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Berkhamsted Castle, is in ruins Norman Motte and Bailey castle at Berkhamstedmarker in Hertfordshiremarker. The castle is said to be unique in having a double moat.

The original fortification dates from Saxon times. Work on the Norman structure was started in 1066 by William the Conqueror who later passed the castle to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain. In the 12th Century, the castle was home to Thomas Becket, Chancellor of England and later Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 14th Century, it became the residence of Edward, the Black Prince, and Geoffrey Chaucer was appointed Clerk to the Works. The castle has been owned by the Duchy of Cornwall since 1337.


1066: After the Battle of Hastingsmarker, William granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamstedmarker to his half-brother, Robert of Mortain, and started work on the castle, at that time a timber structure. Berkhamsted was of some strategic importance, and there was already a Saxon fort guarding the main route through the valley.

1123: Henry I held court at the Castle. During the reigns of Henry I and Henry II, the castle was in the hands of the Chancellors, including Thomas Becket. Extensive building works were undertaken, and the earliest stone buildings date from Thomas's time (1155-1164).

1163: Thomas Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury, was deprived of the castle by Henry II who accused him of having misappropriated cash.

1191: Richard I gave the castle to his queen, Berengaria of Navarre who lived there until Richard’s death in 1199.

1204: King John granted the castle to his queen, Isabella of Angoulême, who remained in residence until 1216.

1216: Prince Louis of France (later Louis VIII) laid siege to the castle. The defenders held out for only two weeks.

1227: Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III, was granted the castle. He used it as one of his main residences and the administrative centre of the Earldom of Cornwall. His wife Isabel later died here, following childbirth, in 1240.

1270: Richard's son, Edmund, the 2nd Earl of Cornwall, who had been born at the castle, founded a religious house at Ashridgemarker and installed a small order of monks, the Bonhommes, to manage it.

1291: Edward I held a parliament at Ashridgemarker. Edward granted Berkhamsted to his second queen, Margaret of France. On her death, Isabella of France, queen of Edward II, succeeded.

1337: Edward III gave the castle to his son Edward, the Black Prince, as part of the newly-created Duchy of Cornwall.

1356: John II of France was imprisoned in the castle after the Battle of Poitiers.

1361: The Black Prince spent his honeymoon at the castle, and hunted in its extensive deer park.

1389: Geoffrey Chaucer was appointed Clerk to the Works. It is not known how much time he actually spent at the castle, however.

1399: On his accession, Henry V granted the castle to his son, later Henry V. It then passed to Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's queen.

1469: Edward IV granted the castle to his mother Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who lived here for the remainder of her life. After her death, the castle gradually fell into decay.

1580: Elizabeth I leased the Manor of Berkhamsted, including the ruined castle and the deer park, for the nominal rent of one red rose to Sir Edward Carey, Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels. He built Berkhamsted Place on the hill above the castle using stone from the ruins.

The Present Day

Flint walls, keeper's house, castle mound in background

The castle is currently (2007) in the care of English Heritage. The ruins are open to visitors. Admission is free.

External links


  • Remfry, Paul Martin, Berkhamsted Castle 1066-1495, published by Dacorum Heritage Trust, nd.
  • Remfry, P.M., Berkhamsted Castle 1066 to 1495 (ISBN 1-899376-09-7)

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