Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 2.13: Clithero Castle

Plate: View of Clitheroe 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 (SAL) to commission Vertue to engrave eight of them on 20 April 1732 (SAL Minutes I.288). Plate 2.13 is part of a series that also includes Plates 1.39, 1.40, 1.41 1.42, 1.44, and 2.11.

Object: The plate shows Clitheroe Castle, East Lancashire, 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. Clitheroe Castle is located atop a steep limestone crag at the south end of the town of Clitheroe. It overlooks the valley of the River Ribble. Depicted are the gatehouse, bailey, curtain wall as well as the stone keep. Neither the chapel of St. Michael (mentioned in the text printed on the plate) nor the domestic buildings that were once located in the bailey are shown (McNulty 1942). Today, the ruined stone keep and parts of the curtain wall remain along with buildings that were added in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that nowadays house a museum.

Transcription: CLITHERO CASTLE in LANCASHIRE / THIS castle is situated at the bottom of a very high mountain, called Pendle hill, near the river Ribel in Blackburn hundred. It was built in the reign of K. Henry the second, by Robert de Lacy, lord of the Honour of Pontefract, and fourth descendant from Ilbert de Lacy, who came into England with William the Conqueror. Within the castle he likewise built a chapel, dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, for the benefit of his household servants, shepherds, and foresters; and departing this life January 21, 1193, was buried in Kirkstall abbey in the county of York, which had been founded by his father Henry de Lacy, about ye year 1147. This print was engraved from ye eighth & last draught of ye antient castles lodged in ye Dutchy office of Lancaster, & published by this Society. / G. Vertue sculpsit. Published according to Act of Parliament, Dec. 20, 1753. Sumptu. Societ. Ant. Lond. 1753.

Commentary by Katharina Boehm: This engraving of Clitheroe Castle is the final print in a series comprising eight castles in the Duchy of Lancaster, engraved by George Vertue from a set of Elizabethan drawings on which Smart Lethieullier had stumbled during a visit to the duchy office. Vertue was tasked with producing the plate during a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries (SAL) on 26 July 1753 (SAL Minutes VII.72); as was usual, every fellow of the society received three prints (VII.96).

Like William Camden’s Britannia, the text provided on the plate ties the history of the castle closely to the de Lacy line (Camden 1722, 972). Ilbert de Lacy participated in a series of campaigns, undertaken by William the Conquer to establish control over northern England, in 1069-70. In return, he was granted extensive land holdings in West Yorkshire, including the Honour of Pontefract where he built Pontefract Castle (see Plate 1.42). Ilbert’s descendants were given additional land holdings, among them lands which became the Honour of Clitheroe. Most of these holdings had previously belonged to Roger of Poitou, who may also have erected an earlier, potentially wooden, fortification on the site of Clitheroe Castle (Pounds 1994, 43). Camden does not comment on which of the de Lacys built Clitheroe Castle. The SAL sourced the information provided on the plate from William Dugdale’s The Baronage of England after the Norman Conquest. Dugdale notes that Ilbert’s great-grandson, Robert de Lacy “began the Building of Cliderhou Castle in Blackburneshire; and therin a Chappel dedicated to S. Michael the Arch Angel; wherein […] he caused Divine Service to be celebrated, and the Sacraments to be administered to his Houshold Servants, Shepherds, and Foresters, as had been usual for those who lived within the Precincts of other Chapelries in the Parish” (1675-76, 99). Dugdale also mentions Robert de Lacy’s date of death and place of burial, as stated on Vertue’s plate (100).

The text on Vertue’s plate makes no reference to the later history of the Clitheroe. However, discussions of other duchy castles that had previously appeared in the series are likely to have given those members of the SAL who frequented the meetings a rough idea of the shared history of these castles. The Honour of Clitheroe passed to the house of Lancaster in 1311 and became incorporated into the Duchy of Lancaster on the marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster. Like the other duchy castles, Clitheroe Castle was briefly used as a royalist garrison during the Civil War. John Evelyn (1620-1706), who followed the clash between Charles I and Cromwell’s Parliament closely, reported in his correspondence the fortification of Clitheroe Castle in March 1649 as well as Parliament’s decision to dismantle it just a few weeks later (Evelyn 1857, 36, 43). However, the castle was never completely demolished. A plan of Clitheroe, dated 1723 and published in 1941 but now lost, shows not just the keep and curtain wall but also the chapel of St. Michael mentioned on Vertue’s plate (Langshaw 1941). This plan also indicates that by the early eighteenth century, several modern buildings had been erected in the castle grounds: a courthouse, stables, and the Steward’s House from which the administrative matters of the castle estate and the Blackburn Hundred (the shire of Blackburn) were managed until 1822 (Bradley 2008, 10). A print based on Samuel Buck’s 1727 drawing of the south view of Clitheroe Castle shows the keep and curtain wall ruined and overgrown; the same print also provides a glimpse of the roofs of two of the aforementioned modern buildings (Buck 1774, 147). It was the castle’s attractive location near Pendle Hill—rather than the availability of new antiquarian research into the castle’s history—that made it a popular subject for engraving in later eighteenth-century antiquarian publications. Plates included in Francis Grose’s The Antiquities of England and Wales (1783, inserted after page 120) and Thomas Pennant’s A Tour from Downing to Alston-Moor (1801, inserted after page 76) each show Clitheroe’s keep, the courthouse, and the Steward’s House from a great distance, with Pendle Hill in the background and no architectural details discernible.

