Castles in England- History and Significance

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Castles were built as a defence against the enemies and even served as royal residences. The first proper medieval castles in England were built by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066. They built these castles to fortify their new kingdom.

Let us take a look at the Castles in England- History and Significance

1) Dover Castle- One of the most famous medieval castles in England

Dover Castle is one of the most famous medieval castles in England. It is also called as ‘the key to England’ due to its defensive significance in history. It was built in the iron age and it was further fortified after the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD. The Romans were responsible for building two lighthouses at the castle out of which only one survived. The castle gained importance during the reign of Henry II. He saw to its upkeep and spent a significant amount of money on its fortifications. It was also instrumental in fending off the French during the First Baron’s War in 1216. During the Napoleonic Wars, massive rebuilding took place at the castle.  The addition of arracks tunnels took place during this time.

During World War II, these tunnels were used as an air-raid shelter and later became an underground hospital and a military command centre. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was responsible for the excavation of French and British soldiers from Dunkirk. During this operation he used these tunnels and in his honour, a statue was erected outside.

Today, Dover Castle in England is a nationally and internationally recognised historic building.

A picture of the Dover Castle
Dover Castle (c: Historic England)

2) Kenilworth Castle

The castle was founded in the 1120s. And its building and modification took place over many centuries. It has an extensive history and is described as the ‘the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages’.

King John of England constructed significant parts of the castle and spent quite a lot of money on improving its defences. However, due to the signing of the Magna Carta, he was forced to cede the castle to the baronial opposition. But it was again in royal control during the reign of his son Henry III, who granted the castle to Simon De Monfort. Subsequently, Montfort became the leader of the Baron rebels and the castle became his operational base. Henry III’s son Edward I then laid a siege at the Kenilworth Castle, which became known as one of the longest medieval sieges.

Additionally, the castle was a base for the ‘House of Lancaster’ during the War of the Roses . And it was here that Edward II resigned as king. By the late 14th century, many renovations had taken place at the Kenilworth castle and John the Gaunt had turned it into a palatial fortress. Subsequently, in the 16th century, the Earl of Leicester transformed it into an English Renaissance-style palace.

Notable historic figures such as Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens visited the medieval Kenilworth Castle in England

A picture of the Kenilworth medieval castles in England
Kenilworth Castle in 1903 (c: Historic England)

3) Portchester Castle

The location of Portchester Castle had a lot of strategic importance since the 3rd century. The Romans first built a fort on the site and subsequently, the Saxons used it as a defence against the Vikings. The castle was built around the 11th century.  After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror gave the castle to William Maudit, his associate. It stayed in the Maudit family for a while until 1154 when Henry II took back the castle after his accession to the English throne.

King John often stayed at the castle and used it for recreational purposes. During the reign of Edward II, the crown made significant repairs and modifications to the castle.

During the Hundred Years’ War, Henry VI used the castle for making preparations for a campaign in France. The castle was also used as a prison during the 17th century, it housed 500 prisoners from the Anglo-Dutch Wars and was also used as a gaol for almost 7000 French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars.

A picture of the Portchester Castle
Portchester Castle (c: Skyscan-Balloon-Photography. Historic England)

4) Rochester Castle- A famous medieval castle with a  significant historic value

The Rochester Castle in England has a significant historic value. The castle was founded after the Norman Conquest. It was taken by William the Conqueror’s rebellious brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. King of England William Rufus then laid siege to the castle and regained it.

In 1127, Henry I granted the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the condition that he makes fortifications to the castle. Subsequently, until the end of the 12th century, the castle remained with the Archbishops.

In 1215, King John successfully laid siege to the castle in an attempt to retake it from the rebel Barons. The castle was returned to the crown in 1217. Simon De Montfort laid a third siege to it in 1264. Subsequently, the castle received heavy damage.

In the 14th century, Edward III and Richard II ordered the repairs of the castle. In the 15th century, the bailey was let out on rent but by the 16th century, the castle went into further decline and was rendered inessential.

The famous writer Charles Dickens mentioned the castle in two of his works ‘Pipwick Papers’ and ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

A picture of the Rochester
Rochester Castle in 1903 (c: Historic England)

5) Carisbrooke Castle- A medieval castle in England that was once the residence of Queen Victoria’s daughter

The medieval castle’s site suggests that there was a fort occupying the site since pre-Roman times. During the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxons occupied the site and around the year 1000 a wall was built for defence against the Vikings.

From 1100, the castle came into the possession of the family of the 1st feudal baron of Plympton, Richard de Redvers and over the next couple of centuries, they modified the castle. The last Redvers resident of the castle Countess Isabella de Fortibus then sold it to Edward I. During the reign of Richard II the French unsuccessfully attacked it. Anthony Woodville was granted the rights of the castle in 1467. His brother Edward Woodville later possessed it in 1485.

During the reigns of Henry I and Elizabeth I, the castle was further fortified. Additionally, Charles, I was imprisoned at the castle and he famously tried to escape it in 1648, but could not get through the bars of his windows. The castle also witnessed the death of Charles I’s daughter Princess Elizabeth. Moreover, the castle was the residence of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Beatrice, from 1896 to 1944.

