May 26 – A Day in Oxford with Rachael

A Visit to the Museum of Natural History

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Another hot day and another day out. Rachael had an appointment to see one of the organisers of the Oxford Open Doors which coincides with the Heritage Open Days on September 9th and 10th. We drove to the Pear Tree Park and Ride and took the bus the rest of the way into Oxford.

Mike and I left Rachael while she went to her meeting. Later, quite by chacne she sw us walking past and called us into the meeting. A real coincidence as Oxford is a big place and we had no idea where she was. After talking for a while S arranged for us to go into the Oxford Castle and take the tour. Giles gave us a very interesting talk and tour explaining about the history of the Castle including the imprisonment of Matilda to the final closure of the castle as a prison in 1996. The medieval remains of the castle, including the motte and St George’s Tower and crypt, are Grade I listed buildings and a Scheduled Monument. It is a large, partly ruined Norman medieval castle on the western side of central Oxford. Most of the original moated, wooden motte and bailey castle was replaced in stone in the 11th century and played an important role in the conflict of the Anarchy. In the 14th century, the military value of the castle diminished and the site became used primarily for county administration and as a prison. Most of the castle was destroyed in the English Civil War and by the 18th century, the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison. A new prison complex was built on the site from 1785 onwards and expanded in 1876; this became HM Prison Oxford.

In the 12th century, a fierce battle was fought for the throne of England between Stephen and Matilda, grandchildren of William the Conqueror. Empress Matilda, as the daughter of Henry I, was the rightful heir to the throne but as a woman and as the potential first Queen of England (ever), she was overlooked by many of the aristocracy to be unable to take on the responsibility the title would have given her.

She set to work putting this right by undertaking a battle of sieges during which supporters from both sides took it in turns to lay siege to one another’s strongholds. Matilda found herself besieged at Oxford Castle during the winter of 1142. The siege lasted 3 months. One freezing night in December, Matilda wrapped herself in a white cape and snuck through enemy lines disguised against the thick snowfall around her. She then donned a pair of ice skates and fled across the frozen River Thames to the safety of Wallingford Castle.

Matilda and Stephen’s war, known as The Anarchy, ended in 1153 when Matilda agreed that Stephen could be King by signing the Treaty of Wallingford, on one condition – when he died, Stephen was to leave the throne to Matilda’s son, Henry. Conveniently, Stephen did not enjoy a long reign as King of England, dying just a short year after the treaty was signed and King Henry II was crowned in 1154. Whilst Matilda did not win the battles, she undoubtedly won the war, living until 1167, thereby outliving Stephen and enjoying over 10 years of her son’s reign before she died. Justice!