Muncaster Castle

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Muncaster Castle
    Here is a link to the piece on Muncaster that appeared on Strange But True

    I was edited out before it went on television. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

  2. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Muncaster Castle
    The following entitled the ‘THE LUCK OF MUNCASTER’ is taken from Roby’s Traditions of Lancashire (1872).

    Gamel de Pennington is the first ancestor of the family of whom there is any recorded account; he was a person of great note and property at the time of the Conquest, and the family, having quitted their original seat of Pennington in Lancashire (where the foundation of a square building called the Castle is still visible), he fixed his residence at Mealcastre, now called Muncaster. It is said that the family originally resided nearer the sea, at a place not far from the town of Ravenglass, where at present are the ruins of an old Roman castle, called Walls Castle. The old tower of the present mansion-house at Muncaster was built by the Romans, to guard the ford called St Michael’s Ford, over the river Esk, when Agricola went to the north, and to watch also the great passes into the country over the fells, and over Hard Knot, where is the site of another fortress constructed by them, apparent from the traces existing to this day.

    Muncaster and the manor of Muncaster have long been enjoyed by the Penningtons, who appear to have possessed it about forty years before the Conquest, and ever since, sometimes collaterally, but for the most part in lineal descent by their issue male, to this very time.

    There is a room in Muncaster Castle which still goes by the name of Henry the Sixth’s room, from the circumstance of his having been concealed in it at the time he was flying from his enemies in 1461, when Sir John Pennington, the then possessor of Muncaster, gave him a secret reception.

    The posts of the bed in which he slept, which are of handsome carved oak, are also in the same room in good preservation.

    When the period for the king’s departure arrived, before he proceeded on his journey, he addressed Sir John with many kind and courteous acknowledgments for his loyal reception, lamenting, at the same time, that he had nothing of more value to present him with, as a testimony of his good-will, than the cup out of which he crossed himself. He then gave it into the hands of Sir John, accompanying the present with the following blessing:—"The family shall prosper as long as they preserve it unbroken;" which the superstition of those times imagined would carry good fortune to his descendants. Hence it is called "The Luck of Muncaster." It is a curiously-wrought glass cup, studded with gold and white enamel spots. The benediction attached to its security being then uppermost in the recollection of the family, it was considered essential to the prosperity of the house at the time of the usurpation that the Luck of Muncaster should be deposited in a safe place; it was consequently buried till the cessation of hostilities had rendered all further care and concealment unnecessary. Unfortunately, however, the person commissioned to disinter this precious jewel let the box fall in which it was locked up, which so alarmed the then existing members of the family, that they could not muster courage enough to satisfy their apprehensions. It therefore (according to the traditionary story still preserved in the family) remained unopened for more than forty years, at the expiration of which period a Pennington, more hardy or more courageous than his predecessors, unlocked the casket, and exultingly proclaimed the safety of the Luck of Muncaster.

    When John, Lord Muncaster (the first of the family who obtained a peerage), entered into possession of Muncaster Castle, after his elevation in 1793, he found it still surrounded with a moat, and defended by a strong portcullis. The family having of late years entirely resided upon their estate of Wartee in Yorkshire, the house was in so very dilapidated a state that Lord Muncaster was obliged to rebuild it almost entirely, with the exception of Agricola’s Tower, the walls of which are nine feet thick. The elevation of the new part is in unison with that of the Roman tower, and forms altogether a handsome castellated building. The situation is eminently striking, and was well chosen for commanding the different passes over the mountains. It is surrounded with mountain scenery on the north, south, and east; while extensive plantations, a rich and cultivated country, with the sea in the distance, makes a combination of scenery than which it is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful or more picturesque.

