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And to those who reside in the town itself, or the hundred of Selkley, it must be doubly welcome and valuable.
The amount of general historical interest to which we here find the town of Marlborough fairly entitled, (in spite of the fact that at no period has it been very extensive, wealthy, or populous), arises from its geographical position. It occupies the very centre of that area of Wiltshire which is most thickly studded with the remains of the primitive inhabitants of the island, almost within sight of all the three great monuments of unknown antiquityStonehenge, Avebury, and Silbury Hill-at the intersection of several first-class Roman roads and on the chief line of communication between London and the metropolis of the west, till of late the second city of the kingdom, Bristol. So placed, it could not fail to play a part in many of the most important events in the history of Britain..
The evidence of the occupation of the actual site of the town of Marlborough by the aboriginal Britons is confined to the Castle Mound, which, though inferior in size to its colossal neighbour, Silbury, is so similar to it in character, as to leave little doubt of an identity in origin. Mildenhall, a suburb of the town, and the adjoining hill called Folly Farm, unquestionably formed the Roman military station of Cunetio, which derived its name from the river Cunnet or Kennet by which it is intersected. This latter sound is so closely allied to that of the 'Kynetes' of Herodotus, and the * Kynt of the British bard Aneurin, that Mr. Waylen perhaps is justified in supposing we may trace in this spot the establishment of some of the earliest migratory inhabitants of the west of Europe.
Sir Richard Hoare divides the station Cunetio into two, the upper and the lower. We must refer to his great work on Ancient Wiltshire, from which Mr. Waylen judiciously quotes the principal passages, for an account of the numerous vestiges of Roman works, still, or lately, existing here, and the objects of antiquity that have been at various times dug up on its site. Among the last is “the
Marlborough Bucket” preserved in the British Museum, and the Rudge Cup, engraved in Gough's Camden, and represented below in the size of original. (Query; where is this preserved at present ?)
The name of Marlborough, written in the most ancient charters Merlberg, or Mierleberg, is supposed to be derived from Merlin Ambrosius the Briton, a seer and writer, who flourished towards the close of the fifth century, and is said by Bale to have been buried here, having in his life-time erected Stonehenge. All this is, of course, somewhat apocryphal. Not so the well authenticated fact that at the time of the conquest a castle existed here in which the Conqueror imprisoned several of the Saxon ecclesiastics (among others Ægelricus, Bishop of Southsax) who had exhibited impatience of his usurpation. It is remarkable that Domesday Book contains no survey of the town or manor, although one of the wealthiest landholders in the county bore the name of Alured de Merlebergh, and was therefore most probably its lord. The Conqueror is said to have established a mint here, several coins of his epoch existing with the name of the town impressed on them. That the castle continued in the hands of the Sovereign seems proved by Henry I. having held a court here during Easter in the year 1110.
In the succeeding reign, Wiltshire, it is well known, formed the central battle-field of the prolonged contest for the Crown, which was carried on between Stephen, of Blois, and the partisans of the Empress Matilda, Henry's daughter, and possessing at that time an extraordinary number of flourishing towns, religious houses, and feudal fortresses, it was proportionably exposed to the alternate ravages of both parties. The castle of Marlborough was held during the greater part of this period for the Empress by her halfbrother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and his castellain John FitzGilbert. The latter seems by a want of due respect for monastic property to have incurred the special wrath of the monkish historians of the day, one of whom, William of Malmesbury, speaks of him in the following terms :-“A very firebrand of wickedness was this John of Marlborough, who appeared to rule in that castle for no other purpose than to scourge the realm with his ceaseless injuries. By means of outlying fortalices skilfully contrived to communicate with himself, he brought within his power the lands and possessions not of civilians only, but of religious houses of what order soever; and though often excommunicated, this only added to his fury; for, compelling the heads of the monasteries to assemble at his castle on stated days, he practised the unparalleled effrontery of assuming in his own person the episcopal function of levying contributions either in the form of ready money or compulsory services.” The extreme indignation here shewn at the assumption by a lay baron of episcopal privileges of taxation, is amusing at a period when so many bishops