“MasTER john SMYTH GUNER TO HIS MAJESTYE HighNESS WAS A PRISNER IN THIS PLACE AND LAY HERS from 1642 TELL th…” these chilling words are etched into the dungeon walls at Warwick. Master Smyth was one of many who over the years were incarcerated at Warwick Castle. Prisoners were brought to Warwick from the Hundred Years War in 1356, others were captured Royalists from the English Civil War. Wherever prisoners were taken from, the experience of being held in the dungeon at Warwick would have been horrific. A visit to Warwick Castle today allows us to visit and view the dungeon space, but the terror of being imprisoned there can only be imagined.
Whilst the castle and grounds are stunning in their beauty and majesty, the dank horror of the dungeons a mere 24 steps underground are equally stunning for other, more sinister, reasons. Starved of a decent diet, seeing not a glimmer of daylight and denied all exercise even mentally strong prisoners would soon find their bodies weak and frail. It can only be imagined what psychological anguish followed. For some a sentence in the dungeons could last days or weeks; for others months and even years. There was no sanitation to speak of, only a roughly hewn drainage ditch stretched across the middle of the floor and this was likely filled with stagnant waste. The dungeon was not designed to rehabilitate prisoners, as modern prisons are today; instead it was designed to rob inmates of their humanity. And the dungeon keepers were masters at this! For those who did not succumb to the dungeon even more deprivation awaited in the ‘oubliette’. Prisoners would descend into this hole in the ground knowing that they would be kept in this claustrophobic prison within a prison for as long as their captors desired.