Me and Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

Joan Neville and I go back a long way. In fact, my love of history, stately homes and a predisposition to being nosey could well be attributed to our early acquaintance.

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

My parents weren’t big on history, but we did regularly go out on day trips and if there happened to be a stately home thereabouts, well sometimes we gave it a try! Not very often, I have to admit, but here is the photographic evidence that one day in the late 1950s we stormed the Castle Keep at Arundel.


We were on a day out with mum and dad’s friends known as ‘the Robos.’ I think their name was Robinson and I’m sure that aged 5ish I must have called them Uncle and Auntie something or other, but today I only remember them as ‘the Robos.’ How they fitted into our small family with an even smaller circle of friends, I don’t know. They had two sons, the younger of whom was called Eric and there is another photo of us three children standing fully clothed in a paddling pool at Caister Holiday Camp, but I digress.

These 6cm square, grainy, black and white photographs were taken at Arundel Castle, the marital home of Joan, Countess of Arundel. Situated some four miles north of Littlehampton the 11th century castle was built by Roger de Montgomery, one of the Conqueror’s principal counselors and most probably a cousin as well. His reward for keeping the home fires burning back in Normandy while William helped himself to ours was most of West Sussex and Shropshire and a handful of manors in Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Middlesex, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Not bad going, eh!

A view from the Castle Keep across West Sussex

A view from the Castle Keep across West Sussex

When Joan Neville married William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel in 1438 the castle was practically a new build, a mere 300 years old and owned by the Fitzalan family since the 13th century. Mary Fitzalan, their great great granddaughter would be the last member of the family to own the property. Mary became the 15 year old bride of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, whom she married in the spring of 1555. A son, Phillip, was born two years later but sadly Mary died just 8 weeks after his birth, aged 17. It has been written that “all who knew her could not but love and esteem her much.”


Jumping on 400 years and here I am pictured climbing the steps to the Castle Keep. Probably built by William d’Albini II towards the end of the 11th century, today the Keep is open to the elements although there is evidence of fireplaces on the inner walls and of an upper floor.


And here am I pictured astride the Coade stone horse that stands on duty on a bridge over the dry moat. This and the companion lion is representative of heraldic beasts on the Norfolk coat of arms. These two sculptures once stood on the Norfolk Bridge at Shoreham on Sea but when the bridge was demolished and rebuilt in 1922 they were brought up to the castle. I bet little children are not allowed to sit on them now – perhaps they weren’t in the 50s either – I do look a little bit smug!

With both Medieval and Victorian architecture the Castle has provided the back drop for a whole raft of period films and TV programmes, including The Young Victoria (2009) and Henry VIII (2003).

Mary Fitzalan, Joan's great great grandaughter.

Mary Fitzalan, Joan’s great great granddaughter.

Arundel Castle remains in the Norfolk family today and is open to the public from April-October. Visit the website for further details.


Three literary sisters

Antonia Fraser, Judith Kazantzis and Rachel Billington are three sisters who have made their mark on the literary scene during a combined career of more than 120 years.

The three literary siblings are the daughters of politician, writer and prison reformer Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford and his wife Elizabeth.  Lord ‘Frank’ Longford was the author of the 1972 Pornography Report but is probably better remembered for his sustained, and unsuccessful, campaign for the release of Moors Murderer Myra Hindley.

Francis 'Frank' Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford

Francis ‘Frank’ Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford

Antonia Fraser, born in 1932, is the author of numerous historical biographies including Mary, Queen of Scots and Cromwell, Our Chief of Men, and has also written the Jemima Shore series of detective novels.

Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser

Second sister, born in 1940 is Judith Kazantzis, poet, painter and printmaker who in 2007 was awarded the Society of Authors’ Cholmondeley Award for poetic achievement.

Judith Kazantzis

Judith Kazantzis

And third sister born in 1942 is Rachel Billington who in a prolific career has written more than 30 novels for both adults and children, journalism for UK and US newspapers and plays for TV and radio.

Rachel Billington

With a wealth of literary prizes, a CBE, an OBE and a DBE between them these three women come from an illustrious line of feisty females.  Their father, Frank Pakenham was the second son of Brigadier General Thomas Pakenham, 5th Earl of Longford and his wife Lady Mary Julia Child Villiers. There’s that name again!

The Villiers family liked to keep ever close to the throne; from George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, favourite of King James VI and I, to Queen Anne’s best friend Barbara Villiers and three Royal mistresses – Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Castlemaine, mother to five of Charles II’s illegitimate children; Elizabeth Villiers ‘Squinty eyed Betty’ William III’s squeeze and Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey and mistress of George IV. The Villiers women (and men) were not a little manipulative; intelligent, entertaining and ever so slightly interfering, once they got their foot in the door there was no stopping them. Through  Restoration romps to Georgian extravaganzas, the Villiers’ were never very far away.

The three Pakenham sisters can trace their ancestry back eleven generations to Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, one of another family of influential sisters pictured on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.


It seems quite fitting, therefore, that Antonia Fraser has done such a lot of Royal record keeping, including a biography on Charles II in which her ancestor features prominently.  Now if only Barbara had stopped her meddling and put pen to paper we could have read a first hand account.

