Berkhamsted Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Berkhamsted Castle

Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom

Berkhamsted Castle was a medieval stronghold, the ruins of which lie in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

Lily Johnson

19 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Berkhamsted Castle

Berkhamsted Castle was an 11th century Norman castle in Hertfordshire, built as a strategic stronghold between London and the Midlands. Though today in ruins, visitors are able to trace the dramatic earthworks and stone remains of what was once a thriving medieval palace.

Berkhamsted Castle history

Berkhamsted Castle began its life as a timber structure constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Robert of Mortain. It joins a long list of castles constructed in the aftermath of William’s success in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, all designed to secure his hold on England.

Located in the strategically important area of Berkhamsted, this wooden motte and bailey castle was a vital stronghold. Following a rebellion by Robert of Mortain’s son against the king Henry I however, it was confiscated from the family and eventually landed in the hands of Thomas Becket in 1155. It was likely during Becket’s ownership that the castle was rebuilt in stone and extended to accommodate his large household, yet by 1164 he had fallen from favour and Henry II took Berkhamsted for himself.

In the 13th century the castle found itself besieged for 20 days by the future Louis VIII of France, following his support of the Barons’ War against King John. The following year however, forces loyal to the new King Henry III retook Berkhamsted, returning it into royal hands.

Over the next three centuries a number of England’s kings lived at Berkhamsted, including Edward II and his notorious favourite Piers Gaveston, Edward III and his son the Black Prince, and Henry IV, during which time eminent poet Geoffrey Chaucer oversaw renovation work on the castle.

By the late 15th century however, Berkhamsted was significantly out of fashion and after the death of its last occupant, Cecily Neville – mother of Edward IV and Richard III – it was abandoned, eventually falling to ruin.

Berkhamsted Castle today

Today Berkhamsted Castle is managed by English Heritage and is protected as an ancient monument. Visitors may traverse the eminent site’s ruins, including the remains of the castle’s large outer defences and some of the structures within the bailey, one of which was likely a chapel.

The large earthworks of Berkhamsted Castle also remain, depicting a landscape altered by years of conquering forces. The iconic motte may be climbed, affording a fascinating aerial view over the site, where also sits the foundation of a circular keep and the well that functioned inside it.

A number of information boards detail the site’s thrilling history, alongside reconstructed images of what it once looked like. Built over 1000 years ago, Berkhamsted Castle provides a glimpse into Britain’s medieval past while walking the footsteps of some of its most famous figures.

Getting to Berkhamsted Castle

Berkhamsted Castle is located in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, just off the A41. Parking is available in the town, while Berkhamsted train station sits directly adjacent to the site. Arriva The Shires bus service 354 stops on the nearby Bridgewater Road, and Little Jim’s bus service 532 stops on Brownlow Road, both a short walk to the castle.

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