There are a host of top English Civil War Sites and Battlefields to visit – among the very best are Bishop’s Waltham Palace, Ashby Castle and Restormel Castle. Other popular sites tend to include Helmsley Castle, Banqueting House and Windsor Castle.
We’ve put together an experts guide to battle sites of the English Civil War – here are our top 15 places to visit.
1. Banqueting House
One of the most important English Civil War sites, Banqueting House in Whitehall is famous as the site of the execution of King Charles I. On 30 January 1649, many spectators gathered to watch the beheading on the balcony of Banqueting House. A service is held at the Banqueting House every year in January to commemorate this event and visitors can still see the scaffold stage on which the monarch died.
From 1654 until 1658, the Palace of Whitehall was the home of the revolutionary and statesman, Oliver Cromwell. After the restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660, the Palace once again became the royal residence and Banqueting House once again was used for its original purpose.
Visitors can tour Banqueting House and discover its history. An entry ticket includes an audio guide, available in a variety of languages.
2. Arundel Castle
Originally built in the 11th Century, Arundel Castle is the historic home of the Dukes of Norfolk. Besieged twice during the English Civil War – first by the Royalists who successfully captured the site and then by the Parliamentarians – it is one of many interesting English Civil War battlefields.
Today, Arundel Castle sits amongst 40 acres of eye-catching grounds and gardens and is home to an impressive array of priceless artwork, furniture, sculptures and tapestries. The displays on site include possessions of Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as collections from the Duke of Norfolk.
3. Ashby Castle
Ashby Castle was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War which was largely destroyed. The pretty ruins make it one of the most picturesque English Civil War sites.
During the war, the castle had served as a Royalist base, but in 1646 it was taken by the Parliamentarians and subsequently fell into disuse. Ashby Castle would later inspire Sir Walter Scott, who set certain jousting scenes from his 19th century novel Ivanhoe at the site.
Visitors to Ashby Castle can immerse themselves in the site’s history, from enjoying entertaining audio tours and exploring its sunken gardens to embarking on tours of its underground passageways.
4. Warwick Castle
Built by a king, the seat of a kingmaker and vital stronghold in the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, Warwick Castle has played an important role in British history. In 1642, Warwick Castle also played its part in the English Civil War, withstanding a Royalist siege.
The seat of the Earls of Warwick until 1978, Warwick Castle then opened to the public and today offers a range of things to see and do. Visitors can tour the site and its grounds, learning about its history and enjoying its architecture.
5. Bishop's Waltham Palace
After over 500 years at the centre of royal and ecclesiastical activity, Bishop’s Waltham Palace was destroyed in 1644 during the English Civil War. It had been held for the King during a long siege, yet was finally forced into the hands of the Parliamentarian forces, following which it was seemingly set alight and fell into ruin.
The ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Waltham Palace can be seen in Hampshire. Today, the ground floor of Bishop’s Waltham Palace is the location of the Bishop’s Waltham Town Museum and the site is under the remit of English Heritage.
6. Helmsley Castle
Helmsley Castle was a 12th century castle in York and the site of a dramatic siege during the English Civil War. In fact, Helmsley managed to endure a massive attack by the Parliamentarians during the war. The Royalists held Helmsley for a staggering 3 months, and the castle only fell when their food and supplies ran dry.
Following the Parliamentarian occupation of Helmsley Castle, its new owner, Sir Thomas Fairfax, chose to give it to his daughter and thus the site was spared destruction. The only parts of the castle which were removed were its defensive structures.
Today, the remains of Helmsley rise out of Yorkshire’s dramatic landscape, seemingly on a wave of ditches and banks, which would have served to increase its defensive capabilities. There are several Civil War displays, looking at the castle’s military history and featuring an original cannonball.
7. Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle is the stunning ruin of a castle which has been everything from a royal residence to a military stronghold and even a prison. The current incarnation of Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in around 1066, although even before this the site was of great historical importance.