were in that very neighbourhood in arms, and playing the part of baronial warriors—the Bishop of Salisbury holding Malmesbury and Devizes, the latter built by himself, and considered the strongest fortress in the realm—the Bishop of Ely acting as his lieutenant—while the Bishop of Lincoln fortified and manfully defended Castle Howard, and the Bishop of Winchester the chief fortress of his see. Mr. Waylen recounts several of the events of which Wiltshire was the theatre during this intestine struggle, and we cannot but express a hope that either he or some other equally competent writer will before long favour us with a special and detailed history of the important part which our county played in the history of the baronial wars of the 12th and 13th century, Henry II., soon after his accession, granted the castle of Marlborough to his son John, Earl of Mortagne, afterwards King John, whose marriage with the heiress of the Earl of Gloucester was celebrated here in the year 1189. John appears to have been throughout his life attached to the spot, as a place of occasional residence and a repository for much of his treasure. He conferred many charters also upon the burgesses of the adjoining town. Numerous contemporary documents attest these facts, of which Mr. Waylen gives several interesting extracts. In the great contest of this unhappy monarch with his barons, the castle of Marlborough slipped from his grasp, being delivered up by its warden, Hugh de Neville, to Prince Louis of France, who had been called in by the disaffected barons to head their forces, and laid claim to the Crown. By him it was made over to William Mareschal, the younger, son of the great Earl of Pembroke, of the same name. The former, however, shortly after withdrew his support from Louis, and Marlborough Castle re-opened its gates to the friends of Prince Henry who had been proclaimed King under the title of Henry III. by the elder Mareschal, and crowned at Gloucester in presence of the Pope's legate and the loyal barons.
Henry was often at Marlborough. And it was during his illness there in the year 1126 that the gallant William Longespee, who had visited the King, his uncle, to remonstrate against the attempts of the favourite Hubert de Burgh to obtain possession of his birthright by marriage with his mother, the Countess Ela of Sarum, was struck (through poison as some suppose) by a sudden sickness which proved speedily mortal. Marlborough continued to be a favourite residence of Henry III., probably owing to the opportunities for sport afforded by the neighbouring royal forests of Savernake and Albourn Chase. The Liberate Rolls contain many directions to the constable of the castle for its improvement and repairs, with interesting particulars of the accommodation provided in it for both the King and the Queen, of which Mr. Waylen
gives copious examples. On the death of Henry III. Marlborough Castle became part of the dowry of his widow Queen Eleanor, who resided in the neighbouring nunnery of Amesbury, and on her death was conferred by Edward I. on his own Queen. On the accession of Edward II., he deprived his mother of it, and bestowed it, together with other vast estates, on the all-powerful favourite Hugh le Despencer, in the year 1308. On the fall of the Despencers, Queen Isabel obtained it, and, in the reign of Edward III., it was held likewise for the Queen Joanna (of Scotland, Edward's sister), by a succession of wardens. Richard II. granted it to his faithful follower Sir William Scrope, K.G., created at the same time Earl of Wiltshire, on whose execution in 1399, it reverted again to the Crown. In the time of Henry V. Sir Walter Hungerford, of Farleigh Castle, received the profits of the town and castle, which in the subsequent reign were held by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, known as the good Duke. By this time it seems probable that the castle had been dismantled, being no longer mentioned as a fortress, although still used as a principal residence by the Seymours, into whose hands it ultimately passed by grant from the Crown to the Duke of Somerset, temp. Edw. VI. In that family it descended by inheritance, together with the Barony of Seymour of Trowbridge, until, in the year 1779, it was purchased by its present noble owner the Marquis of Ailesbury, who was already possessed of the rangership of the adjoining forest of Savernak, and the estates of Tottenham, Wolfhall, &c., by inheritance from Elizabeth sister and heir of the third Duke.
The Borough of Marlborough existed, no doubt, as a self-governed municipality from the Saxon, or indeed, probably, the Roman period. But its earliest written charter was granted by John. It possessed the usual Court Leet, Mayor's Court, and other municipal privileges, with a special court, called Morrow Speech Court, held four times in the year, at which the mayors and burgesses were chosen. The first charter of incorporation was granted by Queen Elizabeth. It seems to have returned two members to Parliament from the earliest period ; at all events from the time of Henry III.