When it comes to travel inspiration, there’s little doubt that the battlefields of the English Civil War provide endless possibilities with famous locations such as Edgehill, Banqueting House and Ashby Castle being among the most popular places to visit. While some English Civil War battlefields are widely renowned and attract hordes of tourists each and every year, others fly under the radar, such as Arundel Castle, Corfe Castle and Goodrich Castle. Here are the best 10 things to see and do while exploring the landmarks from the English Civil War, with a few additional picks thrown in for good measure.
Where were the battlefields of the English Civil War?
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 were raising armies and Charles soon started to lead his forces towards London, in the hope of achieving a quick, decisive victory.
A Parliamentary 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 23rd October 1642, largely ending in a costly and bloody stalemate.
The clash which took place at Edgehill battlefield 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.
Since the 1940s, for decades the core of this battlefield had been inaccessible to the public, but a recent and major archaeological survey – being the first of its kind in England – has revealed evidence finally establishing the true locations for key actions and where the armies actually took their positions.
These modern insights now confirm that the local footpaths, rights of way, and permissive paths which are available to the public have a much closer relationship with the events of the day.
Visitors to the site can gain an understanding of the battlefield by walking a number of routes around the area, though most of the battlefield itself is either private agricultural land or under Ministry of Defence ownership. This means that much of the area is inaccessible to the public.
A dedicated website illustrates the new deployment positions and available rights of way across the battlefield and gives some useful suggestions for walking routes around the site.
The Banqueting House in Whitehall, near Horseguards Parade, is the only complete building of the Palace of Whitehall to remain standing. The original Palace of Whitehall was acquired from Cardinal Wolsey by Henry VIII and was a royal residence until James I came to the throne in 1603.
The Banqueting House was built for state occasions and, after the installation of grand ceiling panels, the Banqueting House became a reception area for greeting foreign dignitaries.
On 30 January 1649, many spectators gathered to watch the beheading of King Charles I on the balcony of the 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 of Whitehall once again became the royal residence and the Banqueting House once again was used for its original purpose.
In 1698, a huge fire burned Whitehall Palace to the ground. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to convert the Banqueting House into a chapel to replace the one destroyed in the fire.
Visitors can tour Banqueting House and discover its history. An entry ticket includes an audio guide, available in a variety of languages.
Ashby Castle or ‘Ashby de la Zouch’ is a twelfth century manor house turned castle, the ruins of which can be seen in Leicestershire. Originally constructed during Norman times, Ashby Castle was the property of the Zouch family until the end of the fourteenth century.
Expanded and renovated, Ashby Castle achieved the transition from a stately home to a castle in the fifteenth century, after which it was the site of several royal visits from the likes of Henry VII and Charles I. Amongst its additions during this time, Ashby Castle gained the imposing 24-metre high Hastings Tower, built by Lord Hastings.
The demise of Ashby Castle occurred following the English Civil War. 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 nineteenth 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.
Arundel Castle is the historic home of the Dukes of Norfolk and has been occupied by their line for over 850 years. Amongst the dynasties to have inhabited Arundel Castle was the highly influential Howard family whose number included Catherine Howard, wife of Henry VIII.
The first structure on the Arundel Castle site was built in the 11th Century by the Normans after the invasion of William the Conqueror, with the earthworks and first buildings completed by 1070 AD. Work continued during the reign of King Henry II and further renovations were undertaken over the following centuries.
During the English Civil War, Arundel Castle was besieged twice – first by the Royalists who successfully captured the site and then by the Parliamentarians.
A significant restoration project took place in the latter half of the 19th century and this ensured that Arundel remained a property of some note.
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.
There are also a number of special events hosted at Arundel Castle throughout the year, details of which can be seen on the official website.
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, Indeed, it is said that King Edward the Martyr was murdered here in a plot to position Ethelred “the Unready” as monarch.
Corfe Castle would be expanded and altered over the coming centuries, especially in the 12th to 13th centuries under King John. Not only did this monarch further fortify the castle, he also used it as a prison and even a home. Sold by Elizabeth I in 1572, Corfe Castle became the grand private home, first to Sir Christopher Hatton and which was bought by Sir John Bankes in 1635.
The demise of Corfe 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.
