SECRETS OF GREAT BRITISH CASTLES: Season 2
Airs Mondays, April 24-May 29, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of American Public Television
The castles of Britain may appear romantic, but hidden within their walls are tales of intrigue and violence.
In SECRETS OF GREAT BRITISH CASTLES Season 2, historian and author Dan Jones returns to uncover the dramatic stories behind a new set of iconic fortifications, including Edinburgh Castle, a fortress whose sordid history inspired the shocking ‘Red Wedding’ episode of GAME OF THRONES; Leeds Castle, an idyllic structure owned by six medieval queens and an American-born heiress; and Lancaster Castle, one of Britain’s oldest and most notorious strongholds.
Episode 1: "Edinburgh Castle" airs Monday, April 24 at 10 p.m. - In this episode, Dan Jones visits the most besieged castle in Scotland: Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh's iconic stronghold has shaped Scottish history. Over the centuries, this ancient fortress, originally defended by Iron Age warriors, has weathered numerous battles and sieges.
Royalty were born, lived and died here and many were tortured here. Edinburgh was - and still is - a military base. The castle served as a secure jail for prisoners of war and was a target for the world's first aerial bombing. Today, it is Scotland's most-visited paid tourist attraction.
Jones learns about the horrific incident that inspired the shocking "Red Wedding" in GAME OF THRONES. In 1440, the teenage Earl of Douglas and his brother were murdered in cold blood at a dinner with 9-year-old James II, in David's Tower. This grotesque double murder is now known as "The Black Dinner." It's one of the most notorious events in all of Scottish history.
Jones also meets a cannon expert who tells him about James II's love of canons, in particular Mons Meg. Dan fires a cannonball at a disused van to see how much damage a cannon can really do.
Episode 2: "Cardiff Castle" airs Monday, May 1 at 10 p.m. - Dan Jones is in the heart of Wales, exploring a stronghold that was built not just as an impenetrable fortress but also as a lavish fairy tale home: Cardiff Castle.
Cardiff Castle is a truly remarkable site with a history that spans over two thousand years. Roman soldiers slept here, noble knights held court here, and the Bute family — one of the world's richest — transformed the Castle into a romantic, Victorian fantasy.
The Bute family brought power and prosperity to Cardiff, which they turned from a sleepy backwater into one of the greatest coal exporting ports in the world. The castle also provided shelter for more than 1,800 people during WW2 in the castle's air raid tunnels.
Jones discovers that one of William the Conqueror's eldest sons, Robert Curthose, was imprisoned here. In 1106 Henry I gave the castle to his illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester. After a failed attempt by Robert Curthose to take England from Henry I, William the Conqueror's son was imprisoned in the castle until his death in 1134.
In 1314 the castle was given to Hugh Despenser the Younger, the controversial favorite of Edward II. Harsh governance by the Despensers encouraged a Welsh rebellion under Llywelyn Bren. In 1315 Bren attacked the castle. In 1318 Bren was crushed, hung, drawn and quartered on Despenser's orders.
Jones meets Dr. Mary Lewis from Reading University who shows Dan the bones of someone who had suffered the same grisly death. Dr. Lewis believes these bones to be those of Hugh Despenser the Younger…
Cardiff Castle was besieged many times during the English Civil War. Jones meets a weapons expert who shows him how gunpowder challenged Cardiff Castle's defenses and learns how to load and fire a musket.
Episode 3: "York Castle" airs Monday, May 8 at 10 p.m. - In this episode, Dan Jones is exploring the medieval capital of the North: York.
Built by William the Conqueror, York Castle was once the regional seat of the British government and was used as a prison and a royal mint. Before William The Conqueror settled into the North however, he had to fight off the Vikings.
The Vikings first arrived in York in 866, led by the colorfully named Ivor the Boneless. Jones visits a Viking village and learns how to fight in the manner of the Vikings.
In 1190, York Castle was the site of one of the worst pogroms in English history. A Yorkshire landholder indebted to a Jewish merchant exploited an accidental house fire to incite a mob to attack the Jews.
The Jews took refuge in York Castle as the mob surrounded it. Besieged for days, the Rabbi inside proposed an act of collective suicide, rather than give themselves up to the mob.
Others burned to death in a fire started in the wooden keep. A few surrendered, promising to convert to Christianity, but they were killed anyway by the angry crowd. One hundred fifty Jews died in total.
Jones learns about the life of a medieval knight and tries on armor like a Knight Templar would have worn, a special branch of knights referred to as "warrior monks."
