Karen Rogers: Elizabeth Bonhote, Bungay Castle (1796)
The introduction explains the authors long held desire to write on the subject of Bungay Castle. Castles are a popular setting in the novels of the time and Bonhote takes the opportunity, here, of remembering the ruins from her childhood in her work. She modestly expects condemnation of her work, but writes from a desire to please the reader, while steering clear of overt political reference.
As the novel begins, The Duke of Norfolk has left Sir Philip De Morney as governor of the imposing Bungay castle in his absence. He is accompanied by his genteel and virtuous family. His eldest daughter, Roseline, has formed a friendship with a young novice from the nearby nunnery named Madeline. Madeline and the eldest son, Edwin De Morney, gradually fall in love, even though theirs seems to be a doomed relationship. Sir Philip is called away to London to settle some legal affairs, and his absence allows the children greater liberty. They decide to explore the series of dungeons and subterranean passages under the castle, previously forbidden to them by their stern father. The young people experience a number of strange events and hear horrible groans and noises, which lead them, at first, to believe the castle to be haunted. However their continued exploration leads to the discovery of a series of locked and hidden apartments containing a pale and ailing young aristocrat, called Walter, and his faithful servant, Albert. The children believe that such an elegant and refined individual must be innocent of any charges that resulted in his imprisonment, and resolve to do all they can to assist him.
As time passes Walter and Roseline begin to fall in love, but encounter a number of obstacles. The proud and ambitious Sir Philip has arranged a match between his eldest daughter and the wealthy Baron Fitzosbourne. Though she detests the Baron, Roseline bows to threats made by her father and eventually agrees to marry him. The couple reach the altar in the chapel of the neighbouring nunnery, before Walter bursts through a trapdoor (using a passage connecting St Mary’s with the castle), with his sword drawn and halts the service. The Baron is too disturbed by Walter’s appearance to be angry. (Baron Fitzosbourne had believed himself to be haunted by the ghost of a former wife while at Bungay castle, but the apparition is now revealed to be Walter – the son Baron Fitzosbourne never knew existed, due to a plot by his late wife’s evil brother). They are quickly reconciled, and the match between his son and Roseline is soon approved.
Meanwhile, the couple have been shocked by the disappearance of Edwin and Madeline. Madeline had been confined to St Mary’s on the wishes of her ambitious father. While visiting the De Morney’s at Christmas, however, she had fallen seriously ill and was allowed to recuperate at the castle. Thus, while Walter and Roseline had become drawn to one another, so Edwin and Madeline also had time to fall in love. The Abbess and Father Anselm, and her father, Mr. De Glanville, required Madeline to enter upon the year of her noviciate following her long absence from the nunnery, and Edwin realised they must act quickly to have any hope of a life together. He engineers her escape from the very passage that Walter had used to stop Roseline’s marriage, and they follow another underground to the neighbouring settlement of Mettingham. The couple make their escape and elope, although both couples must endure a series of further trials before the situation may be successfully resolved.
Before Walters’ marriage, Baron Fitzosbourne decides to introduce his son to society, takes him to London and presents him at court. Although the wisdom of this is generally agreed upon, once again the Baron’s ambition leads to a dangerous situation. The prolonged separation becomes more than either Roseline or Walter can bear, and after an incident where Walter’s good-natured innocence almost traps him into marriage with the daughter of a local madam, he makes his escape once more and returns to Bungay castle, angering his father once more. The Baron is calmed by the pleas of Roseline on Walters’ behalf, father and son are reconciled, and plans are made for the couples’ wedding. Meanwhile the recently married Edwin and Madeline had discovered the hardship of living with neither money, nor useful skills. After some difficulty, they are saved by Walter’s benevolence, and he shelters them at his father’s residence in the north of England. After Roseline’s wedding, and her family’s journey to Fitzosbourne Castle, Edwin and his parents are joyfully reconciled.
Finally, Madeline relates the story of her own reconciliation with her father.
She and Edwin discovered him one day on the roadside, seriously injured, having been thrown from his horse. He eventually recovered and came to regret the ambitiousness and greed that led to the loss of his daughter. He is overjoyed to be granted the opportunity of a second chance at happiness with his new, extended family. As time passes, the Baron marries a more suitable young lady, and Sir Philip’s two remaining daughters Bertha and Edeliza, become happily married to two of the young officers based at the castle. Order is restored, and the characters go on to have long, happy and virtuous lives.