    We are tempted to conclude this description with the words of John, Lord Muncaster, who himself so greatly contributed to its renovation. Upon being requested to give an outline of its beauties, he replied that it consisted of "wood, park, lawn, valley, river, sea, and mountain."
    The reason or excuse we give for introducing within our Lancashire series this tradition, of which the occurrences took place in a neighbouring county, is, that the family was originally native to our own. By the village of Pennington, situated about midway between Dalton and Ulverstone, is the Castle Hill, the residence of this family before the Conquest. The area of the castle-yard appears to have been an octagon or a square, with obtuse angles, about forty-five yards in diameter. The south and east sides have been defended by a ditch about ten yards wide, and by a vallum of earth, still visible. There are no vestiges of the ancient building. It stood apparently on the verge of a precipice, at the foot of which flows a brook with great rapidity. The side commands an extensive view of the sea-coast and beacons, and was excellently situated for assembling the dependants in cases of emergency. The name is diversely written in ancient writings, as Penyngton, Penington, Pennington, and in Doomsday Book Pennegetun, perhaps from Pennaig, in British "a prince or great personage," to which the Saxon termination tun being added, forms Pennegetun, since smoothed into Pennington.

    “Come hither, Sir John de Pennington, 
    Come hither, and hearken to me; 
    Nor silver, nor gold, nor ladye-love,
    Nor broad lands I give unto thee." 

    "I care not for silver, I care not for gold,
    Nor for broad lands, nor fair ladye;
    But my honour and troth, and my good broadsword,
    Are the king’s eternally."

    "Come hither, Sir John, thou art loyal and brave,"
    Again the monarch spake;
    "In my trouble and thrall, in the hour of pain,
    Thou pity didst on me take.

    "The white rose withers on every bough,
    And the red rose rears its thorn;
    But many a maid our strife shall rue,
    And the babe that is yet unborn.

    "I’ve charged in the battle with horse and lance,
    But I’ve doffed the warrior now;
    And never again may helmet of steel
    Bind this burning, aching brow!

    "Oh, had I been born of a simple churl,
    And a serving-wench for my mate,
    I had whistled as blithe as yon knave that sits
    By Muncaster’s Castle gate!

    "Would that my crown were a bonnet of blue,
    And my sceptre yon shepherd’s crook,
    I would honour, dominion, and power eschew,
    In this holy and quiet nook.

    "For England’s crown is a girdle of blood,
    A traitor is every gem;
    And a murderer’s eye each jewel that lurks
    In that kingly diadem!

    "Hunt on! hunt on, thou blood-hound keen;
    I’d rather an outcast be,
    Than wade through all that thou hast done,
    To pluck that crown from thee!"

    "Then tarry, my liege," Sir John replied,
    "In Muncaster’s Castle gate;
    No foeman shall enter, while sheltered here
    From Edward’s pride and hate."

    "I may not tarry, thou trusty knight,
    Nor longer with thee abide;
    Ere to-morrow shall rise on these lordly towers,
    From that gate shall a monarch ride.

    "For a vision came to my lonely bed,
    And that vision bade me flee;
    And I must away, ere break of day,
    O’er the hills to the south countrie.

    "But take this cup,—’tis a hallowed thing,
    Which holy men have blessed;
    In the church of the Holy Sepulchre
    This crystal once did rest;

    "And many a martyr, and many a saint,
    Around its brim have sate;
    No water that e’er its lips have touched
    But is hallowed and consecrate.

    "’Tis thine, Sir John; not an empire’s worth,
    Nor wealth of Ind could buy
    The like, for never was jewel seen
    Of such wondrous potency.

    "It shall bless thy bed, it shall bless thy board,
    They shall prosper by this token;
    In Muncaster Castle good luck shall be,
    Till the charmed cup is broken!"

    Sir John he bent him on his knee,
    And the king’s word ne’er did err,
    For the cup is called, to this blessed hour,

    "Oh haste, Sir William of Liddislee
    My kinsman good at need,
    Ere the Esk’s dark ford thou hast passed by,
    In Muncaster rest thy steed;

    "And say to my love and my lady bright,
    In Carlisle I must stay,
    For the foe is come forth from the misty north,
    And I cannot hence away;

    "But I must keep watch on Carlisle’s towers
    With the banner of Cumberland;
    Then bid her beware of the rebel host,
    Lest they come with sword and brand.

