Castle Rising, Norfolk…

Castle Rising was begun in 1138 by William d’Aubiny (sometimes spelt d’Albini) II, on his marriage to Adeliza, the widow of Henry I. William had inherited the estate of Snettisham (which included Rising) from his father, who had been granted various estates in Norfolk. William also built castles at New Buckenham, Norfolk and Arundel in the south of England, having been made Earl of Arundel in 1139. New Buckenham Castle would go on to serve as William’s and the d’Albinis caput (administrative centre) for their estates in Norfolk.

Prior to the castle being built, the site of the castle at Rising had little significance. It was neither strategically important or a great centre of note. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the land on which the castle stands was granted to Odo of Bayeux, the half brother of William the Conqueror. During this period, no doubt, several Anglo-Norman buildings occupied the site. When Odo fell from favour, the site the castle now stands on was granted to the d’Albini’s.

With William’s growing wealth and influence, he began constructing his castles. With the site at Rising not having been of any strategic importance, it has been suggested the reason for constructing the castle at Rising was due to the area not being densely populated which made it easy to establish a deer park and the easy access to building materials sourced locally or shipped to the site, as it had good access from the sea at the time.

Once the construction of Castle Rising had began, the settlement of Rising was moved to the north of the castle site and became a planned Norman settlement laid out in a grid-fashion. An early Norman chapel that had been constructed on the site in around 1100, this would now be used as the chapel for the castle with a new church being established in the new settlement for the local populous.

Castle Rising was constructed with massive earthworks, including three baileys. One bailey lies to the east of the castle and measures 82 metres by 59 metres. The eastern bailey was constructed to form a barrier to ingress into the interior of the castle and is connected to the inner bailey via a bridge. A gatehouse into the inner bailey was constructed at the same time of the castle to prevent further progress into the castle.

The inner bailey at Castle Rising measures 73 metres by 60 metres which is encompassed by a massive rampart with ditch. Originally, this rampart wouldn’t have been as large as they are seen at the castle today, being 18 metres high from the bottom of the ditch. It would have been roughly half of this height. There may have been a wooden palisade or other defence on top of this rampart, though a wall was added at a later point.

The western bailey at Rising has been levelled into the form of a platform and is no longer connected to the rest of the castle.

The keep at Rising is what is known as a ‘hall keep’, these are different to tower keeps such as the Tower of London, Hedingham Castle, and Rochester Castle, in that they are oblong and resemble a hall rather than a tower. There are a number of other hall keeps in existence, such as those at Norwich, Chepstow and Falaise, France. It is believed that the keep at Rising is heavily influenced by the design of the keep at Norwich.

Castle Rising keep is constructed from carrstone rubble with ashlar facings, with timbers added to provide extra strength. The main body of the keep is 24 metres by 21 metres wide. The walls of the keep are about 15 metres high with pilaster buttresses and a forebuilding along the east side of the keep. There are four turrets that are formed from clasping buttresses on the keep, along with arcading and decorative stonework that form part of the previously mentioned forebuilding. The castle has a Romanesque style.

During the Anarchy, William d’Albini supported King Stephen against the Empress Matilda’s claim to the throne of England. In 1145 King Stephen granted William permission to open a mint at Castle Rising. Once the conflict had ended and King Stephen had died, the mint was closed on the order of Stephen’s successor, Henry II, Matilda’s son. While William had supported King Stephen in the conflict, he would go on to be a loyal supporter of King Henry, which enabled him to keep his landholdings.

In 1173 there was a major rebellion against King Henry led by his three sons, his wife and numerous other supporters. William supported the king, with a new phase of construction occurring at Castle Rising to bolster its defences. The earth ramparts were increased in height and west bailey was altered significantly.

Castle Rising would remain the property of the d’Albini family until 1243, when Hugh d’Albini died, leaving no children the castle passed to Roger de Montalt. By 1327, the castle had passed to Roger’s brother Robert, he sold the castle at Rising to the crown with a lifetime lease for him and his wife, Emma, to remain in the castle. About the time of this arrangement, some works were undertaken to the castle, including the keep being raised in height at one end with a peaked roof added. Also, a new kitchen was added to the facilities at the castle.

