Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire

Walking in the footsteps of medieval royalty…

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If you take the train into Euston from the north-west, sit on the left-hand side of the carriage and keep your eyes peeled as you pass through Berkhamsted station, for the ruins of the once important royal residence of Berkhamsted Castle which will whizz past on your left (blink and you’ll miss it).

I feel really sorry for this castle. Rather than impress with its towering walls, it always gives me the impression of a jaw in which just a few stubby eroded teeth jut out. It looks more like the remains of a stone circle than a serious medieval fortress.

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The ditches and the grass-covered motte are easily the most significant aspects still visible.

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But Berkhamsted Castle has a long and distinguished list of visitors and owners, having been in royal hands for most of its history as a stronghold.

You’ll have to use your imagination, but here…

William the Conqueror accepted the submission of the English (albeit before the castle was built) after the Battle of Hastings…

And it was Thomas Becket who had the timber castle which had been built in 1070 upgraded to a stone fortress in the 1150s.

In 1216, the castle was besieged and taken by the French during the revolt at the end of King John’s reign.

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The Black Prince spent his honeymoon with Joan the Fair Maid of Kent at Berkhamsted in 1361 – the castle  had been the premier royal residence prior to the renovations at Windsor by Edward III.  After the Battle of Poitiers, John II of France was held captive at Berkhamsted.

Chaucer was the Clerk of Works at Berkhamsted – overseeing more building work. Is it possible that he wrote some of his Tales here…

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And Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, known as the Rose of Raby,  mother of Edward IV and Richard III, spent her retirement at Berkhamsted, leaving behind  for posterity her rules for a religious life, which provide a tantalising window into medieval daily routines.

When Cecily died in May 1495, the castle began it’s decline, becoming run down during Elizabeth I’s reign, by the end of which it was simply being plundered for building stone.

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Lovely though to think of all that stone now incorporated into the fabric of buildings around the town and all the royalty and nobility of medieval England (and France) who may once have touched them.

For further information

Berkhamsted Castle is in the care of English Heritage – it’s free entry. Click here for more details.

Lots of lovely historical information at this website – enjoy reading.

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire

  1. mysearchformagic says:

    I see what you mean about standing stones – when I first glimpsed at the main photo, that is exactly what I thought it was…looks like an interesting site though. You can’t beat a ruined castle!

    • Anny says:

      You certainly have to use your imagination at Berkhamsted, the castle is so ruined and the mainline train line runs quite literally through what would have been it’s outer defences, but when you think about how important it once was, it has a certain something special.

  2. blosslyn says:

    You can’t beat a good ruin, some very historic footsteps. It makes you think how can a building that was so important in the past end up as a pile of stones…..wonder if that will ever happen to Windsor Castle 🙂

    • Anny says:

      Helen, even though I know it’s there and when to look out for it, it’s still very easy to miss. Over the years when I’ve been reading medieval history, the name Berkhamsted will occasionally pop up, but it’s as if no one at the castle wants to celebrate the history. Such a pity.

  3. Jo Woolf says:

    What a long and illustrious history for such an abandoned ruin! I wonder why it was left to fall into such disrepair. It’s good to see the figures of people in the pics, to get a sense of the scale – it’s much bigger than it looks at first! Wouldn’t it have been lovely to see it (and inside) in its heyday?!

    • Anny says:

      I just don’t think they were as hung up on preservation issues back in those days – after Cecily died, the castle quickly deteriorated and by Elizabeth’s reign the stone was being plundered for more modern building. I guess that was pretty much the way of things back then, after all so many monasteries were being ‘recycled’ at the same time – they just didn’t have Grade I listing (mores the pity for us…)

  4. Perpetua says:

    I’ve heard of Berkhampsted Castle, but I think these are the first images I’ve ever seen of it, Anny. I loved your run-through of its history. I see what you mean about the remains having been plundered. It’s very reminiscent of many monastic ruins rather than fortified ones.

    • Anny says:

      Yes, I think it suffered from very much the same era of recycling. It crops up a lot in various romantic fictions, but it doesn’t seem to get much tlc locally.

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