Kilverstone Castle, or the Heir Restored, a Gothic Story
Publisher: Ann Lemoine
Publication Year: 1799
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.B79 1802 no.2
In this 1799 chapbook set in England during the Middle Ages, a conflict over religion between a priest and a baron, and an enchanted suit of armor result in betrayal, exile, and magic.
Kilverstone Castle, or, The Heir Restored: A Gothic Story is the second of twelve stories, bound together in the same volume. The name of the author does not appear on any of the story’s thirty-three pages.
The cover is stained, and has completely detached from the book pages, but the binding on the side is still intact. The pages are very fragile, and the cover has detached. The book is bound with leather, and has an endband made of red thread at the top and bottom for decorative purposes.
The book’s paper is very brittle and has yellow stains covering it. The binding along the side of the book has the word “tracts” carved into it. A “tract” signifies a chapter or short story, which suggests that someone specifically chose to bind these stories together, either due to similar themes or simply to have them all in one place. The word “Prethy” is also written in elaborate cursive on the opening page, which suggests a previous owner signed their copy.
There are illustrations on the title and final page of the book, with the one on the title page depicting two men dueling in front of a woman fainting, and the one on the final page depicting a tree. The title page also contains the name of the book’s printer and publisher.
One of the most unique characteristics of this volume, however, is the typeface. The margins and type are both very small. Within the text, the letter “s” appears frequently shaped like a letter “f” (this was known as a long S or medial S), except in words that have two “s” in a row, in which case only the first “s” is a long S while the second “s” is the round s that has since become standard.
According to the WorldCat database, there are ten different editions of Kilverstone Castle. The editions slightly vary in title, with most including the phrase Kilverstone Castle, or, the Heir Restored, a Gothic Story and some also including Founded on a Fact which happened at the dawn of the Reformation.
WorldCat lists all of these editions as having been published in 1799, except for one which is listed as having been published in 1800. The edition of the text in the University of Virginia Special Collections library does not have a publishing date inscribed on it, and the call number lists publication as 1802. However, in his Gothic Bibliography, Montague Summers claims that the text was published in 1799. Franz Potter’s Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks, and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830 gives the same year (21). An edition of the text on Google Books has “1799” printed on the title page.
While the text has no known author, Kilverstone Castle was published by Ann Lemoine. Lemoine was a prolific publisher of gothic texts, and Potter states that Kilverstone Castle was the first work she published, a collaboration with Thomas Hurst. He goes on to note, “Lemoine effectively dominated the chapbook market by publishing at least 99 Gothic chapbooks over thirteen years, 28 percent of the whole number” (Gothic Chapbooks 21). Potter also says that Kilverstone Castle “capitalised on the widespread success of The Castle of Lindenberg and the continued interest in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto” (Gothic Chapbooks 47). In The History of Gothic Publishing, Potter notes that Kilverstone Castle was one of the Gothic bluebooks available at William Booth’s Circulating Library in Norwich (70). Though no advertisements for the text have been found in newspapers from the nineteenth century, this suggests that it was not in total obscurity either.
Narrative Point of View
Kilverstone Castle uses a third-person omniscient narrator, who knows the inner thoughts of all the characters. The narrator provides a lot of description of the setting and the material objects the characters interact with. However, the narrator does not explain all characters’ thoughts and motivations. The narrator uses long sentences, and refers to aristocratic characters by their title more often than their actual name, with the exception of Mervil.
He prefaced it with the most solemn asseverations of truth, respect, and esteem for his patron. “My regard for you, my lord, makes me jealous of every injury done to your honor; and it becomes a duty in me to apprise you of every danger which besets you. Be not shocked, my friend, by a discovery in which your happiness is in imminent peril. Your Jessalind is inconstant!” (12)
The omniscient narrator not revealing each character’s motivation adds to the mystery of the story. If the narrator of this passage had been able to state that Polydore was lying about Jessalind committing adultery, significant tension during the scene in the bathhouse would have been lost. Polydore in this passage also puts more emphasis on Mervil’s title than the narration usually does, suggesting that they are not really friends. In other passages throughout the story, when the narrator describes objects in great detail, such as the onyx cross, this is done to humanize the objects and give them a role in the story.
Kilverstone Castle begins by telling the reader about Lord Audley, Baron of Kilverstone in Lincolnshire. He is a virtuous man who is getting older, but he has a son, Mervil, who will be a great successor. Audley lives before the Reformation but holds ideas contrary to those of the Church. This brings him into conflict with Father Peter, who is the Abbot of Croyland and runs the monastery in the village. Peter has many opportunities to take revenge on Audley, due to the supreme influence of the Church at the time. Father Peter goes to Lord Wentworth, in a place where Audley holds lands, with a forged order from the Monastery of St. Crowle to prosecute a claim on the estates.
Audley soon dies, and his son is called away from his travels at the news of his father’s death. The trial about his father’s lands is still happening at the King’s court, and he walks around his mansion considering it. He soon hears his ancestor’s armor rumble, and, when he walks over to it, sees a light from inside. He finds a small onyx cross and puts it on; the cross then starts to bleed, and the armor shakes.