In 1326, Queen Isabella of France, who was Queen of England through her marriage to Edward II led a revolt against her husband with Roger Mortimer. Queen Isabella and Mortimer were successful in seizing the English throne and installing Isabella’s son, also called Edward, as the new king (Edward III). Isabella would rule as regent on her son’s behalf, with the support of Mortimer, for four years. In 1330, Edward III seized power from his mother and Mortimer.

Queen Isabella, was initially held at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire before being released. It is at this time she gained ownership of Castle Rising. Edward granted his mother Castle Rising and Emma de Montalt sold her rights in the castle to Isabella for £400. Isabella would use Castle Rising as her main residence until her death 1358. On gaining ownership of the castle, extensive building works were undertaken to ensure the castle was suitable for a queen. A new residential range was added to accommodate Isabella, a new chapel and other new buildings were added. It is thought that around this time a wall was added around the inner bailey to improve security.

Edward was been recorded as visiting his mother at Rising on at least four occasions. After the death of Isabella in 1358, Castle Rising passed to Edward of Woodstock (also known as the Black Prince). His father, Edward III had decreed in 1337 that after the death of Isabella that Castle Rising would become part of the Duchy of Cornwall. Building works were conducted during this period, and during Edward’s ownership of the castle it seems to have been maintained in good order.

Edward died in 1376, and Castle Rising returned to the control of the crown. After being returned to the control of the crown, ownership of the castle was passed between several different nobles under King Richard II. After Richard was deposed of the English throne in 1399, Castle Rising was restored to the ownership of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Castle Rising would continue to belong to the Duchy of Cornwall in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this period the castle became more of a retreat for hunting. Minor repairs were made to the castle during but the general condition of the castle declined steadily, with a report in 1482 remarking that the buildings at Castle Rising were no longer watertight. New building work did occur between 1503 and 1506, though by 1542-1543 the castle was said to be in a ruinous condition, with roof of the keep having collapsed. Some repair works were undertaken at this time and changes were made to the function of some of the rooms of the keep.

In 1544, Castle Rising was bequeathed to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk by Henry VIII . Castle Rising continues to be owned by the Howard family to this day.

Castle Rising is open to the public.

Castle Rising Keep
Castle Rising Keep
Castle Rising Keep Entrance
Castle Rising Keep Entrance
Arches, Castle Rising Keep
Arches, Castle Rising Keep
Castle Rising Arch Window
Castle Rising Arch Window
Castle Rising Gatehouse
Castle Rising Gatehouse
Stonework on Castle Rising Keep
Stonework on Castle Rising Keep
Castle Rising Keep Stonework
Castle Rising Keep Stonework
Inside Castle Rising Keep
Inside Castle Rising Keep
A Fireplace at Castle Rising
A Fireplace at Castle Rising
Castle Rising Inner Bailey Rampart and Moat
Castle Rising Inner Bailey Rampart and Moat

Clavering Castle (Robert’s Castle), Essex…

Clavering Castle in Essex was one of the first castles that was built in England. Being a pre-conquest castle, Clavering Castle is significant in that it is one of only four possible castles built in England prior to 1066.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Robert castle’, it was began by Robert FitzWimarc, who was a Norman kinsman of Edward  the Confessor. Robert came to England with Edward when he returned from exile in Normandy in 1041. Believed to have been of Norman-Breton heritage, Robert would go on to serve both Edward and his Norman successor, William the Conqueror. He is also notable as he appeared in the Bayeux Tapestry as being present at Edward’s death.

Clavering Castle is not of the usual motte and bailey design that is so often associated with Norman castles. It is instead a ringwork. Its defences would have consisted of a fortified enclosure (usually circular), that would have been surrounded by an earthen bank topped with either a wooden palisade or at a later point a stone wall. A deep ditch would have then surrounded this bank and palisade/wall.

