Berkeley Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Berkeley Castle

Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom

Berkeley Castle was originally built nearly 1,000 years ago, but since then has undergone a number of changes and has been the site of many interesting – and sometimes bloody – events.

Lily Johnson

25 Sep 2023
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle has been a striking feature of the Gloucestershire countryside since the 11th century, and today provides visitors the chance to explore its intriguing history first-hand.

Berkeley Castle history

Built by William FitzOsbern in 1067, Berkeley Castle was one of many motte-and-bailey castles constructed by the Normans shortly after the Conquest of 1066. Before long it passed into the hands of the Berkeley family and was rebuilt by them in the 12th century.

Throughout its long history, the castle has witnessed a number of dramatic events. It was the centre of a controversy during a period of civil war in Britain known as The Anarchy, when Roger de Berkeley was dispossessed for failing to ally himself with the House of Plantagenet and their heir Empress Matilda.

It was because of this that the castle passed to Robert Fitzharding in 1152, a wealthy burgess of Bristol and supporter of the Plantagenets who founded a new Berkeley line. His descendants still hold the castle now, making it the oldest castle in Britain to be lived in continually by the same family.

Two centuries later, Berkeley Castle was once again a site of intrigue. Early in 1327, Edward II was deposed by his wife Isabella of France, and sent to the castle for imprisonment. On 21 September, he was reportedly murdered within its walls, and though no details are known, popular stories range from suffocation to the use of a red hot poker.

Like many major strongholds in England, Berkeley Castle was also caught up in the English Civil War – the Parliamentarians laid siege to the castle in 1645 and eventually captured it from the Royalist defenders.

Berkeley Castle today

Today, Berkeley Castle provides visitors the opportunity to walk through its thousand-year history, with each room telling part of its fascinating story. The cell where Edward II’s murder is thought to have occurred may be explored, with the echoes of his cries in the 11m-deep dungeon reportedly heard each year on the anniversary of the event.

Berkeley’s sombre past can also been seen in the grand Great Hall, where the last court jester in England, Dickie Pearce, died after falling from the Minstrels’ gallery. In the adjoining chapel, visitors can see some of the more pleasant aspects of the castle however, including painted wooden vaulted ceilings and an illustrated vellum book of Catholic chants.

A walk around the castle reveals a number of tapestries and paintings by English and Dutch Masters, while outside the castle has yet more to offer. Its beautiful Elizabethan gardens are home to Elizabeth I‘s bowling green and a pine that is thought to have originated from a tree at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. To hear the castle’s full history, visitors can embark on an hour-long tour around the site included in the admission price.

Getting to Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle is located in Gloucestershire just west of the A38 off the B4066 road, and there is free parking at the site. The nearest train station is Cam and Dursley, 6 miles away, while bus services stop almost directly outside the castle’s entrance.

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