Lady Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Lytton will be a name familiar to anyone who has studied the Votes for Women campaign waged between 1903 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Her involvement came about by a meeting with that other famous Emmeline, Mrs Pethwick-Lawrence.  Constance joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1909   and worked as a paid organiser for the Union. Soon she was lobbying Parliament and using her influential contacts on behalf of the cause.  Her membership of the militant wing came later.

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer Lytton was born in Vienna on February 12, 1869 the daughter of diplomat Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton.  His wife, the former Edith Villiers, could trace her ancestry back to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze and her five times great grandmother Barbara St John who spent her childhood at Lydiard House. It was this aristocratic inheritance that would set Lady Constance on the dangerous path of militancy.

Throughout history the Villiers women proved to be notoriously single minded and despite her lack of confidence and ill health, Lady Constance followed true to form.  Having nailed her colours to the suffrage mast Constance defied the disapproval of society, her family’s consternation and common sense itself in her devotion to the cause.

Lady Constance spent her first prison sentence on the hospital ward at Holloway.  Her second one ended abruptly with her early release when doctors were alerted to her title and a pre existing heart condition.  Constance set about making  public the treatment suffragettes received and to reform prison conditions.  To do this she considered it necessary to have shared the same experience.  Dressed in dowdy clothes and with her hair cut and styled unflatteringly, Constance assumed the identity of Miss Jane Warton when she appeared at a protest outside Walton Gaol, Liverpool.  She was arrested but this time there was no special treatment and no medical examination.  She went on hunger strike with the other women and was forcibly fed eight times.

Lady Constance later wrote about her experiences.

Tuesday, January 18, I was visited again by the Senior Medical Officer, who asked me how long I had been without food. I said I had eaten a buttered scone and a banana sent in by friends to the police station on Friday at about midnight. He said, “Oh, then, this is the fourth day; that is too long, I shall have to feed you, I must feed you at once,” but he went out and nothing happened till about 6 o’clock in the evening, when he returned with, I think, five wardresses and the feeding apparatus. He urged me to take food voluntarily. I told him that was absolutely out of the question, that when our legislators ceased to resist enfranchising women then I should cease to resist taking food in prison. He did not examine my heart nor feel my pulse; he did not ask to do so, nor did I say anything which could possibly induce him to think I would refuse to be examined. I offered no resistance to being placed in position, but lay down voluntarily on the plank bed. Two of the wardresses took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet. One wardress helped to pour the food. The doctor leant on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth. I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth. I had looked forward to this moment with so much anxiety lest my identity should be discovered beforehand, that I felt positively glad when the time had come. The sense of being overpowered by more force than I could possibly resist was complete, but I resisted nothing except with my mouth. The doctor offered me the choice of a wooden or steel gag; he explained elaborately, as he did on most subsequent occasions, that the steel gag would hurt and the wooden one not, and he urged me not to force him to use the steel gag. But I did not speak nor open my mouth, so that after playing about for a moment or two with the wooden one he finally had recourse to the steel. He seemed annoyed at my resistance and he broke into a temper as he plied my teeth with the steel implement. He found that on either side at the back I had false teeth mounted on a bridge which did not take out. The superintending wardress asked if I had any false teeth, if so, that they must be taken out; I made no answer and the process went on. He dug his instrument down on to the sham tooth, it pressed fearfully on the gum. He said if I resisted so much with my teeth, he would have to feed me through the nose. The pain of it was intense and at last I must have given way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they could go naturally. Then he put down my throat a tube which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet in length. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had got down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back my head and the doctor leant on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe. I was sick over the doctor and wardresses, and it seemed a long time before they took the tube out. As the doctor left he gave me a slap on the cheek, not violently, but, as it were, to express his contemptuous disapproval, and he seemed to take for granted that my distress was assumed. At first it seemed such an utterly contemptible thing to have done that I could only laugh in my mind. Then suddenly I saw Jane Warton lying before me, and it seemed as if I were outside of her. She was the most despised, ignorant and helpless prisoner that I had seen. When she had served her time and was out of the prison, no one would believe anything she said, and the doctor when he had fed her by force and tortured her body, struck her on the cheek to show how he despised her! That was Jane Warton, and I had come to help her.

Upon her release from prison Constance continued to profess the different treatment she had received when her true identity was unknown.  The Times published a letter from Sir Edward Troup, permanent under secretary at the Home Office, challenging her version of events.  This was swiftly shot down in flames by Lady Constance’s brother Victor, Lord Lytton.

In 1911 Lady Constance suffered a slight stroke, but she soon returned to militant protest, taking part in a window smashing campaign.  A second stroke in May 1912 resulted in a partial paralysis down her right side.  No longer able to fight on the front line, she picked up her pen instead and with her left hand wrote about her experiences in Prisons and Prisoners published in 1914.

Lady Constance lived the rest of her life as an invalid, cared for by her mother.  She died on May 22, 1923 at her London home at Oxford Square.  She was 54 years old.