There are no physical remains at Clavering other than some substantial earthworks. The earthworks at Clavering consist of enclosure which is 150m in diameter east-west by 100m north-south, that is roughly rectangular in shape. There are some remnants of the surrounding ditch which are waterfilled. In the interior of the enclosure, there are earthworks associated with buildings that would have formed part of the castle and later robber trenches from where stonework has been robbed away for building use locally. Many of the earthworks that are visible are thought to date from the 12th Century and to overlay the earlier ringwork remnants.

There are some later earthworks on the site of the castle from a watermill. It is also believed that the site of the castle may have been used during the Iron Age as a fort.

Clavering Castle is on private land but is viewable from a public footpath.

Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks

Freckenham Castle, Suffolk…

Freckenham Castle is a Norman motte and bailey castle located in the Suffolk village of Freckenham, which lies very close to the border with Cambridgeshire. The manor of Freckeham was heavily associated with the Bishops of Rochester throughout the medieval period and it has been suggested that the bishops built the castle at Freckeham in order to control the manor of Freckenham as it is a long way from the see of Rochester.

The manor of Freckenham is believed to have been originally granted to the Bishops of Rochester in either 895 or 896 AD by Alfred the Great. Between 895/896 and 1066, there were brief periods when the manor wasn’t held by the Bishops of Rochester. One of the most notable of these periods was when Vikings invaded the East of England, seizing the manor. The Vikings would later sell the manor back to the Bishops of Rochester.

Prior to the Norman invasion in 1066, the manor at Freckenham had passed into the control of Harold Godwinson (later to be King Harold) after he drove out the Danes who had seized the manor from the bishops.

After the invasion of 1066, the manor was granted to to Odo of Bayeux, William the Conqueror’s half brother. However, it was soon restored to the control of the Bishops of Rochester when Odo fell from favour. The manor at Freckenham continued in the bishops ownership until about 1536/1537 when it was sold to Sir Ralph Warren.

The castle would originally of consisted of a motte of roughly 12 metres in height by 12 metres in 12metres in breadth. It originally had two baileys, with the motte standing in the north-east corner of the inner bailey, with the outer bailey lying to the north. The outer bailey at Freckenham has been likened to the bailey at Framlingham Castle or the constabulary at Eye Castle. A large ditch divided the baileys. Ditches would have no doubt formed part of the outer defences of the castle, though it may have utilised two rivers nearby as an additional line of defence.

It is thought the initial construction of the castle would have been of wood, with the castle later being rebuilt in stone. It is thought the castle had fallen out of use by 14th Century.

Today, the most noticeable remnant of the castle is the still large motte which can be seen from the road. Other earthworks remain but are on private land though are viewable from footpaths.

Freckenham Castle Motte
Freckenham Castle Motte
Freckenham Castle Motte
Freckenham Castle Motte

Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire…

Berkhamsted Castle in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire is a motte and bailey castle that was originally built in wood by the Robert of Mortain, William I’s half brother, in about 1070. William received the submission of the Anglo-Saxons at Berkhamsted and decided to build a fortress there in order to protect the road from London to the Midlands.

The early castle would have existed of an earthen motte which was raised up to about 12 metre high and a bailey which was 150 metres by 91 metres across. Double banks and ditches ran around the exterior of the castle. A deer park surrounded the castle. Berkampsted’s old Anglo-Saxon settlement was reshaped to have its focus as the new castle.

Berkhamsted Castle was passed to Robert’s son, William, on his death. It would later be confiscated by Henry I after William rebelled against Henry. In 1123, Henry granted the castle to his chancellor, Ranulf. The castle at Berkhamsted would remain in the ownership of the of the crown until 1155, when Henry II gave it to his chancellor, Thomas Becket. It is during Becket’s tenure at the castle that it underwent large alterations in order to reflect someone of Thomas’s status. A shell keep was built on the motte, a large curtain wall with gatehouse (which you can still see the rubble interior of to this day) was added to protect the castle, and the bailey was divided in two, on the orders of Thomas.

In 1164 Thomas fell from favour with the king in a row over the primacy of the crown over the church. The castle was subsequently confiscated by the king.

Berkhamsted Castle would go on to form part of the jointure of King John’s second wife, Isabella. The castle was occupied on King John’s behalf during this time by Geoffrey FitzPeter and when he died in 1213, by his son John FitzGeoffrey.

In 1215, conflict between the king and his barons began to seem more likely. John appointed a German called Waleran to review and strengthen the defences at Berkhampsted. Later in 1215 the First Barons War (1215-1217) broke out. King John had been forced by his rebellious barons to sign the Magna Carta. The king subsequently decided not to abide by the document he had signed and thus ensued a period of civil war. The rebel barons invited Prince Louis of France to invade to support them and to claim the English crown from King John.

Prince Louis invaded in May 1216, landing his forces in Kent. King John died in October 1216 with the tide of war very much against him. His son, Henry III then took the thrown at the age of nine. Prince Louis besieged and then took Berkhamsted Castle in December of that year. During the siege, Louis’s forces used siege engines, most likely trebuchets, to attack the castle for 20 days. Louis allowed the garrison at Berkhamsted to surrender and to leave with their weapons and armour.

With Henry’s accession to the English throne, the tide of war shifted. The barons began to realise that with King John now dead, the reason for their rebellion had effectively been removed and that the young Henry represented a much more manageable figure than Prince Louis. By 1217 most of the rebel barons had switched sides and Prince Louis had suffered a number of heavy defeats. Peace was sealed by the signing of the Treaty of Lambeth in which Louis agreed to give up his claim to the throne of England and relinquish his English dominions in return for a sum of money. As part of this treaty, the castle at Berkhamsted was returned to the control of the crown.

In 1225, Berkhamsted Castle was granted to Richard, Duke of Cornwall, the brother of Henry III. Major redevelopments of the castle took place during Richard’s control. Richard refurbished the castle, enlarging the western tower. This work created a luxurious palace complex at the castle. The ruins of part of this complex can be seen at the castle to this day.

Richard made the castle his administrative centre or caput for the earldoms of Cornwall. Richard would go on to die at the castle in 1272. The castle then passed to his son, Edmund. On Edmund’s death, Edmund’s estates passed into the control of the crown. The castle is said to have been in a poor condition at this time. The castle passed from the control of King Edward I to King Edward II, who gave the castle to Piers Gaveston whom he made Earl of Cornwall. In 1327, Edward was deposed from the throne and Pier Gaveston subsequently fell from power. The castle then passed to John, Edward II’s second son, who was Earl of Cornwall.

On John’s death, the castle passed back into the control of the crown. A survey was undertaken of the castle at this time and it is showed that it was in need of substantial repairs. Edward III, who had seized back control of the castle for the crown, decided to use Berkhamsted Castle as his main property and undertook extensive renovations of it. Edward III’s son, also named Edward (The Black Prince), took possession of the castle in 1337 when he was made the Duke of Cornwall. Edward would undertake extensive works at the castle, including extending the park which surrounded it. Edward was a very able soldier and successfully led many campaigns in France. Edward captured John the Good, King of France at the Battle of Poitiers. John was held at Berkhamsted as well as a number of other castles. Edward died in 1376 in Westminster.

The castle passed to Edward’s son, King Richard II in 1377 on the death of Edward’s father, Edward III. It was later used by Richard’s half brother, John Holland. John’s use of the castle would continue until Richard was deposed from the throne by Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) in 1400. John was stripped of all his property and titles apart from that of Earl of Huntingdon, thus control of the castle passed to Henry.

Henry lived at Berkhamsted Castle following deposing Richard. During Henry’s reign, Geoffrey Chaucer, the later author of the Canterbury Tales, was clerk of the castle and oversaw many major improvements and renovations to it.

The castle continued to be held by the crown, though it is thought it was not occupied after 1495 by which time it had fallen into ruin. Elizabeth I granted a lease for the manor of Berkhamsted to Sir Edward Carey in 1580 and he used stone from the castle to construct a manor house nearby.