Twenty-five Templars were imprisoned in York Castle and interrogated on the charge of heresy, idolatry, and other crimes. Jones visits York Minster where they stood trial to learn more about their story.
Dan Jones also visits the cell in which legendary highwayman Dick Turpin was imprisoned. Over the years many myths have grown up around the man but Jones poses the question, who was the real Dick Turpin?
Episode 4: "Lancaster Castle" airs Monday, May 16 at 10 p.m. - Dan Jones is exploring one of the oldest – and most fearsome — castles ever built: Lancaster Castle.
Dating back to Roman times, Lancaster Castle, owned by The Duchy of Lancaster, has witnessed scenes of historical, cultural and political significance throughout the centuries, including incidents of religious persecution, the trials of the "Lancashire Witches" and 200 executions. Until 2011 it was an HM Prison and it is still a working Crown Court.
Jones explores Lancaster's grisly history of crime and punishment. Lancaster Castle has been the scene of notable trials, scores of executions and has housed prisoners for centuries, until as recently as 2011.
Today, the castle is full of relics from its past, including a scold's bridle, a bizarre form of punishment reserved exclusively for women. Resembling a muzzle or cage for the head it had a padlock at the rear and a projecting spike that would have been held firmly inside the mouth when the bridle was closed.
Dan discovers a dungeon that was also used to imprison witches. One of the most famous witch trials in English history took place at Lancaster Castle almost 400 years ago. On August 20th 1612, 10 people who were convicted of witchcraft at the Summer Assize in Lancaster Castle, went to the gallows on the moors above town.
Between 1584-1646, 15 Catholics were executed in Lancaster for their faith. Jones shares the story of Father Arrowsmith who was hanged, drawn and quartered and visits the church where Fr. Arrowsmith's hand is on display. Miracles of healing are said to occur at its touch.
Episode 5: "Leeds Castle" airs Monday, May 22 at 10 p.m. - Dan Jones is in the southeast of the country, at an idyllic castle owned once by six medieval Queens and an American heiress: Leeds Castle. He explores why Leeds Castle is nicknamed the "Ladies Castle" and through the castle's history discovers that it isn't quite as genteel as it sounds.
Leeds Castle was originally the site of a royal Saxon family's manor. It was a Norman stronghold before becoming a Royal palace, home for 300 years to the Kings and Queens of England.
It was the private property of six medieval queens; a palace of Henry VIII; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; and an elegant 20th-century retreat for the rich and famous. It has been besieged, imprisoned "'witches" and witnessed a clandestine love affair that sparked the Tudor dynasty.
In 1139 the castle had its first encounter with royal politics when, held by Empress Matilda's supporters, it was besieged by King Stephen. The castle fell and the King took control of it.
Jones visits a royal bath house at Leeds Castle built by Edward II for Queen Eleanor and meets an historian who gives him insight into medieval hygiene and bathing habits.
Jones also meets a food historian at Hampton Court Palace who shows him what Henry VIII and his court would have eaten at the famous meeting with Francis I in France called the "Field of the Cloth of Gold." He samples some delicious spit roasted meats as well as more unusual Tudor sweets.
In the 20th century Leeds Castle was bought by Lady Baillie, who completely restored the fabric and structure of the castle. Lady Baillie lived longer at Leeds Castle than any other owner in history and made it one of the great houses of England. It became a center of lavish hospitality for leading politicians, ambassadors, international royalty and film stars.
Episode 6: "Arundel Castle" airs Monday, May 29 at 10 p.m. - Dan Jones is in the heart of the English countryside at Arundel Castle. Though it may appear tranquil today, for centuries this picture perfect castle had its share of turbulent times.
Apart from the occasional reversion to the Crown, from 1138 to the present day Arundel Castle has been carried by female heiresses from the d'Albinis to the FitzAlans in the 13th century and then from the FitzAlans to the Howards in the 16th century. But the fate of the Earls of Arundel has been tumultuous to say the least.
Jones meets a weapons expert who shows him how knights like Richard FitzAlan, third Earl of Arundel, would have fought in the 100 Year War with France and debunks the myth that swords were heavy and cumbersome to use.
Arundel has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years. The Duke of Norfolk is the Premier Duke and Arundel's fortunes rose and fell along with those of the Howard family. Arguably, no other English family has had such a dramatic history as the Howard's — and Jones tells that story.
Finally, Jones meets a social historian who gives him a better insight into the realities of living in a castle and how Arundel Castle would have prepared for Queen Victoria's visit in 1846.
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