Shakespeare at Chilham Castle


Early on Sunday evening we went to see the Globe Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”.  But we didn’t have to go up to Bankside, London … we drove 15 minutes from the centre of Ashford town, a little further on within the borough of Ashford, to Chilham.  The Wheeler family, who own Chilham Castle, were keen to take part in the year’s worldwide celebrations to mark the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, particularly as the building was also built 400 years’ ago in 1616 and has many other links with Shakespeare.

Ruined Chilham Castle
The original ‘ruined’ Chilham Castle

Chilham ‘Castle’ is actually a glorious Jacobean house*, built on the grounds of the original, now ruined, Chilham Castle.  It was built by Sir Dudley Digges.  Sir  Dudley’s father, Thomas Digges, was a renowned mathematician and astronomer, who was close childhood friends with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  Both Thomas and Robert were tutored by Dr John Dee, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer to the Queen.  His studies and writings on hexagons may have inspired the shape of Bankside’s Globe theatre, and also the hexagonal shape of Chilham Castle, for Robert Dudley was both godfather to Dudley Digges (Dudley Digges was named after his godfather) and the patron of Shakespeare’s troupe of actors at the Globe playhouse.

The stage at Chilham Castle
The stage for the 1960s interpretation of Two Gentlemen of Verona

Furthermore, Dudley’s brother, Leonard, wrote a well-known eulogy in the first Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623, and the Digges’ stepfather, Sir Thomas Russell, was an Executor of Shakespeare’s Will.

Lake at Chilham Castle
Lake in Chilham Castle grounds

But there are also links between the Digges and the Epes in my previous post.  In 1608, Dudley was appointed to the London Council of the American Colony of Virginia.  It is highly likely, therefore, that Dudley would have garnered the talents, manpower and money of the local Ashford gentry to set up the plantations of Virginia, on behalf of the King.  As we have seen, Francis Epes, made three return journeys taking people to Virginia.   In 1631, Dudley was appointed to the Privy Council’s commission “to establish how the plantation of Virginia now standeth, and to consider what commodity may be raised in those parts.”  Later, Dudley’s son, Edward, became Governor of Virginia, following his father’s involvement with that state.

I should add, the performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona was superb.  I took my 12 year old and 8 year old sons.  Even my youngest was gripped by the slapstick spectacle of it, as well as the funky music (the word ‘funky’ immediately identifying me as a mother over 40 …).  The only downside was the British weather … (though the two previous evenings’ performances had escaped without a single raindrop).

Rain at Chilham
Rain during the performance.

* I shall write more about the Jacobean house itself in another post.

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