Father Peter shows up, planning to assassinate Mervil. Peter pretends to mourn Audley, and Mervil believes him. Soon the amulet starts to bleed again. Peter is shocked, and briefly feels guilt for attempting to kill Mervil, but it soon fades. As Peter turns to leave, the dagger which he planned to kill Mervil with falls onto the floor. Mervil is shocked, and realizes the amulet was warning him about Peter’s treachery.
It is revealed that Wentworth has led a wild life, and that the churchmen manipulated him. He has made large donations to the monastery. He had gifted Father Peter’s monastery with Audley’s lands. Even with Audley dead, Peter still wants his lands. Since Mervil is so young, and Peter’s whole claim is based in forgery, Peter wants to kill Mervil before he has an heir who could challenge Peter for the Audley lands.
One day, while out hunting, Mervil meets a strange hermit. The hermit says he knows Mervil, and warns him that bad things await him.
Mervil eventually gets married to a local nobleman’s daughter, Jessalind. One day, however, his friend Polydore tells him she is being unfaithful with his friend, Ironside. Polydore tells Mervil to catch Jessalind and Ironside at the bath. Mervil goes there, and though he does not want to doubt his wife, he trusts his friend and the amulet had predicted disaster. He sees Jessalind and Ironside meet, and in a rage stabs Ironside. However, Ironside tells him that nothing was going on and that his and Jessalind’s meeting was accidental.
Mervil realizes that Polydore has lied to him, and that this was instigated by the church. As a murderer, Mervil’s lands are given to Wentworth. Mervil also reveals that Jessalind is pregnant. He decides to run into the woods and live as an unknown. Jessalind wakes up after fainting, sees Ironside dying, and calls out for her husband who has run away.
Some peasants carry Ironside to a shepherd, who says it is possible his wound is not fatal. Soon Wentworth’s officers show up at Audley’s estate after hearing what happened, and force Jessalind out. On the same night, a horrible storm is happening, and Wentworth’s officers flee the Audley castle because they think the storm was caused by evil spirits.
Jessalind befriends a shepherd who knew old Lord Audley. She is able to sell some jewels and go home to Normandy, but her father has left for a war.
The monks celebrate Mervil’s downfall, but Father Peter does not want to risk going near the enchanted armor again. Polydore, who was working for Father Peter, is now stuck with him while Peter shuts himself up in his cell.
Mervil eventually meets an old man at a shepherd’s house. He tells him everything, and the old man tells him that sometimes good things can come from bad. Eventually, Mervil tells the shepherd he is going to leave and find a place to retire and do penance. The shepherd tells him that the Hermitage of Norban is close to them, and Mervil seems to recognize the name and panics. The shepherd tells Mervil to stay the night, and his son will walk the six-hour journey with Mervil in the morning. Mervil then asks the shepherd to tell him the story of the hermit.
The hermit was from Normandy and was a member of Croyland Abbey. He did not leave the world entirely, but was famous for his ability to heal, to prophesize, and for his wisdom. He went into the mountains because he was upset at the sins of others in Croyland. Towards the end of his life, he gets a visitor, and on his deathbed, tells the herdsmen that it is his brother, and his coming means the hermit will die. He leaves a crucifix and says his heir will wear it in the seventh generation, and he will be the guardian of his friends for seven ages to come.
The amulet on Mervil’s neck is glowing once the story finishes. In the morning, he goes looking for where the hermit lived. Mervil finds the hermit’s remains, and decides to stay until he can give the hermit last rites. Mervil stays for some months in the Hermitage, with the shepherd and his sons often visiting.
Mervil eventually becomes famous, and fears he will be discovered. One night, he has a vision of Ironside’s ghost, giving him information about Jessalind. One day, a man shows up, and he realizes it is Ironside. Ironside tells him everyone believes Mervil committed suicide, and that while searching for him, a storm took out Wenthorth. Wentworth’s son refused to give Audley’s lands to the monastery. Ironside then tells him how he was tricked by Polydore, and that Father Peter poisoned Polydore because he knew Peter’s secrets. He then tells him that Jessalind is with her father in Normandy.
Ironside then tells him that Geoffrey, Wentworth’s son, is in open rebellion against the crown. He says Jessalind’s father might come with them to ask about his daughter’s possessions. Mervil says he cannot go until he has fulfilled the hermit’s last request. They leave with the hermit’s urn, and Mervil places it in the vault of his ancestors.
Mervil and Ironside eventually join up with the royal army. Ironside is shot in the arm and forced to retreat during a battle, and Mervil follows to help him. The crucifix Mervil is wearing helps to save the king when he is surrounded by rebels. Ironside dies of his wounds after asking Mervil to look after his daughter.
Mervil reaches the monastery of Crowle, and finds it in ruins. It had been destroyed by royal mandate, and all its possessions confiscated. His own mansion is mostly destroyed, except for the gallery where he first got the amulet.
A wedding is going to take place in a few days. During the wedding, Mervil’s amulet catches the eye of the bride. The bride faints, and the dagger she was going to use to stop the marriage falls out of her hair. It is revealed that the bride is Jessalind. The strange youth, referred to as the Bloody Knight, is revealed to be their son. In the end, Leo, the Bloody Knight, marries Ironside’s daughter Elvira.
Kilverstone Castle. London. Printed for Ann Lemoine. 1799.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830. University of Wales Press, 2021.
——. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835 : Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune press, 1941.
Researcher: Bethany Gledhill