Pleshey Castle in the Essex of village of Pleshey has one of the largest mottes in the whole of the UK. Whilst none of the stonework of this once substantial fortress still exists, the substantial earthworks that do survive to this day elude somewhat to the status and significance of this site.
Built by the de Mandeville family, Geoffrey de Mandeville (not to be confused with his grandson of the same name who was made Earl of Essex by King Stephen), was given substantial estates in Essex in appreciation for his service to William I at the Battle of Hastings where he was a leading commander in William’s forces.
De Mandeville chose Pleshey as the site of his centre of operations and administration (his caput). The castle at Pleshey was originally built in wood and is likely to have consisted of a motte and two baileys. There would have been a wooden tower on the motte with a palisade and the baileys would have been enclosed by a moat and rampart with palisade.
In the 12th Century the castle at Pleshey was upgraded and rebuilt in stone, though it is unclear exactly when. During the Anarchy, Geoffrey de Mandeville (grandson of the castle’s founder) was created Earl of Essex by King Stephen in 1140. Later, having been promised new property by the Empress Matilda if he revolted against Stephen’s rule, Geoffrey lead a rebellion against King Stephen in both Essex and Cambridgeshire. In 1143, King Stephen was successful in persuading the garrison at Pleshey to surrender the castle.
Having surrendered the castle to King Stephen, it wasn’t until after the king’s death in 1156 that the de Mandevilles regained the castle. However, this new tenure was short-lived. In 1158, King Henry II ordered that the de Mandeviles castles at both Saffron Walden and Pleshey be dismantled as part of the king’s programme to ensure that many of the castles built or used during the Anarchy were put beyond use.
During the 1170s, Geoffrey’s brother William was allowed to refortify the site. In the course of the following century, the castle at Pleshey was besieged, most notably by King John in 1215 and surrendered to Prince Louis of France in 1216. On William’s death, the castle passed to the de Bohun family through Maud, William’s sister’s marriage to Henry de Bohun, 1st Earl of Hereford.
The castle became the caput for the de Bohuns and would continue in their ownership until 1629 when Robert Clarke purchased the castle and demolished most of its buildings in order to build a house nearby with the materials.
It is possible to view the castle motte at Pleshey from the specially created viewing area in the centre of the village. If you wish to view the inside of the earthworks and climb the motte, it is possible to do so. Though this is strictly on an appointment-only basis.