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In 1075, Emma de Gauder held this castle against the king

Location: Norwich Castle, Castle Hill, Norwich, NR1 3JU

Map showing location of Norwich Castle

Inspired by the story of 16-year-old Emma de Gauder, who held the castle when it was besieged by the king in 1075. Her husband, Ralph, had not asked for approval for their marriage, and fled the castle, leaving Emma to negotiate.

Written with help from Kendra, Assyl and Kitty.

Listen to the poem

Read the poem

The castle is not even stone yet
and it is surrounded by men. 
In the night, a horse rode north east
for the coast and left a girl in charge. 
Too busy to pine at the battlements,
Emma is counting grain and heads.

They all see her as a lamb, a young girl 
who doesn’t know her own mind
let alone hold the capability to vanquish a battalion 
of wolves. But she knows she is a unicorn 
– courageous and ready to protect
her people. Her husband is a hyena.
That’s probably why the King disapproved.
He knew she would discipline him, 
encourage him to stand up for himself.
Emma’s husband never listens – he avoids
hard labour like the plague that hasn’t happened yet
and bolts at the slightest sniff of conflict.

Winter is on the horizon. 
They’ve hunted as best they could,
children, women, men too old or sickly to fight.
Emma spent morning, noon, night poring over 
the ledgers in the castle yet-to-come.
Horses – the noblest of all steeds. 
They carried their masters into battle, 
died by sword or fatigue just as men did, 
but God gave them a constitution less 
hearty than that of their riders. Emma sees the
beasts from her window, thin and sad, 
when an offer whispers itself
to life in the back of her head. Flesh was flesh; 
even Christ gave
his flesh to his followers to save them 
from damnation; and what was
hunger if not the damnation of the body? 
With a butcher’s knife 
in one hand and a quill in another, she flexes 
her French and begins negotiating.

In a moment of inspiration, 
Emma releases ants into the castle, 
the chambers that, were the castle to fall, 
would belong to the king. She hopes their wisdom
rubs off on her and drives the king to distraction. 
Even when her people are gone, 
their power lives in the strength of the ants
who, despite their size, carry the weight
of collective responsibility better than 
any person. 

Three months is a long time
to be without her husband but he 
is a coward and Emma is brave
and proves she does not need him. 
Her people do not starve, the castle
does not fall; they have forty days 
to leave and they do, 
the city and its spirit remaining intact.

Follow the trail

Stay at Norwich Castle for poem 2: A crane has arrived to sit on the castle.