Castles of England: III
Castles of England and their history
Part three of the journey through the English countryside. We will continue exploring the magnificent history of some of England's cherished castles. Feel free to forget your worries for a while and lose yourself in some of the Castles of England.
The castles covered on this page are: Oxford Castle, Framlingham Castle, Lewes Castle, Lincoln Castle, Herstmonceux Castle, Muncaster Castle, and Berry Pomeroy Castle.
Located in the city center of Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, Oxford Castle was built by the Norman Baron Robert D'Oyly in 1071. Originally a stone keep called George's Tower which was built atop a mound, Oxford Castle is now a shopping and heritage complex, however, it was once the Oxford Prison, which was closed in 1996. The Oxford Prison then became the Malmaison Hotel, being the first hotel in the United Kingdom that is being housed in a former prison.
St. George's Tower is one of the best preserved parts of Oxford Castle, which was added to the castle along with stone walls and other towers to increase the castle defenses. St. George's Tower is a scheduled ancient monument along with the crypt of St. George's Chapel.
In 1141, Oxford Castle was the home of Empress Matilda(Maud). During her feud with King Stephen, the castle was attacked and Empress Matilda escaped by being lowered over the castle walls. Said to have been wearing white which served as camouflage in the snow, she passed through enemy lines and made her way to safety across the Castle Mill Stream.
Creative Commons photo of Oxford Castle courtesy of dichohecho . Malmaison Hotel photo courtesy of Terry Bean.
Located in the town of Framlingham, Suffolk, England, this castle, as with many buildings in Suffolk, was built of flint. The castle dates as far back as 624 A.D. or earlier, and is said to have been founded by Raedwald, a powerful king. Raedwald is considered one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kings of the area. He is also the first East Anglian ruler baptised as a Christian, and is responsible for keeping the faith alive during his rule.
The castle has been passed down from William the Conqueror to the Earls of Norfolk, then the Dukes of Norfolk, changing hands many times in it's history. The castle was seized by the king from the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and for a time, became the refuge of Princess Mary, later to become Queen Mary.
Framlingham Castle is perfectly moated, and has 13 towers with a strong curtain wall. It was once used to house victims of the plague, and under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, as a prison for Catholic priests. Not surprisingly then, the castle is said to be haunted.
Framlingham castle has been used by many other institutions, but is now managed by English Heritage, who is working to preserve this majestic castle.
Large photo courtesy of: Squeezyboy. Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Keith Evans and Barry Ephgrave under a CC license.
Located above the valley of the River Ouse, at the highest point in Lewes, Sussex, England, Lewes Castle was once called Bray Castle, and was built on a man-made chalk mound. The construction of Lewes Castle began around 1069 by William de Warenne, who later became the Earl of Surrey, but wasn't complete until 300 years later, and has one of the best preserved barbicans in England.
The castle has been passed down through the Earls of Surrey until the last of the de Warennes, the 8th Earl, died in 1347 and was buried in the Lewes monastery. The title then passed to the Earl of Arundel, his nephew.
Lewes Castle houses a wonderful museum and is the pride of the town. In July 2008, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Lewes Castle one million pounds for improvements to the castle and it's grounds. In October, work began on the castle, which included a new pavilion in the Gun Garden which will recount the castle's history.
Visit the Lewes Castle website.
Small hyperlinked photo on the right courtesy of Yewenyi under a CC license, all others are public domain images.
Located in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England, