Hertford Castle is located in the county town of Hertfordshire, Hertford, and is built on the site of earlier Anglo-Saxon ‘burh’ or ‘burgh’. This earlier fortification had been built on the orders of Edward the Elder, Alfred the Great’s son, around the year 911.
The castle itself was constructed on the orders Peter de Valoignes, High Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. Its design was of the typical motte and Bailey design and was constructed soon after the Norman invasion of 1066 to provide part of a ring of castles the were constructed to defend London.
During the reign of Henry II (1154 – 1189), the castle was, more or less, totally rebuilt in the period period 1170-1174. Curtain walls in stone, gatehouses and other fortifications were all added as well as well as royal apartments.
In 1184, Robert de Valoignes died leaving no heirs, thus the crown took back ownership of the castle. The castle was further strengthened during the reign of Richard I (1189 – 1199) on the orders his regent, William Longchamp.
The castle was claimed by Robert FitzWalter, Robert de Valoignes’s son-in-law and who would go on to be one of the ringleaders of the First Barons War and as a surety of Magna Carta. Robert seized the castle and installed his own troops and tenants.
Robert would go on to lose the castle when it was seized by King John (1199 – 1216), though he would go on to be appointed the castle’s governor. The castle would go on to be seized back by King John in 1211 as Robert was disloyal to John and fled to France.
During the First Barons War (1215 – 1217) the castle was besieged by the forces of Prince Louis of France, who had invaded England on the invitation the rebel barons. After a month under siege, the castle’s governor, Walter de Godarvil, was forced to surrender the castle and the town of Hertford to the French.
After the war was over and the French had left, the castle’s use as a fortress became secondary and it was used as a royal residence. Edward I (1272 -1307) gave the castle to his second wife, Margaret.
During the reign of Edward II (1307 – 1327), in 1308, six knights Templar were held at the castle as political prisoners. The king would also visit the castle on several occasions during his reign, including in 1310 and 1312.
Edward’s wife and widow, Isabella, would make the castle her main residence between 1337 -1358. During the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453) the castle was used to hold important prisoners, those held there included King David of Scotland and his wife Joan between 1346 – 1357 and King John of France in 1359, who was held there for four months.
The next notable occupier of the castle was John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III (1327 – 1377) who was granted the castle in 1360. He ordered the castle to be repaired and improved as he used it as his main residence when he wasn’t overseas.
John died in 1399. Upon his death, Richard II (1377 – 1399) seized all Lacastrian estates, including Hertford Castle, where he installed his new wife, Princess Isabella.
From this point onward, the castle would continue in Royal hands. Henry IV (1399 -1413) would visit the castle at numerous times between 1406 – 1413. Henry V (1413 – 1422) with his wife, Catherine deep Valois, went on to visit the castle in 1421, and it was at Hertford Castle that Catherine would go on to make her home following her husband’s death in 1422. She also raised the future king, Henry VI (1422 -1461) there.
In 1445, Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou, granting her the castle. With the accession of Edward IV (1461 – 1470 and 1471 – 1483) to the throne, he granted his wife Elizabeth Woodville the castle. At this time building works were undertaken at the castle.
During the reign of Richard III (1483 – 1485), the castle was granted to the Duke of Buckingham. Following the accession of Henry VII (1485 – 1509), Henry conferred the castle to his wife, though they spent little time there, visiting the castle twice, once in 1489 and in 1498.
Both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth (later to be Queens Mary and Elizabeth), would go on to stay at the castle during the 1530, and with their father, Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), at the castle in the 1540s. He also spent considerable sums transforming the castle from a fortress to a proper royal residence, including the impressive Tudor gatehouse that stands to this day.
Edward VI (1547 – 1553), granted the castle to his sister, the future Queen Mary. During her reign (1553 -1558) Protestant martyrs were held at the castle. Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) would also stay at the castle during her reign, including once for 16 days in 1561.
From the reign of James I (1603 – 1625), the castle would cease to be a royal residence. During the reign of Charles I (1625 – 1649) the castle was granted to the Cecil family. The cecils leased the castle to multiples of tenants. During this time, the castle’s fabric would deteriorate, though it was repaired on several occasions. Uses for the building included a college and a dispensary.
In 1911, the corporation of Hertford leased the only remaining part of the castle, the gatehouse, to house its offices and the grounds of the castle to became a public park. In the 1930s another wing was added to the gatehouse. Subsequently, what was left of the castle was given to the town by the descendants of the Cecil family.
Today the grounds of the castle are open as a public park and can be visited during any reasonable daylight hour.