Walking to Monmouth is always a pleasure. People nod and say hello. This is almost the first thing I see on leaving the house
Twenty minutes later I'm in Vauxhall Field, dog capital of Monmouth.
Vauxhall Fields changes with the seasons and has a mystery all of its own. It’s hard to believe it’s only five minutes walk away from Monmouth Town centre and that in the late C18th it was laid out as a Pleasure Garden by a Mr Tibbs of the Beafort arms and named by him after the more famous Vauxhall Gardens in London. Monmouth never lacked ambition.
Early morning mist from the Kymin.
Spire of St Mary's
It hosted the Monmouth Races until 1933 and was for a time the centre of National Hunt racing. It has hosted the Wales International Kite Festival, steam rallies, dog shows, an annual fair, and hot air balloon flights. Most days it’s a place where people walk their dogs and one can only hope that, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2011, housebuilders don’t get their grubby hands on it.
And then frost and gloom and autumn mists
When you see the field like this, it’s easy to slip in time to 1233 when the field hosted the Battle of Monmouth* on the feast of St Catherine* (25 November)
Henry III had some admirable qualities but had an unfortunate penchant for French favourites, in particular the Poitevans. They cluttered up the court, hogging all the best positions and keeping good Englishmen out. A rebellion was predictable, and Robert Marshal 2nd Earl of Pembroke duly obliged. Allied with Welsh princes, who were in it for what they could get, he besieged Monmouth Castle.
The Battle, as described by the Chronicler Roger of Wendover, in his Flores Historiarum took place on this very spot – the most exciting thing to occur there before a bi plane flown by lieutenant Fox landed on it in 1912
For those desperate to know, the rebels won, and Wendover’s account can be read below.
Prior to the Battle, the man in charge, John of Monmouth, reputedly ran away,and the defence of the castle was left to the mercenary Baldwin III Count of Guines and a garrison of Flemish and Poitevins. Baldwin, not realising the full force of the rebels sallied forth:
(Robert Marshal met them head on.) He...kept them at a distance, brandishing his sword right and left, and struck down whoever came within reach, either killing them or stunning them by the force of his blows, and although engaged single-handed against twelve enemies, defended himself for a length of time. His enemies at length, not daring to approach him, killed the horse he rode with their lances; but the Marshal, who was well practised in the French way of fighting, seized one of the knights who was attacking him by the feet, and dragged him to the ground, and then quickly mounting his adversary's horse, he renewed the battle... At this juncture... a cross-bowman amongst the Marshal's company, seeing his lord in danger, discharged an arrow from his bow, which, striking Baldwin, who was dragging the Marshal away, in the breast, entered his body, notwithstanding his armour, and he fell to the earth believing himself mortally wounded... Whilst these events were passing, news had been carried to the Marshal's army of the danger he was in, on which they marched with all haste to his assistance, and soon put his enemies to flight. A bridge in the neighbourhood of the castle, over which the fugitives hoped to make their escape, was found to be broken, on which great numbers of them threw themselves into the river and were drowned with their horses and arms; others, having no means of escape, were slain by their pursuers, and some were made prisoners, and few of those who had sallied out from the castle returned safe."
* There was of course a less significant Battle of Monmouth fought somewhere in the colonies.
* St Catherine's feast day is still celebrated by the Girls School in Monmouth. Pupils and teachers in gowns walk from the school to St Mary's church - perhaps without a glance at the field where a battle was fought.