GUEST POST: The Siege at Snape Castle - by Judith Arnopp

It is my very great pleasure to introduce a guest post by historical author Judith Arnopp, whose novel Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr, I reviewed in my last blog post.
Judith Arnopp
I have included an exerpt from Judith's Amazon Biography:
I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John, and two of our grown-up children. We used to do the whole self sufficiency thing but the fox ate all the chickens, the slugs ate all the lettuce and ill health forced us to give up the battle. Now we care for our daughter's three elderly ponies and wrestle with our two very naughty Jack Russells.
My greatest loves have always been writing and history. Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days, I have progressed to this wonderful machine which allows me to write the sort of books I love to read. Historical settings with a good strong lead female.


The Siege at Snape Castle
In the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 Henry VIII made and broke many promises. The following year unrest in the north broke out afresh and plunged the inhabitants back into danger.
The leader of this second rebellion was Francis Bigod of Settrington in the North Riding of Yorkshire. His infant son, Ralph, was betrothed to Margaret Neville, daughter of John Neville, Lord Latimer of Snape Castle in Yorkshire. Lord Latimer’s wife was the young Katheryn Parr, later to become Queen of England and last wife to Henry VIII.
Catherine Parr - attributed to Master John: photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Lord Latimer’s actual role in the uprising is a little oblique. It is not clear if his heart lay with the rebels or the king, but his friends and retainers were heavily involved on the side of the rebels, and he was definitely suspected of being part of it. 
Latimer was a keen supporter of the old religion, opposing the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. During the Louth riots a mob arrived at Snape Castle threatening him with violence if he did not join their cause. He rode away with the rebels and it is there that his true role begins to become obscured. Rumours that he was not just a prisoner of the mob but had sided with them began to emerge, raising the suspicions of Cromwell and the King.
Latimer and other northern nobles whose loyalty lay with the old church were in a perilous position. If they were found guilty of treasonous behaviour their lives and estates would be forfeit, their families left penniless. 
While Latimer was in the hands of the rebels Katheryn and her step children were held under siege at Snape. The house was ransacked and there is some suggestion that violence was used against the women. The leaders threatened Latimer that if he did not support them, his family would be killed. 
Snape Castle: photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Latimer claimed to have been interceding with the king on the rebel’s behalf and, somehow, on his return, he’d managed to persuade them to withdraw and spare the lives of his wife and children.
As soon as it became possible Latimer moved his family south, out of the way of the rebels but into closer contact with Cromwell and the king. 
John Latimer resided for a while under suspicion of treason in the Tower of London; his reputation and standing with the king damaged forever. For the remainder of his life Cromwell bled him dry financially, confiscating his properties and rents but following Cromwell’s fall in 1540 Latimer’s life resumed some semblance of dignity.
But the stress of the recent years had crippled him and after a protracted illness he died in 1543 leaving Katheryn a very wealthy widow. Shortly after this she was invited to join the household of Lady Mary who, in the absence of a queen, was residing over Henry VIII’s court. It was at this time that Katheryn caught the attention of the King and shortly afterward, despite her wishes otherwise, became his sixth and final wife.
The siege at Snape Castle features in the early part of my novel Intractable Heart which traces the life of Katheryn Parr. Below is an excerpt told from the perspective of the young Margaret Neville; daughter of Lord Latimer.
A noise disturbs me. My eyes snap open, my heart begins to thump. I pull myself up on my pillows and peer into the darkness, listening. Footsteps hurrying along the corridor, a door slamming, and an angry voice cut off mid-sentence. I throw back the cover and slide from the bed.
The floor is cold underfoot as I creep to the door, open it just a crack. I sneak across the upper landing. The carved oak bannister is cool beneath my hands as I look over the balustrade to the hall below.
A huddle of servants, and Mother in her nightgown, her hair coiled into a serpentine braid, her face white and tight. My brother John hovers behind her, uncertain if, as acting baron, he should intervene.
Raised voices, crude words and a glare of torchlight accompany the gang of rebels as they intrude into the hall. The household, with mother at its head, retreats backward. One of the rebels is clutching a flagon, his lips loose and wet, his eyes unfocussed.
“It’s bitter cold in the stables, we’re coming in ‘ere, whether you like it or not.” He staggers forward but Mother does not give ground.
“Your leaders have forbidden that. I was promised you would stay outside the house. I have the servants to think of … my children …”
Only a slight quiver in her voice betrays her lack of certainty, her fear, but it is enough to strike terror into my very soul. I sink to my knees and press close to the newel post as the rebel spokesman steps forward, his face thrust menacingly toward mother. John moves backwards, treads on our dog Homer’s paw, who yelps loudly.
“Well, our leaders ain’t ‘ere, are they?” 
As the rebel shoves her aside Mother falls back against the wall, my brother darts out of the way. The servants fall like wheat as the mob passes through them, their snivelling protests robbing me of the last of my courage. The dogs will stop them, I tell myself; they will come no further. I dig my fingers into my face, praying I am right.
Behind the doors to the great hall the castle hounds are slavering and growling loud enough to deter even the most fool hardy. But, when the doors are forced open the dogs betray us, and the great fickle beasts leap up to lick the rebel faces in greeting.
 From my hiding place I hear the scrape of wooden chairs on the stone flagged floor as the rebels make themselves comfortable, calling for victuals, for more wine.
From my place on the upper floor it is as if the scene below is frozen. The servants are all looking to mother for direction but she remains where she is, hovering undecidedly. Then, suddenly making a decision, she turns on her heel, her braided hair whipping in her wake.
“Come,” she orders. “We must barricade ourselves into my apartments. Layton, be quick, see that food is brought up from the kitchens, enough to last a few days.” She ushers the snivelling women up the stairs. I feel the waft of their skirts as they pass me by, snatches of their terrified conversation instilling me with further dread.
I see Mother reach out and grasp the knob of my chamber door. I want to call out to her but she hurries in before I can speak, cries out in fear when she sees my bed is empty. The flurry of her skirts raises dust from the corners as she rushes out again, belatedly spying me cowering in the shadow.
“Margaret!” She grabs my wrist in relief and drags me in her wake to her apartments that stretch the length of the house. I drop my nightcap in our haste and my hair falls on to my shoulders. Once inside, she clasps me briefly to her chest. I close my eyes, hear her heart hammering, the energy pulsing in her throat. Then, she wraps me in a fur, sits me beside the hearth and her voice when she speaks is high and wavering. “We will be safe here once the door is locked and barred. Don’t worry.”


To read more click here

Judith’s other books include:

Judith’s webpage:


  1. Fabulous excerpt from a fabulous book. Many thanks.

  2. Thank you Helen, I am glad you enjoyed it.


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