Today, Corfe Castle is open to the public under the remit of the National Trust.
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. However, it is believed that the site may have been used as a fortification for far longer.
The original wooden structure was replaced by a stone fort in the mid-12th century and the living quarters and fortifications of Goodrich Castle were extended over the next 100 years.
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 and even see the infamous ‘Roaring Meg’ mortar, which was moved to the site by Herefordshire Council. An audio tour is available and the views from the castle are a must-see.
The visitor’s centre also contains information about the history of Goodrich Castle and artefacts from the site. Various special events are also held at Goodrich throughout the year, check the official website for further information.
Helmsley Castle was a large medieval fortress and mansion, the ruins of which are located in the town of Helmsley, Yorkshire. Initially built as a timber construction by the influential baron and military man Walter l’Espec in 1120, it was converted to stone by his nephew, Robert de Roos and further expanded over the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Today, the remains of Helmsley Castle rise out of Yorkshire’s dramatic landscape, seemingly on a wave of ditches and banks, which would have served to increase its defensive capabilities. In fact, Helmsley Castle managed to endure a massive attack by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. The Royalists held Helmsley for a staggering three 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.
Managed by English Heritage, who also renovated it, Helmsley Castle is now open to the public, who can enjoy its grandeur and learn about its history via audio guides and exhibitions. There are several Civil War displays, looking at the castles military history and featuring an original cannonball.
Bishop’s Waltham Palace is a medieval castle in Hampshire built in the 12th century, although the current picturesque ruins mostly date from the early 14th century works of the Bishop William Wykeham. In its time, Bishop’s Waltham Palace acted as a residence for a series of the Bishops of Winchester and their clergy until it was destroyed during the English Civil War.
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.
Restormel Castle was a stone castle defended by a moat and located on a large mound overlooking Cornwall. Its historic ruins, which date back to the late 13th and early 14th century and may have been built by King Edmund, are made up of a dramatic circular stone keep. It is thought that an earlier castle, one originally constructed by Norman conquerors in the 11th century, once stood on the site of Restormel Castle and some aspects of this original castle still remain today.
Initially part of the Manor of Bodardle, Restormel would go on to be owned by Edward, The Black Prince, in the 14th century before it later fell into disuse. In 1644, Restormel Castle 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.
Today, Restormel Castle is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and is managed by English Heritage.
Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world. Covering an area of approximately 13 acres, it contains a wide range of interesting features. These include the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s dolls house and the beautiful St George’s Chapel. It is also the burial place of ten monarchs, including Henry VIII and his beloved wife (the one who gave him a son), Jane Seymour.
The building of Windsor Castle began in the 1070s at the behest of William the Conqueror, with the intent that it was to guard the western approach to London. Since that time, the structure of Windsor Castle has been embellished by many of the monarchs of England and the UK. Notably, in the 1170s, Henry II (the first Plantagenet) rebuilt most of the castle in stone instead of wood, including the round tower and the upper ward, where most monarchs have had their private apartments since the 14th century.
In the mid-fourteenth century, Edward III, who had recently founded the Order of the Garter, built St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle for the use of the knights of this Order. A further addition, St George’s Chapel, was started by Edward IV, but was not finished until the time of Henry VIII. It is here that the ten British monarchs lie buried.
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. Charles II and George IV (formerly the Prince Regent) made further contributions to the architecture of Windsor Castle in the 1650s and 1820s respectively.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert loved Windsor castle, and Prince Albert died there of typhoid in 1861. Queen Victoria built a mausoleum in the grounds of the castle, Frogmore, where Albert and later Victoria herself were buried.
In the Second World War, Windsor Castle became home to our present Queen, Elizabeth II, and her family, George VI, the (future) Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. It remains a favourite home of Queen Elizabeth, and she spends most of her weekends there. There was a huge fire at the castle in November 1992 which took 15 hours and one and half a million gallons of water to extinguish. It began in the Private Chapel and soon spread to affect approximately one fifth of the area of the castle. It took five years to restore the Castle, and it was finished by the end of 1997.
There are numerous exhibitions and tours at Windsor Castle. In fact, a typical visit can take up to three hours. This site features as one of our Top Ten UK Tourist Attractions.