Berkeley Castle

erkeley Castle is special because, apart from a short period in the ownership of the crown, it has remained in the ownership of the same family since Norman times. In Saxon times the site was the location of a nunnery. Harold Godwine obtained the land by corrupting the nuns with a carefully laid plan involving a 'young man of great beauty' sent to the nunnery pretending to be ill. After the Norman Conquest the land was granted to William Fitz Osbern, a follower of William the Conqueror. Under his command Roger de Berkeley of Coberley built and a simple motte and bailey castle on the site. In the reign of Henry II Berkeley Castle was granted to Robert FitzHarding a supporter of his through the conflict with King Stephen. It is around this time that the wooden castle was replaced with stone. Robert's son Maurice married Alice de Berkeley ensuring that the ownership of the castle remained in the Berkeley family.

The Keep and Bailey

The stone keep that replaced the original wooden stonghold was not built on top of the motte but was built around it enclosing the motte in stone. This is commonly known as a shell-keep. Projecting from the keep are three half-towers and a larger rectangular tower, known as Thorpe's Tower, on the northern side. Thorpe's Tower overlooks the church not very far away. The bailey lies to south of the keep and is protected on its southern side by a steep cliff. The original Norman buildings have been replaced by later buildings.

Edward II

The castle is noted for its association with Edward II. Edward was imprisoned in April 1327 within the castle. Locked in its prison he was half staved to death and later murdered. He had been disposed by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Isabella, known as the She-Wolf of France, hated her husband due to the favouritism he first showed to Piers Gaveston and later to Hugh Despenser. She wanted to put their young son Edward (III) on the throne of England so that she could act as regent.

The Civil War

During the English Civil War Berkeley Castle was held at different times by both Parliamentarian and Royalist forces. While the castle was held by the Royalists it came under siege by Colonel Rainsborough. The siege was over within days after the Parliamentarians brought in canons to destroy a section of the wall belongng to the keep. The attacking army used the protection of the near by church from which to launch their bombardment. Although the castle should have been destroyed as was usual after a capture it was left relatively untouched.

Berkeley Castle Key Facts
CountyGloucestershire (4 castles)
CategoriesMotte & Bailey / Stone / Shell Keep
Original motte now encased in a shell keep.
OwnershipBaronial castle
RemainsExcellent remains
Access to siteOnly open at certain times
TimeRef Rating
TimeRef Comments
This privately owned castle is open on a regular basis. Check times before travelling.

1117   Berkeley castle construction
 Roger de Berkeley began the construction of Berkeley Castle in 1117 and it was completed by his son, also called Roger, by 1153.[1] 
1154   Berkeley Castle changes hands
 Henry II granted the castle at Berkeley to Robert Fitz Harding, a wealthy merchant who had helped Henry with financial aid during the conflict with Stephen. 
1327 Apr  Edward II is imprisoned
 Edward II was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle.

Episode: Isabella, She-Wolf of France and death of Edward II  
 Sep  Edward II murdered at Berkeley Castle
 Edward was buried at the abbey church at Gloucester.

Episode: Isabella, She-Wolf of France and death of Edward II  
1470 Mar 20  Battle of Nibley Green
 The private battle in 1469 or 1470 was fought between William Berkeley and Thomas Talbot Lord Lisle over the inheritance of the Berkeley estate. The original dispute arose some fifty years earlier when Thomas Berkeley died and his inheritance was disputed by his daughter and nephew James Berkeley. William Berkeley, the son of James, won the battle leaving Lord Lisle dead on the battlefield.[2] 
Early Modern Period (1500-1800)
1645 Sep 26  Berkeley Castle falls to Parliamentarians
 After a short siege Berkeley Castle surrendered reducing even further the control that the Royalists had in the south west of the country.[3] 

Motte and Bailey Castles

Virtual reconstruction

The Norman Conquerors built their castles in locations where they could keep control of the local populations of Saxons or at important locations such as river crossings or on key roads. Many motte and bailey castles were built on the border with Wales to try and keep the Welsh at bay. The advantage of this type of castle was that it was quick to construct. Making a fortification from wood was much easier than making one of stone.

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