    "But bid her, rather than house or land,
    Take heed of that cup of grace,
    Which King Henry gave to our ancestor,
    The ‘Luck’ of our noble race.

    "Bid her bury it deep at dead of night,
    That no eye its hiding see.
    Now do mine errand, Sir William,
    As thou wouldst prosperous be!"

    Sir William stayed nor for cloud nor shrine,
    He stayed not for rest nor bait,
    Till he saw the far gleam on Esk’s broad stream,
    And Muncaster’s Castle gate.

    "From whence art thou in such fearful haste?"
    The warder wondering said;
    "Hast thou ‘scaped alone from the bloody fight,
    And the field of the gory dead?"

    "I am not from the bloody fight,
    Nor a craven flight I flee;
    But I am come to my lady’s bower,
    Sir William of Liddislee."

    The knight to the lady’s bower is gone:
    "A boon I crave from thee,
    Deny me not, thou lady bright,"
    And he bent him on his knee.

    "I grant thee a boon," the lady said,
    "If it from my husband be;"
    "There’s a cup of grace," cried the suppliant knight,
    "Which thou must give to me."

    "Now foul befa’ thee, fause traitor,
    That with guile would our treasure win;
    For ne’er from Sir John of Pennington
    Had such traitrous message been."

    "I crave your guerdon, fair lady,
    ‘Twas but your faith to try,
    That we might know if the ‘Luck’ of this house
    Were safe in such custody.

    "The message was thus, thy husband sent;
    He hath looked out from Carlisle wa’,
    And he is aware of John Highlandman
    Come trooping down the snaw;

    "And should this kilted papistry
    Spread hither upon their way,
    They’ll carry hence that cup of grace,
    Though thou shouldst say them nay.

    "And thy lord must wait for the traitor foe
    By the walls of merry Carlisle;
    Else he would hie to his lady’s help,
    And his lady’s fears beguile.

    "Thy lord would rather his house were brent,
    His goods and his cattle harried,
    Than the cup should be broken,—that cup of grace,
    Or from Muncaster’s house be carried."

    The kinsman smiled on that fond lady,
    And his traitor suit he plied:
    "Give me the cup," the false knight said,
    "From these foemen fierce to hide."

    The lady of Muncaster oped the box
    Where lay this wondrous thing;
    Sir William saw its beauteous form,
    All bright and glistering.

    The kinsman smiled on that fond lady,
    And he viewed it o’er and o’er.
    "’Tis a jewel of price," said that traitor then,
    "And worthy a prince’s dower.

    "We’ll bury the treasure where ne’er from the sun
    One ray of gladness shone,
    Where darkness and light, and day and night,
    And summer and spring are one:

    "Beneath the moat we’ll bury it straight,
    In its box of the good oak-tree;
    And the cankered carle, John Highlandman,
    Shall never that jewel see."

    The kinsman took the casket up,
    And the lady looked over the wall:
    "If thou break that cup of grace, beware,
    The pride of our house shall fall!"

    The kinsman smiled as he looked above,
    And to the lady cried,
    "I’ll show thee where thy luck shall be,
    And the lord of Muncaster’s pride."

    The lady watched this kinsman false,
    And he lifted the casket high:
    "Oh! look not so, Sir William,"
    And bitterly she did cry.

    But the traitor knight dashed the casket down
    To the ground, that blessèd token;
    "Lie there," then said that false one now,
    "Proud Muncaster’s charm is broken!"

    The lady shrieked, the lady wailed,
    While the false knight fled amain:
    But never durst Muncaster’s lord, I trow,
    Ope that blessèd shrine again!

    The knight of Muncaster went to woo,
    And he rode with the whirlwind’s speed,
    For the lady was coy, and the lover was proud,
    And he hotly spurred his steed.

    He stayed not for bog, he stayed not for briar,
    Nor stayed he for flood or fell;
    Nor ever he slackened his courser’s rein,
    Till he stood by the Lowthers’ well.

