Croft Castle,


14th November 2010



On Sunday morning, after breakfast, the hiking club's AGM and a round of applause for those who have kept the club in a sound financial and organisational state, we cleaned up and headed off home. A number of folk had planned a visit to Croft Castle some 7km north-west of Leominster, in Herefordshire. The castle has been the Norman home of the Croft family since Domesday in the 11th century i.e. for 1000 years. Owned by the National Trust though descendants of the Croft family still live on the grounds to this day, it is a stone quadrangular manor house, built close to the site of the old medieval castle. At each corner of the high curtain wall, is a small castellated round tower, with a small square tower flanking the north side. Originally, a larger stone castle was built to replace the earth and timber castle around 1400 AD.

In 1461, the medieval castle and Wigmore Castle, five miles north-west, played a part in the nearby battle of Mortimer's Cross fought on 2nd February after Sir Richard Croft set forth from the castle with his soldiers towards the battleground at Wigmore, Herefordshire. The battle formed part of the War of the Roses, fought between the houses of Lancaster and York (the "red" and the "white" rose, respectively). The Croft family were closely linked to their neighbours the Mortimers of Wigmore and later Ludlow. A descendant of Sir Richard fought for King Charles at Stokesay in the 1640's during the English civil war and, following the eventual Royalist defeat, Croft Castle was slighted to render it incapable of further military service. Restoration took place later in the 17th century when the castle was converted into a mansion but the Croft family sold the castle in 1746 due to financial pressures. The castle was then further remodelled in the Gothic style by Richard Knight, the son of a mine owner from Shropshire. The Crofts repurchased their ancestral home in 1923.









The castle and 13th century St Michaels church adjacent, lie in 1500 acres of glorious Herefordshire countryside. Inside the church is the fine altar tomb of Sir Richard Croft (1430-1509), high official to four monarchs and his wife born Eleanor Cornewall, before her remarriage the widow of Sir Hugh Mortimer, killed in action at the Battle of Wakefield, a major battle of the war of the Roses. The estate is noted for its veteran trees, particularly its avenues of Spanish Chestnut trees, oaks and beech trees and is one of the most important sites in North West Europe for veteran trees and dead wood invertebrates.

Some members of the Croft family over the centuries include:

Sir Richard Croft (1429/30-1509), royal official for Kings Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and Henry VII
Thomas Croft (c.1435-1488), shipowner and patron of Atlantic exploration
Sir James Croft (c.1518-1590), lord deputy of Ireland and leading conspirator in Wyatt's Rebellion
Herbert Croft (1603-1691), bishop of Hereford, chaplain to King Charles I and dean of the chapels Royal to Charles II
William Croft (c.1678-1727), organist and composer
Sir Herbert Croft (1751-1816), writer and lexicographer
Sir Richard Croft (1762-1818), physician and man-midwife
Sir Henry Page Croft (1881-1947), 1st Baron Croft, soldier and politician, Under-Secretary of State for War 1940-1945
Sir James Herbert Croft (1907-1941), who died on active service with No 1 Commando

Gordon and I did a quick guided tour of the castle with Peter Mathews and Julie Hastings conducted by an entertaining, knowledgeable gentleman of Indian origin with a wonderful turn of phrase and sense of humour. This was followed by lunch. The castle opened around midday and so we were able to explore the upper rooms as well. The story of Sir Richard Croft, physician to the British Royal Family, is an interesting yet tragic one, as related to us by our guide. Sir Richard became obstetrician to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, who became famous due to his role in "the triple obstetrical tragedy" of 1817. Charlotte's parents disliked each other from before their pre-arranged marriage and soon separated. Prince George left most of Charlotte's care to governesses and servants, but only allowed her limited contact with Princess Caroline, who eventually left the country. As Charlotte grew to adulthood, her father pressured her to marry William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, but after initially accepting him, Charlotte soon broke off the match. This resulted in an extended contest of wills between her and her father, and finally the Prince of Wales permitted her to marry Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later Leopold I of Belgium). Had she outlived her father and her grandfather, King George III (on whom the movie "The Madness of King George" is based), she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom. Instead, she died following childbirth at the age of 21, after a year and a half of happy marriage.




Charlotte's death set off tremendous mourning in the country, which had seen her as a sign of hope and a contrast to her mad grandfather and unpopular father. As she had been King George III's only legitimate grandchild, there was pressure on the King's unwed sons to marry. King George III's fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent, fathered the eventual heir, Queen Victoria. As a result, history in Europe might have dealt an entirely different hand of cards.
When Princess Charlotte conceived in February 1817, Croft was chosen to attend her. Following medical dogma, Croft restricted her diet and bled her during the pregnancy. Her membranes broke 42 weeks after her last period on 3rd November 1817. Her bedroom at Claremont in Surrey was chosen as the labour and delivery room. The first stage of labour lasted 26 hours. At the beginning of the second stage of labour, Croft sent for Dr. John Sims, who arrived 7 hours later. The second stage of labour lasted 24 hours. He had correctly diagnosed a transverse lie of the baby during labour; however, forceps were not used as they had fallen into disfavour in the British medical community. A caesarian section at that time would have resulted in the princess's death. Eventually, Princess Charlotte delivered a stillborn 9-pound male. Five hours later she died, presumably from concealed inner bleeding.

Although the princess's husband and father sent messages to thank Croft for his care and attention, Croft was distraught over the outcome. The king ordered a necropsy (post-mortem), with the result that Sir Everard Home, 1st Baronet and Sir David Dundas, 1st Baronet, reported that everything had been done for the best. However, the tragic death of the Princess continued to weigh heavily on Croft, and on 13th February, 1818 at age 56, Croft died of a self-inflected gunshot wound. Near his body a copy of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost was found open with the passage (Act V, Scene II): "Fair Sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?"

Charlotte's pregnancy is known in medical history as “the triple obstetrical tragedy”.

Both Sir Richard and his wife are buried at St James's Church, Piccadilly.





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Links to other websites:

  • Kington, Herefordshire - wiki

  • Kington Youth Hostel - YHA webpage

  • The Welsh Marches - wiki

  • Offas Dyke - wiki

  • Gladestry, Wales - webpage

  • Oxford Arms, Kington - website

  • Offas Dyke Lodge, Gladestry - website

  • Church of St Mary the Virgin, Gladestry - webpage

  • Croft Castle - National Trust website

  • The Spanish Chestnut Trees at Croft Castle - photo