The castle was acquired for the nation in 1930 from the Duchy of Cornwall. Berkhamsted Castle is today is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public.

Berkhamsted Castle Motte
Berkhamsted Castle Motte
Berkhamsted Castle Motte, Bailey and Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Motte, Bailey and Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Moat and Bailey Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Moat and Bailey Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Chapel
Berkhamsted Castle Chapel
Berkhamsted Castle Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Curtain Wall
Berkhamsted Castle Motte
Berkhamsted Castle Motte
Berkhamsted Castle Motte, Curtain Wall and Bailey
Berkhamsted Castle Motte, Curtain Wall and Bailey
Berkhamsted Castle Motte and Moat
Berkhamsted Castle Motte and Moat

Pre-Conquest Castles – New Page

Prior to the Norman conquest of England in 1066, it is thought by many that no castles existed in the country. This is not strictly true. There were in fact four castles that existed that were built by Normans who had returned to England with Edward the Confessor in 1041.

I was interested to know more about these castles, how they came into being and who the individuals were that built these castles. So I undertook some research and decided to add an article to my blog about these pre-conquest castles – it is titled Pre-Conquest Castles.

Woodwalton Castle, Cambridgeshire…

Woodwalton Castle is a small motte and bailey castle in Cambridgeshire. There have been various suggestions as to when the castle was constructed and to whom it can be attributed. Some have suggested that the castle was began by Ernald de Mandeville, the illegitimate son of Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1144.

Geoffrey de Mandeville had rebelled against King Stephen during a period of civil war known as the Anarchy. On his father’s death in 1144, Ernald was forced to retreat from his base at Ramsey Abbey by King Stephen. He thus needed a new base of operations. It has been suggested that the castle at Woodwalton is the site of this new base.

It also also been suggested that the castle was in fact constructed on the order of the de Bolbec family that held the manor of Woodwalton between 1086 and 1134, or on the order of Ramsey Abbey who having been granted the manor of Woodwalton in 1134 by Walter de Bolbec decided to fortify it. It could also have been constructed on the order of either of the sons of Aubrey de Senlis. Though it seems most likely the castle was constructed during the Anarchy like other castles in the region such as the castles at Burwell, Rampton, Therfield, Walden, etc.

The defences at Woodwalton Castle were carved out of a natural hillock. Originally, the castle would have had low motte at it centre surrounded by a ditch. A roughly circular bailey then surrounded this and this too was encompassed by a second ditch. The construction of the castle would have been of wood and wooden palisades would no doubt have been part of the defences of the castle.

It seems likely that the construction of the castle at Woodwalton was never completed.

Today, the remains of the somewhat denuded earthworks of the castle can be seen at Church End in Woodwalton, about  a quarter of a mile north of the village church. The castle itself is on private land but the earthworks can be observed from a public footpath nearby.

Earthwork Remains, Woodwalton Castle
Earthwork Remains, Woodwalton Castle

Mettingham Castle, Suffolk…

Mettingham Castle is a fortified manor house in Suffolk. In 1342 Sir John de Norwich was granted a licence to crenellate his existing property. When Sir John received the licence to crenellate he made significant alterations to the castle, these included adding a court with moat and gateway to the north of the of the existing property. A court to the south with a moat would later be added. A large stone wall with gatehouse were erected to protect the castle. The building work at the castle was completed by Sir John’s wife, Dame Margaret.

The castle remained the property of the de Norwich family until 1394 when it was given to a college of secular cannons. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1542, the castle passed between several different private owners. In 1562 the castle is described as having servant accommodation, a bakehoue, brewery, storehouses, a kitchen and an aisled hall.

Much of the castle at Mettingham was demolished in the 18th Century to allow for the construction of a farm house. This farm house would go on to be pulled down in about 1880 and replaced by a new farm house that reused stonework of the original castle.

Remnants of the curtain wall and the gatehouse, plus other stone walls and earthworks of the castle still remain.

The castle is now a private residence.

Mettingham Castle Gatehouse
Mettingham Castle Gatehouse