It is commonly assumed that prior to the Norman conquest of 1066 that no castles existed in England. In the most part, this is true, with the Anglo-Saxons instead preferring to build wooden fortified enclosures called ‘burhs’ or ‘burghs’. Though there were three or four stone castles built by Normans lords on the invitation of Edward the Confessor before 1066.
Edward the Confessor and The Normans
The history of castles in England can trace a direct link back to the exile of Edward the Confessor during the early part of his life in Normandy and Edward’s familial links with the Normans through his mother who was Norman. Edward was the seventh son of Ethelred the Unready, but the first by Ethelred’s second wife, Emma of Normandy.
During the early years of Edward’s life England suffered Viking raids and a full scale invasion led by Sweyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut. In 1013, Sweyn was successful in seizing the English throne. Ethelred, Emma, Edward and one of his borther’s, Alfred, fled to Normandy.
Edward spent most of the next 25 years in exile in Normandy, though there were brief periods in which he did return to England. Over the next decades Edward became became familiar with the Norman way of life and culture, he is even likely to have spoken Norman fluently.
Edward’s Return to England and Accension to the English Crown
In 1041, Edward’s half-borther, Harthacnut, who had acceded to the English throne the year before, invited Edward to return from exile in Normandy. Harthacnut had probably known for some time that he didn’t have long to live as he had suffered many bouts of illness. It is thought his reason for inviting Edward to return from Normandy is so that he could make him his heir as he didn’t have any children.
Harthacnut died in 1042 while at a wedding in Lambeth. The cause of his death has been suggested as a stroke, by poisoning or due to TB.
Upon Harthacnut’s death, Edward acceded to the English throne. There were other possible claims to the English throne, though Edward had the support of the most powerful English earl, Godwin, which cemented his claim.
Edward’s Reign and Norman Influences
When Edward returned to England in 1041, he brought with him many friends and members of his extended family. Many of these Normans were appointed to key positions in Edwards court, this may have been to counter the influence of the Godwin family, the most powerful family in England. Individuals such Robert of Jumieges, who was first made Bishop of London in 1044 and then Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051.
Another Norman that came to England with Edward was Robert FitzWimarc. Robert was related to both Edward and the Dukes of Normandy. He would go on to serve both Edward and his successor, William I. Edward rewarded Robert with lands in Essex, most notably around Clavering. Robert was present at Edward’s death in 1066.
Other Normans that came to settle in England were Ralph of Mantes (Ralph the Timid – nephew of Edward) who would serve Edward as Earl of Hereford, Richard FitzScrob who Edward granted lands to in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire and Osbern Pentecost who served under Ralph of Mantes.
Robert Rhuddlan was another notable Norman that was brought to England by his father, Humphrey de Tullieul. He served as a squire in Edward’s court and then as Lord of North Wales under the patronage of Hugh d’Avranches, Earl of Chester in his later life.
These individuals made up the what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Norman faction’ at Edward’s court. This Norman influence at Edward’s court would go on to cause a crisis in 1051-1052 which would lead to some of these individuals fleeing back to Normandy and the Godwins, re-exerting their control in the country after having come into conflict with Edward.
It was through this Norman influence that the first castles came to be built in England. Robert FitzWimarc built one of the first castles at Clavering in Essex. This castle is often referred to as ‘Robert’s castle‘, and is where many of the Norman lords retreated to during the Norman crisis of 1051-1052.
Another pre-conquest caslte was built in Hereford by Ralph of Mantes. Ralph was made Earl of Hereford in 1052 by his uncle, Edward the Confessor. After his appointment as earl, the Norman influence in Herefordshire seems to have grown quite substantially.
Two further castles were built in Herefordshire by Normans, Richard’s Castle in the north of the county was built by Richard FitzScrob and Ewyas Harold Castle was built by Osbern Pentecost on the site of an earlier fortification. A date of 1048 has been suggested as the date the original castle was began on this site.