendition of Sandal Castle taps into the contemporary vogue for Gothic settings. She styles the castle as “a scene of discord and dismay, teeming with dangerous expedients and contentious engagement” (West 1818, 4.74). West presents its destruction in a “universal blaze” as a symbol of the peasants’ emancipation from the feudal yoke that they have suffered under Warenne (1818, 4.224-25). Alice de Lacy’s association with Sandal Castle continued to shape nineteenth-century representations of the castle. Charles Knight’s Old England: A Pictorial Museum of Regal, Ecclesiastical, Baronial, Municipal, and Popular Antiquities includes a fantastical illustration of Sandal Castle which bears no relation to the Elizabethan drawing, Vertue’s engraving, or the archaeological record, but features a melodramatic reimagining of de Lacy’s abduction in the foreground (1845, 1.337).
Another historical episode relating to Sandal Castle that viewers of Vertue’s engraving might have played out in their minds is the 1460 Battle of Wakefield that took place near Sandal as part of the Wars of the Roses. The text provided on Plate 2.11 commemorates this confrontation between Sandal Castle’s possessor, Richard, Duke of York, and the Lancastrian forces of Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI. Unlike Camden, who merely mentions that “many others” (1722, 2.856) were killed along with the Duke of York, the text given on plate 2.11 also nods to the murder of the Duke’s young son, an event which is dramatized in Shakespeare’s Henry VI (partly set at Sandal Castle) and described—with great sympathy for the youth—in David Hume’s History of England (1762, 380-81). Might some of Vertue’s contemporaries have gazed at the two figures, a boy and his guardian, who are placed conspicuously in the centre of the row of staffage and felt reminded of the Duke’s son, who is captured with his tutor and brutally murdered by the Lancastrian commander in Shakespeare’s play? While such speculation is mere guesswork, Vertue’s atypical arrangement of the staffage in this plate solicits the viewer’s imaginative engagement more insistently than the other plates of the castle series. Neatly arrayed, these figures look like they are waiting for us to move them around, thereby setting in motion the countless narrative possibilities they embody and populating the seemingly deserted castle once more.
In this sense, Vertue’s train of staffage figures can also be seen to gesture to the extraordinary feats of the imagination required in all attempts to reconstruct a past of which few fragmentary traces remained. This was certainly true of Sandal Castle, whose once formidable structure had been reduced to a small number of scattered ruins by the mid eighteenth century. Horace Walpole, passing through Wakefield on an antiquarian ramble through Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire in August 1756, noted in a letter that “[t]here is scarce anything of the castle extant, but it commanded a rich prospect” (1973, 270). It is possible that others—including Vertue and many members of the SAL—who did not visit Sandal’s ruin themselves still carried in their minds a vivid impression of its current state thanks to a print by Samuel Buck (1697-1779) which showed the remains of the castle (Buck 1774, 340). Based on a drawing dated 1722 and published in 1774, Buck’s print appears to have been the only visual representation of Sandal Castle in its current, ruined state that received wide dissemination in the eighteenth century. Buck contrasts Sandal’s fragmentary, overgrown ruins with the industrious, modernizing market town of Wakefield, which can be seen in the background. In Buck’s print, the inclusion of two severely damaged trees in the foreground—whose main branches appear to have been broken off, with only the stumps remaining—heightens the forlorn aspect of the castle ruins. Comparing Buck’s print to Vertue’s engraving of the castle in its majestic sixteenth-century incarnation, the members of the SAL may well have experienced an acute sense of loss as well as pride in the restorative powers of antiquarian engraving.
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