The demise of the castle and the cause of its current ruined state came with the English Civil War. Having survived one siege in 1643, it would fall to another only three years later, then being demolished by the Parliamentarians. Its ruins were eventually handed back to the Bankes family, who retained it for 350 years before in 1982 gifting it to the National Trust.
8. Restormel Castle
Restormel Castle was a stone castle defended by a moat and located on a large mound overlooking Cornwall.
Though Restormel Castle’s early record is somewhat hazy, a castle was almost certainly established at the site in the 12th if not the 11th century by the Normans.
In 1644, Restormel found a short reprieve from dereliction as a stronghold in the English Civil War. At this time, it was captured by the Royalist, Sir Richard Grenville. By the time the Parliamentarians won the entire war however, Restormel was so ruinous that they didn’t even bother to slight it, as they usually did to put castles beyond further Royalist use.
Today, Restormel Castle is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and is managed by English Heritage.
9. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world – home to over 900 years of royal history. The building of Windsor Castle began in the 1070s at the behest of William the Conqueror. Since that time, the structure of Windsor Castle has been embellished by many of the monarchs of England and the UK.
Covering an area of approximately 13 acres, it contains a wide range of interesting features including the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s dolls house and the beautiful St George’s Chapel – the burial place of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.
During the English Civil War, Windsor Castle served as a prison and it was to St George’s Chapel that the body of Charles I was brought for burial after his execution.
The castle remains a favourite home of Queen Elizabeth. There are numerous exhibitions and tours at Windsor Castle – a typical visit can take up to 3 hours.
10. York City Walls
The York City Walls are England’s most complete set of city walls and one of the city’s most popular attractions. Made up of structures built at different times of the city’s history, these walls are an integral part of the city.
The first incarnation of the York City Walls were originally established in 71 AD during Roman times, built to protect the 9th Legion from the locals. Records from the Anglo Saxon Age indicate that when the Vikings captured York in 866 AD, the walls still existed but were in a bad state of repair. Renovated, fortified and extended under the Normans, the York City Walls continued to be added to up to the 16th century.
In 1644, during the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians laid siege to the York City Walls, trying to capture the city from the Royalists. On 16 July 1644, the city fell to the Parliamentarians, but only after severe clashes which caused damage to the walls.
In the 19th century, it was decided to demolish parts of the walls due to their high upkeep cost. Reconstruction was later undertaken to repair many of the demolished sections.
Today, visitors can walk along the York City Walls, which run for some 2.5 miles and enclose the historic part of the city.
11. Goodrich Castle
Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire is one of the most picturesque medieval ruins in the UK. Standing at the peak of a scenic woodland hilltop, this Norman fortification has attracted tourists to view its ethereal remains since the 18th century.
The first recorded structure to be built on the Goodrich Castle site was constructed in the late 11th century by an Anglo-Saxon thegn who retained his lands after the Norman Conquest.
Goodrich Castle is perhaps best known for the part it played during the English Civil War, when it became the focus of a bitter siege between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. Occupied by a Royalist garrison at the start of the war, Goodrich Castle was used as a base for attacks on Parliamentarian positions in the local area.
As the war turned however, Parliamentarian forces targeted Goodrich and a siege began in 1646. After building trenches and utilising the famous ‘Roaring Meg’ mortar, the Parliamentarians began to wreak heavy damage upon Goodrich Castle and the defending garrison was forced to surrender. After the war, although Goodrich Castle was not destroyed, it was intentionally damaged to ensure it could no longer serve as a stronghold.
By the late 18th century, Goodrich Castle was seen as a idyllic ruin and was therefore never fully restored. Today the Goodrich Castle site is run by English Heritage and visitors can wander through the ruins. Views from the castle are a must-see.
12. Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle was a key strategic military stronghold in Northern England which played a crucial role in many of the country’s most bitter conflicts for over 500 years.
