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Chirk, Wrexham. The name of this town has various interpretations; the favourite is that it simply Anglicized the name of the River Ceiriog on which the town grew up. This river is a tributary of the Dee, but at Chirk the aqueduct carrying the Shropshire Union Canal with a tenarch span of 750 ft is perhaps more remarkable, though it is not so much so as the one of eighteen arches built by Telford for a similar purpose at the beginning of the 18th century at Pontycysylltau, 4 miles below Llangollen. The church is worth seeing, since its 15th century roof and tower hold monuments to the Myddelton family, of great note here in the 16th and 17th centuries, and to the Trevors of Bryn-kinallt, one of whose daughters was the mother of that Duke of Wellington who, in the words of the song, “thrashed Bonapart”.

Chirk and its castle can be reached in several ways: the most attractive is to walk from Llangollen by the 4 mile route past Plas Newydd, for this takes you on a green track smoothly winding up the hills to where a stone offers itself as a font for blessing. Chirk Castle has its Welsh name, Castell y Waun (Meadow Castle), apt enough for its siting. It was built by one of the Mortimer Marcher Lords, Roger, in the reign of Edward I. Roger is said to have been granted the lands of Chirk as a reward for his part in bringing about the downfall of the Llywelyn who was last of the native Princes of Wales. The present extent of the Castle is much greater than the 13th century would have foreseen. But as a frontier fortress it needed to have great strength. Rectangular in plan, it has a round tower at each corner; on entering, you have the impression of a great quadrangle in which the companies of its defenders could be drawn up in force, and from which open various storerooms, stables, and other places.

In these storerooms many relics of the Castle's curiously alternating fortunes are preserved. The front is 250 ft long, the principal gateway strong and imposing, the internal quadrangle measures 160 by 100 ft. The battlements are laid so that at least two persons could walk abreast when watching the defences.

Most of the relics housed around the square date from the Civil War. The fortress was bought in 1595 by Sir Thomas Myddelton, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1613. His son, also Thomas. found his castle seized by the Royalist forces and attempted to recover it by arms. He failed. After the end of the Civil War, he managed to acquire it again, but decided to change his allegiance. He took up the cause of Charles II in 1659, and was himself besieged by General Lambert. Again he failed. The Cromwellian artillery played a great part in reducing the defence, and breached many of the walls. For our eyes the examples of the Puritan steeple-crowned hat have an unusual interest. The gunners laid their weapons, applied the match, and handled the cannon-balls still in their sombre broadcloth and white neck-bands. The only concession they made to war was to line the steeple-hat with iron. No more improbable - or inefficient helmet could surely have been devised. But the gunner felt himself to be a journeyman doing a trade; the dash of Rupert's cavaliers could be left to the highly armoured and proficient horsemen of Oliver.

In the Castle proper, with its chambers and dining-rooms, is a great deal of architectural and historic interest. One immense room, its floor of long single beams, is so wide that it yields rhythmically beneath your feet. Pictures are many; they include the piece by an allegedly foreign artist whose paintings of the falls at Rhayader includes ships sailing over dry land. The legend is that he was invited to include the sheep on the hilts, but misunderstood the request; either he heard, or his Welsh patron actually used, “ships” for “sheep”. The presence of shipping in the coats of arms belonging to the area may account for the ships in the picture. The portraits from Stuart times include those of Charles I, Charles II, his illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth, and Dutch William and his wife Mary. But, just as the windows of the Castle show that the~ were changed to their present form in the (lays of Elizabeth Tudor, so does one portrait in particular recall them. This is shown as representing Katheryn of Berain; and a word or two about her opens certain forgotten pages of history.

The House of Tudor was formed by Henry, Earl of Richmond, a man very conscious of his Welsh heritage. The family he sprang from was identified with Anglesey. His connection with the ruling dynasty of England restrained him from risking his chances in the War of the Roses, and he followed the example of several Welsh leaders before him and went to live in the anciently related country of Brittany. He loved a Breton lady, and as a result fathered one Roland called Velville. When Henry grasped the crown of Britain at Bosworth, he naturally took steps to secure the legitimate succession to the throne, and he provided himself with an heir first in his elder son Arthur, Prince of Wales. who died too soon, and then in his second son, Henry, later called the Eighth. But he did not forget his earlier-born offspring, and he made Roland Constable of Beaumaris Castle, with other lands in Anglesey. Roland in turn had a daughter by his Welsh wife, and this was the mother of Katheryn of Berain. Katheryn's father, from whom she inherited Berain, was another Tudor. And this may well have disturbed Elizabeth I, who at last succeeded in holding her father's crown against all competition. Perhaps even Henry VIII may have doubted the strength of the claim to blood royal, since he tried to create the precedent of leaving the throne by appointment in his will. Constitutional practice in England has always insisted that the kingship goes only by choice of Parliament. But Elizabeth clearly preferred to take no chances. The remedy was found, not, as in other cases, by use of the axe, but by arranged marriage. Katheryn is famed for the number of her descendants; but they all came from gentlemen of undoubted loyalty to Elizabeth. The first marriage was to Sir John Salusbury, son of the Chamberlain of North Wales; it took place when Katheryn was twenty-two but her groom still under age. The second, ten years later, was to Richard Clough, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre; in a much later century one descendant was the poet Arthur Hugh Clough. The third was to Maurice Wynn of Gwydir, again representative of a famous family: this was about 1573. The fourth, to Edward Thelwall, took place about 1583. Rumour, elaborating on this record, spoke of Katheryn as an irrepressible lover with notable dexterity in disposing of rejected suitors. But her surprisingly rapid series of marriages seems to have been imposed on her by the court. Her affairs were warily overseen; she underwent some peril by her nearness to Leicester's estates in Wales, and again when one of her youthful descendants showed too intimate an interest in Babington and his pro-Catholic conspiracy. She died at an uncertain date, but was buried next to her first young husband at Llanefydd in 1591. Among her numerous descendants was Mrs Thrale, the blue-stocking and close friend of Dr Samuel Johnson.

Nearby towns: Ellesmere, Llangollen, Oswestry, Wrexham

Nearby villages: Acrefair, Bangor-is-y-coed, Erbistock, Frankton, Glyn Ceiriog, Gobowen, Gyfelia, Hindford, Hordley, Ifton Heath, Llangadwaladr, Llansilin, Llantysilio, Marchwiel, Overton, Pont Newydd, Rhewl, Rhosllanerchrugog, Ruabon, Selattyn, St. Martins, Trefonen, Trevor, Whittington

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