The Elizabethan line-drawings on which Vertue’s engravings of the duchy castles are based were produced for the utilitarian purpose of documenting the castles’ state of repair, and none of them are highly finished. However, of this set, the drawing of Clitheroe Castle, measuring 39cm x 57 cm (MPC 1/94), stands out because it appears to be the only drawing left unfinished by the artist. Depicted in outline are the keep, curtain wall, bailey, and gatehouse, as well as the limestone rock, on which the castle sits. However, the sketch shows neither the chapel nor any of the domestic buildings that must have been located in the bailey when the drawing was made, such as the kitchens, Great Hall, stables and living quarters featured in the other drawings. Most of these other drawings render not only the castles but also neighboring towns, villages, mills and aspects of the surrounding landscape. In the instance of Clitheroe Castle, the Elizabethan draughtsman made no attempt to situate the castle in the landscape which surrounds it. The sketch also contains noticeably less architectural detail than the other drawings. The only feature on which the artist bestowed a lot of care in execution is the doorway of the gatehouse with its round-headed arch and a recessed door, decorated with three great fleur-de-lys iron strap hinges. While this archway, like the gatehouse, probably dates to the twelfth century (Adams 2005-6, 185), the extravagant door might have been the same door that is mentioned in the castle records of 1324: the carpenter spent 29 days making a “magnam portam”, using a great number of newly acquired iron hinges and bindings (Whitaker 1872, II.70; Edwards 1984, 369). In any case, the most likely explanation for the careful rendition of the door is that the draughtsman wished to illustrate that the main entryway into the castle was still secured by a heavily fortified portal.

Despite the slapdash quality of the sketch, Vertue took great pains in honoring the dimensions, scale, and skewed perspective of the Elizabethan rendition of the castle: two different grid patterns, one of which appears to have been abandoned as unsatisfactory, extend across the width of the castle in the 1561 sketch. The second grid pattern is numbered, presumably in Vertue’s hand. B.J.N. Edwards notes that Vertue’s engraving of the castle corresponds very closely to the second grid, although the angle of the curtain wall on the farthest left edge of the castle is marginally increased on the engraving (1984, 367). Vertue added in a number of details: he outfitted the keep, windowless in the original, with four narrow windows. The original sketch shows a deep groove on the curtain wall, most likely indicating the existence of a wall walk (Adams 2005-6, 186). Vertue extrapolated the continuation of this wall walk by inserting a line on the inside of the northern wall as well as on the outside of the wall to the right of the gatehouse; both are absent from the original. He also embellished the portal of the gatehouse with clavos (door studs). In order to give realistic depth to the different parts of the castle, Vertue used carefully gradated shading: in his version, sun hits the castle from the west, creating attractive contrasts between those parts of the curtain wall that are drenched in sunlight and those that are cast into deep shadows. The line-drawing of the original sketch makes minimal use of shading: as a result, the walls, keep and gatehouse are all flattened and appear cardboard-thin, bringing to mind a child’s paper castle rather than a rugged medieval fortress. Vertue’s shading brings out the rough texture of the stones that were used in building the castle, giving heft and substance to its walls.

The massy weight that Vertue gives to Clitheroe’s architecture imbues his version of the castle with greater realism than the sixteenth-century drawing. However, Vertue followed the original in depicting a bailey that is eerily void of internal buildings. In addition, Vertue’s version shows the entire bailey to be overgrown with weeds and grass, which creates the impression that whatever domestic buildings once occupied the bailey are long vanished. Examining the engraved castle, we are caught in a strange paradox. We are not gazing at a ruin; on the contrary, the parts of the castle that remain are intact and well-fortified—and yet what we see is the mere fortressed husk of a castle, emptied of all buildings and facilities that once must have sustained its religious and social life. The forlorn aspect of the bailey is heightened by Vertue’s insertion of two tiny human figures shown next to the keep. Their small size makes the empty bailey appear even larger; at the same time, their size heightens the perceived distance between these figures wandering inside the castle walls and the bustling world outside.