A picture of Carisbrooke
Carisbrooke Castle (c: Historic England)

6) Middleham Castle

The medieval Middleham castle in England was built around the 11th century. In 1258, Mary Fitz Ranulph who was the ‘Lady of Middleham’, inherited the castle. In 1260, she married Robert Neville. Subsequently, the Neville family inherited it . The Neville family was a prominent English family and one of its most notable members was Richard, Earl of Warwick. He was a leading figure during the War of the Roses. Following the death of Richard Plantagenet, the care of his sons Richard and George fell upon Warwick. Both sons spent their childhood at the Middleham Castle. Richard ascended the throne as Richard III of England.

It was also the place where Edward IV was imprisoned for a short while. In 1485, the castle was seized by Henry VII and remained in royal control until the reign of James I, who sold it off. During the 17th century, the castle fell into disuse and disrepair. In 1604, the castle was granted to Sir Henry Linley and then sold off to the Wood family in 1662. The Wood family held onto the castle until they sold it to Samuel Cunliffe Lister in 1889. Subsequently, the medieval castle of England was gifted to the state in 1930.

A picture of the Middleham medieval castles in England
Middleham Castle

7) Durham Castle

Durham Castle is currently the campus of the University College, Durham. However, it was once the residence of the Bishops of Durham. The construction of the castle began in 1072 under the orders of William the Conqueror. He subsequently gave the castle as a seat to Bishop William Walcher. When Walcher purchased the earldom of Northumbria, he became the 1st Prince-Bishop. Walcher is responsible for the construction of many of its buildings. From 1075, the Bishop of Durham became known as Prince-Bishop, a title which would remain until the 19th century.

The castle remained as a residence for the bishops until 1832. After which the Auckland Castle became the Bishop’s residence. Later Bishop William Van Mildert donated it to the University of Durham, which would become the current University College.

A picture of the Durham University College
Durham Castle

8) Chillingham Castle

Originally a monastery, the Chillingham Castle was built in the 12th century. It has been home to the Grey family and their descendants since the 15th century. Since medieval times it has been in a strategic location as it was wedged between two feuding nations; England and Scotland. Additionally, several royals have visited the castle including King Edward I, Anne of Denmark and the Prince and Princess of Wales.

The castle has undergone various fortifications and it was also used as an army barracks during World War II. However, due to that, it fell into disrepair. In 1982, the castle was purchased by the English Baronet Sir Humphry Wakefield, whose wife is a descendent of the Grey Family. Since then the castle has undergone various restorations and as of 2020, several of its sections are open for public viewing. Furthermore, the castle is also famous for its rare breed of Chillingham wild cattle which are kept in an enclosed park.

A picture of the Chillingham medieval castles in England
Chillingham Castle

9) Warwick Castle- One of the most visited medieval castles in England

Originally a wooden fort, the Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror. He subsequently entrusted the castle to Henry de Newburgh, whose family would hold it for 5 generations. They then rebuilt it with stone. In 1263, the ownership of the castle shifted to William Mauduit. However, as he was an earl during the Second Baron’s Revolt, the castle was attacked by John Giffard, Governor of Kenilworth. Subsequently, Mauduit and his family were held for ransom but were released later. After Mauduit’s death, the castle was bestowed upon William de Beauchamp. And it was his descendants who were responsible for enhancing the castle’s fortifications.

The castle was in their care for around 180 years after which it fell into the hands of Richard Neville and subsequently into the hands of the Plantagenet Family. But after their downfall, the castle would fall into the hands of the Tudors. Under which the castle fell into decay and disrepair.

The Warwick Castle was then granted to John Dudley who ran it into further ruins after which King James I planned to demolish it. However, in an attempt to gain favour from the English nobility he granted the castle to Sir Fulke Greville. It was under the Greville family that the castle underwent rebuilding and remodelling. It stayed in the family until David Greville sold it to the Tussauds Group in 1978. Merlin Entertainments subsequently absorbed it. Since then Warwick castle has undergone millions of pounds of restoration and remains as one of the most visited castles in England.

A picture of the Warwick medieval castles in England
Warwick Castle

10) Berkely Castle

The Berkely Castle is home to the Berkely Family for around 850 years. William FitzOsbern constructed it in the 11th century. It stayed in his family for three generations after which the castle was granted to Robert FitzHarding. FitzHarsding subsequently rebuilt the castle and was the founder of the Berkely Family which still holds the castle today.  The Berkely Castle is also famous for being the alleged place of King Edward II’s horrific murder. King Edward was imprisoned at the castle in 1327 for 5 months, during which he was deposed off and brutally murdered.

Today the medieval Berkely Castle is the 3rd oldest continuously occupied castle in England after the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. Additionally, it is the oldest surviving castle which is continuously owned and occupied by the same family.

A picture of the Berkely Castle
Berkeley Castle

Enjoyed the above article? You may also enjoy Famous medieval buildings and their history

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