Walking in the footsteps of medieval royalty…
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.
The ditches and the grass-covered motte are easily the most significant aspects still visible.
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.
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…
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.
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.