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Berkhamsted Castle

Berkhamsted Castle

Location: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LJ




Saxon fortifications existed on the site of Berkhamsted castle and in the year 1066 William the Conqueror accepted the surrender of the Saxons, William rode to London and was crowned as King of England on 25th December 1066. The castle was possibly founded by Count Robert of Mortain, half brother to William the Conqueror. In 1068 at the time of the Domesday survey the population of Berkhamsted was about 500. The original castle was constructed of earthworks, wooden palisade and wooden buildings. In the 12th Century stone buildings and walls were erected. After the death of William the Conqueror, Count William of Mortain rebelled against Henry I and swore alleigance to Duke Robert Curthose of Normandy. Henry I seized Berkhamsted Castle and in September 1106 defeated both Duke Robert and Count William at the battle of Tinchenbrai. The castle was granted to the chancellor of Henry I, Ranulph who died in a riding accident at Berkhamsted in 1123. Henry I held court in the castle in 1123. The castle was the granted to succesive chancellors.

During the reign of King Stephen the ownership of the castle was disputed and in 1154 Henry II obtained the castle from Count William of Boulogne and Mortain the son of King Stephen’s. Henry II granted the castle to his chancellor, Thomas Becket. Thomas spent much money on the castle and the pipe rolls show that much of his work was carried out in stone. By 1157 a stone keep existed in the castle. After Thomas Becket became archbishop of Canterbury, he fell out with the king and Henry seized the castle back on 1 October 1163 and celebrated that Christmas at the castle. The castle was given to royal appointees until King Richard I granted it to his queen, Berengaria in 1191 and she lived in the castle until 1199. King John added stone walls on the south side of the motte and round towers along the bailey curtain wall. In 1204 King John gave the castle to his queen, Isabella who lived in the castle until 1216.

Isabella of Angoulême the queen of King John spent much time at Bekhamsted, and after the death of King John in 1216, the barons supported an invasion against the 9 year old Henry III by Prince Louis of France. Henry III granted a Royal Charter in 1216, which freed the men and merchants of the town from all tolls and taxes wherever they went in England, Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou. The castle was besieged in December 1216 by Prince Louis and Mangonels were used and caused a large amount of damage to the castle. The castle fell after 2 weeks, but Prince Louis soon after departed for France. The castle was recaptured in 1217and granted to its German captain as a reward for his services in the previous siege.

In 1227 the ownership of the castle nearly brought England to civil war again, before Henry III agreed that the castle belonged to his brother Richard the Earl of Cornwall, as part of his Mortain inheritance. Richard spent a lot of time in residence in the castle and is thought to have added a 3 storey tower on the western curtain wall. In 1240 Isabel the wife of Richard died after child birth in the castle. In 1264 Earl Richard was defeated at the battle of Lewes and Berkhamsted castle became his prison. Richard’s son, Edmund Earl of Cornwall, died in 1300, and left the castle in his will to Edward I. Edward I granted the castle to Margaret of France, his second wife, and on her death it passed to the Isabella, the wife of Edward II.

Berkhamsted Castle

Edward III Heraldry

Ich Dene I Serve



In 1337 the castle of Berkhamsted was given to Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince as part of the Duchy of Cornwall, to which it is still part of today. After the battle of Poitiers in 1356, king Jean of France was imprisoned in Berkhamsted castle..

Besides the burgesses, the tenants in the borough in 1357 consisted of free tenants, twenty-seven free tenants of the serjeanty, and six customary tenants of the greater tenure, and others of the lesser tenure. Among the services rendered was one by which the holder of two virgates of land was bound to provide his lord and the lord's family with a feast at Christmas. Whether the expenses of two freemen bearing two knives called 'Borde Sexes' on Christmas Day has anything to do with this service is not clear. Another tenure was that by which Richard Griffin paid three peppercorns or a gilly-flower when a king or queen was crowned in the castle of Berkhampstead.

On the wedding of Prince Edward of Woodstock to Joan, the fair maid of Kent in 1361, they stayed at Berkhamsted for their honeymoon. Berkhamsted castle had an extensive deer park and was used by the prince for hunting. In 1389 Geoffrey Chaucer was appointed clerk of works. In 1399 Henry IV passed the castle to his son Prince Henry, later to become Henry V, and later was passed to Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI.

A charter given by Edward IV in 1477 directed that no market was to be set up within eleven miles of Berkhamsted, and that the inhabitants were not to be summoned for jury service. Edward IV granted the castle to his mother Cicely, Duchess of York and was the last occupant and lived in the castle during the Wars of the Roses. Granddaughter of John of Gaunt, founder of the House of Lancaster, she married Richard, Duke of York, head of the rival House of York. She was the mother of two Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of another, Edward V, all of whom died in tragic circumstances; but she lived to see the end of civil war and the establishment of the House of Tudor.

The castle was abandoned in 1495 and destroyed by builders who helped themselves to the masonry. Elizabeth I leased the Manor of Berkhamsted in 1595, including the ruined castle and the deer park, for the nominal rent of one red rose to Sir Edward Carey, Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels. He built Berkhamsted Place on the hill above the castle using stone from the ruins. The outer gate or barbican was lost in 1838 when the London and Birmingham Railway sliced off the south-western edge of the site. Further damage was caused by and the road to the west in the 1930's. After centuries of neglect the site was carefully preserved by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, but now by English Heritage.

Berkhamsted Castle

Edward of Woodstock



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