Berkhamsted Castle

Berkhamsted Castle, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, is a ruined old castle that was the home to a number of notable English monarchs, their families and the aristocracy. Whilst the basic shell of the castle walls still exists and one can see the motte-and-bailey shape of the original castle, evidence of the castle can be seen all over the town of Berkhamsted, in the walls of more recent buildings as in later times the castle provided a ready source of building materials for the town.

In 1066, William the Conqueror accepted the final surrender of the Saxons at Berkhamsted. The manor at Berkhamsted was awarded to the Earl Mortain, William’s half-brother. The Domesday Records of 1086 confirm this. It was Mortain that establised the original motte-and-bailey castle at Berkhamsted.

In 1104 the castle was granted to Randulph, Chancellor to Henry I after the rebellion of Mortain’s son against him (like father like son). Randulph commences an extensive restoration of the castle. Henry I eventually holds court at Berkhamsted Castle in 1123.

Thomas a Beckett as the Chancellor is granted the castle by Henry II in 1155. The following year the merchants of Berkhamsted are freed from tolls and dues by Royal Charter. In 1189 the castle comes into the possession of Prince John, brother of Richard I (Lion Heart). In 1216 King John is besieged in the castle by Prince Louis of France. The castle is taken after two weeks.

In 1255 Richard, Earl of Cornwall is granted the castle. He carries out major repairs and adds a new tower. He is the younger brother of Henry III. In 1272 Richard’s heir, Edmund succeeds to the earldom (and the castle). He also establishes the College of Bonhommes at Ashridge as a monastic house.

Edward III orders a survey of the castle in 1338 and has extensive repairs carried out. The castle is granted to Edward’s son (Edward, the Black Prince). In 1354 the castle provides the prison for King John of France after the battle of Poitiers and on 1361 the castle provides a honeymoon location for Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent and the Black Prince.

Geoffrey Chaucer is appointed the Clerk of Works at Berkhamsted and the castle and its estates fall within the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1469, Edward IV grants Berkhamsted to his mother, Cicely Neville, Duchess of York. She holds the castle until her decease in 1495.

Traditionally the castle is believed then to have fallen into disrepair and decay and Sir Edward Carey, Keeper of the Jewels to Elizabeth I, after being granted the manor of Berkhamsted, uses much of the castles stonework to build a mansion at Berkhamsted Place.

Stones from the original castle can still be seen throughout the town of Berkhamsted.

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