    Beside that well was a castle fair,
    In that castle a fair lady;
    In that lady’s breast was a heart of stone,
    Nor might it softened be.

    "Now smooth that brow of scorn, fair maid,
    And to my suit give ear;
    There’s never a dame in Cumberland,
    Such a look of scorn doth wear."

    "Haste, haste thee back," the lady cried,
    "For a doomed man art thou;
    I wed not the heir of Muncaster,
    Thy ‘Luck’ is broken now!"

    "Oh say not so, for on my sire
    Th’ unerring doom was spent;
    I heir not his ill-luck, I trow,
    Nor with his dool am shent."

    "The doom is thine, as thou art his,
    And to his curse, the heir;
    But never a luckless babe of mine
    That fearful curse shall bear!"

    A moody man was the lover then;
    But homeward as he hied,
    Beside the well at Lord Lowther’s gate,
    An ugly dwarf he spied.

    "Out of my sight, thou fearsome thing;
    Out of my sight, I say:
    Or I will fling thine ugly bones
    To the crows this blessèd day."

    But the elfin dwarf he skipped and ran
    Beside the lover’s steed,
    And ever as Muncaster’s lord spurred on,
    The dwarf held equal speed.

    The lover he slackened his pace again,
    And to the goblin cried:
    "What ho, Sir Page, what luckless chance
    Hath buckled thee to my side?"

    Up spake then first that shrivelled thing,
    And he shook his locks of grey:
    "Why lowers the cloud on Muncaster’s brow,
    And the foam tracks his troubled way?"

    "There’s a lady, the fairest in all this land,"
    The haughty chief replied;
    "But that lady’s love in vain I’ve sought,
    And I’ll woo none other bride."

    "And is there not beauty in other lands,
    And locks of raven hue,
    That thou must pine for a maiden cold,
    Whose bosom love ne’er knew?"

    "Oh, there is beauty in every land,"
    The sorrowing knight replied;
    "But I’d rather Margaret of Lonsdale wed,
    Than the fairest dame beside."

    "And thou shalt the Lady Margaret wed,"
    Said that loathly dwarf again;
    "There’s a key in Muncaster Castle can break
    That maiden’s heart in twain!"

    "Oh never, oh never, thou lying elf,
    That maiden’s word is spoken:
    The cup of grace left a traitor’s hand,
    Proud Muncaster’s ‘Luck’ is broken."

    Then scornfully grinned that elfin dwarf,
    And aloud he laughed again:
    "There’s a key in thy castle, Sir Knight, can break
    That maiden’s heart in twain!"

    The knight he turned him on his steed,
    And he looked over hill and stream;
    But he saw not that elfin dwarf again,
    He had vanished as a dream!

    The knight came back to his castle hall,
    And stabled his good grey steed;
    And he is to his chamber gone,
    With wild and angry speed.

    And he saw the oaken casket, where
    Lay hid that cup of grace,
    Since that fearful day, when the traitor foe
    Wrought ruin on his race.

    "Thou cursed thing," he cried in scorn,
    "That ever such ‘Luck’ should be;
    From Muncaster’s house, ill-boding fiend,
    Thou shalt vanish eternally."

    He kicked the casket o’er and o’er
    With rage and contumely;
    When, lo! a tinkling sound was heard—
    Down dropped a glittering key!

    He remembered well the wondrous speech
    Of the spectre dwarf again,
    "There’s a key in Muncaster Castle can break
    A maiden’s heart in twain!"

    He took the key, and he turned the lock,
    And he opened the casket wide;
    When the cause of all his agony
    The lover now espied.

    The holy cup lay glistering there,
    And he kissed that blessèd token,
    For its matchless form unharmèd lay,
    The "Luck" had ne’er been broken!

    The loud halls rung, and the minstrels sung,
    And glad rolled the Esk’s bonny tide,
    When Lonsdale’s Lady Margaret
    Was Muncaster’s winsome bride!

    Now prosper long that baron bold,
    And that bright and blessèd token:
    For Muncaster’s Luck is constant yet,
    And the crystal charm unbroken!