The land was given to Ilbert de Lacy soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. During the Lacy family’s tenure, they continued to improve the castle, upgrading the original structure with a large military fortress described by King Edward I as the “key to the north”.
In 1399, Henry IV, a Lancastrian, used it to imprison and murder the deposed king Richard II, and Pontefract quickly began to hold a key position in the north of England – remaining a Lancastrian stronghold during the Wars of the Roses. The castle was later surrendered to the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ rebels (who rose up against Henry VIII) and also served as a setting for infamous liaisons between Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper.
During the English Civil War it was the last Royalist fortress to surrender and underwent numerous sieges until Parliament, more specifically Oliver Cromwell, ordered its demolition following Charles I’s execution.
Richard II, James I of Scotland and Charles Duke of Orleans were all imprisoned at different times in one of the castle’s many dungeons. When Edward II crushed his opposition, Thomas of Lancaster was executed here, and many rebels were put to death at the site throughout the Wars of the Roses.
Parts of the original motte and bailey wall and chapel can still be seen today, though nothing remains of the Great Hall except the cellars and dungeons underneath. Excavations have unearthed many English Civil War items, both domestic and military, from helmets and spurs to spoons and combs.
13. Broughton Castle
Broughton Castle is a medieval fortified manor house in Oxfordshire, surrounded by a three-acre moat and set amongst scenic parkland. Despite its name, Broughton is more a fortified manor house than a castle, and has been the family seat of the Fiennes family (who hold the title Lord and Lady Saye and Sele) since the 15th century.
During the English Civil War, then-owner William Fiennes was a strong opponent of Charles I. Fiennes refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King, and Broughton became a key meeting place for those set against him.
Fiennes raised a regiment against the Crown and with his four sons fought at the Battle of Edgehill, following which Broughton Castle fell under siege and was captured. Later in the conflict however, William actually opposed the execution of Charles I and stepped away from public office over the matter. As a result, a pardon was granted to him from Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.
Today Broughton Castle is a mixture of beautiful parkland, striking buildings and 3 streams which allowed the construction of a large moat. The Great Hall has an impressive display of arms and armour from the English Civil War, as well as from the Fiennes family tree.
14. Edgehill Battlefield
Edgehill Battlefield was the location of the first major engagement of the English Civil War, and thus stands as the location of a crucial turning point in English history.
The battle itself came about after King Charles I and Parliament became locked in an increasingly dangerous political struggle for supremacy. By the summer of 1642, both sides had raised armies and Charles began to lead his forces towards London, in the hope of achieving a quick, decisive victory.
A Parliamentarian army led by the Earl of Essex was sent to block the King, though both sides seemed to have little intelligence on the whereabouts of the other. Indeed, it was almost by accident that the two forces blundered into each other at Edge Hill in southern Warwickshire, and the resulting battle was fought on 23 October 1642, largely ending in a costly and bloody stalemate.
The clash remains one of the largest and most significant battles of the English Civil War, and was the first time the armies of Parliament and the King formally deployed opposite each other; it irretrievably signalled the start of a long and bloody conflict.
15. Manorbier Castle
Nestled in a tranquil spot amidst the Welsh Countryside, Manorbier Castle is a pretty, partially-ruined Norman fortification which overlooks the scenic coastline.
Norman knight Odo de Barri was granted land in Wales, including Manorbier, as reward for his assistance in conquering Pembrokeshire. Odo initially built a structure out of earth and timber in the 11th century, but this was replaced by his descendants with the stone structure that remains today.
Unlike many other of Wales’ great castles, Manorbier largely avoided conflict throughout its history, suffering just two minor assaults. Richard de Barri stormed the castle in 1327 to reclaim his property, and the Parliamentarians also seized the castle during the English Civil War.
Today, visitors can explore various, towers, rooms, staircases, battlements, and even the dungeons and hidden passageways that lurk under the fortress.