Compensating for (or, perhaps, taking license from) the fragmentary nature of the Elizabethan sketch he was working with, Vertue embedded Clitheroe castle in beautifully detailed environs. It is tempting to speculate that Vertue might have been riled by the criticism that his latest engraving from the castle series, the print of Sandal Castle, had faced in some quarters of the society; Thomas Wilson, another fellow of the SAL, had compared Vertue’s work unfavorably with Francis Vivares’ fashionable landscape views. (For a brief discussion of this episode, see Plate 2.11.) While Vertue’s other engravings of duchy castles sometimes include small picturesque features that are absent from the original drawings, this is the only print in the series that locates the castle in a fully developed landscape of Vertue’s own devising. To the right of the castle, the plate shows the town of Clitheroe, presented against a backdrop of craggy hills. Neither the location nor the appearance of these hills are a close match for Pendle Hill: the isolated Pennine hill with a sloping plateau which dominates the Ribble Valley and is shown on Buck’s print of Clitheroe Castle. It still seems likely, however, that Vertue envisioned the hills in the distance as a visual token of Pendle Hill—or of the Pennines in general—given that the text on the plate notes that Clitheroe “is situated at the bottom of a very high mountain, called Pendle hill.” To the left of the castle, Vertue depicts a village, presumably Waddington, which formed part of the Honour of Clitheroe. Closer to the left margin of the plate, we find a charmingly weathered cottage with a thatched roof nestled in trees and located atop a small hill that overlooks a brook. The presence of the cottage reinforces the Georgic theme that Vertue introduced via the staffage shown in front of the castle (absent from the Elizabethan original), including a peasant with his hay cart, two rustics approaching the castle, a lady giving alms to a vagrant, and a group of three grazing horses.

The Georgic idyll in which Vertue embeds Clitheroe evokes a relationship to the past, as well as an approach to engraving as a tool of historical knowledge, that differ markedly from the only other plate in the castle series that has a distinctive agricultural focus, namely Vertue’s engraving of Tickhill Castle (see Plate 1.46). Vertue followed his Elizabethan source closely when he included two water mills and one windmill in the engraving of Tickhill Castle. The sixteenth-century survey of the duchy castles made note of the associated mills, farms, forests and fields, and Vertue’s engraving preserves the original drawing’s attention to Tickhill’s agricultural properties. His inclusion of the mills documents an important aspect of Tickhill’s history, and it also demonstrates the ability of engravings to provide a fastidiously faithful rendition of the source drawing. While the plate of Tickhill is interested in agricultural systems of the later sixteenth century, the landscape that surrounds Clitheroe is not intended as a historical record. Instead, this timeless rural idyll, which nods to the emerging vogue for the picturesque and is populated by conventional staffage rustics, clearly presents an imagined¬—rather than historical—countryside. Vertue’s immediate audience might have felt reminded of a passage from John Dryden’s influential translation of the second book of Virgil’s Georgics: “To lead a soft, secure, inglorious Life. /A Country Cottage near a Crystal Flood, /A winding Vally, and a lofty wood” (1697, ll. 689-91). Vertue’s landscape offers viewers a retreat from their busy modern existence, a quiet realm conducive to reflection and flights of fancy. By pairing this landscape with the fragmentary visual record of Clitheroe Castle, Vertue’s plate seems to suggest that inquiries into the past unavoidably become the province of the imagination when they come up against the limits of archival sources. The mysterious void at the center of the print—Clitheroe’s implausibly deserted, overgrown bailey from which every trace of former life has disappeared—reminds viewers that once the physical traces of the past are gone, the space they leave behind has to be filled by the imagination.

Works Cited:

Adams, Paul. 2005-6. “Clitheroe Castle.” Castle Studies Group Journal 19: 179-92.

Bradley, Jeremy. 2008. Clitheroe Castle, Clitheroe, Lancashire: Archaeological Investigation. Project Report. Lancaster: Oxford Archaeology North.

Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel Buck. 1774. Buck’s Antiquities. Vol. I. London: Sayer.

Camden, William. 1722. Britannia, or a chorographical description of Great Britain and Ireland, together with the adjacent islands. Translated by Edmund Gibson. 2 vols. London: Mary Matthews.

“Clderowe”: Unfinished Perspective View of Clitheroe Castle. 1561. MPC 1/94. The National Archives, Kew.

Dryden, John. 1697. The Works of Virgil Containing His Pastorals, Georgics and Aeneis. London: Tonson.

Dugdale, William. 1675-76. The Baronage of England, or, An Historical Account of the Lives and Most Memorable Actions of Our English Nobility in the Saxons Time to the Norman Conquest. London: Newcomb.

Edwards, B. J. N. 1984. “George Vertue’s Engraving of Clitheroe Castle.” Antiquaries Journal 64, no. 2: 366-72.

Evelyn, John. 1857. Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn. Vol. 3. Edited by William Bray. London: Colburn.

Grose, Francis. 1783. The Antiquities of England and Wales. Vol. 3. New ed. London: Hooper.

Langshaw, Arthur. 1941. “The Site of the Castle Chapel.” Clitheroe Advertiser and Times 31 (January).

McNulty, Joseph. 1942. “Clitheroe Castle and Its Chapel: Their Origins.” Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 93: 45-53.

Pennant, Thomas. 1801. A Tour from Downing to Alston-Moor. London: Oriental Press.

Pounds, Norman John Greville. 1994. The Medieval Castle in England and Wales: A Social and Political History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

Whitaker, Thomas Dunham. 1872. An History of the Original Parish of Whalley, and Honor of Clitheroe. To Which Is Subjoined An Account of the Parish of Cartmell. 4th edition. 2 vols. London: Routledge / Manchester: Gent.

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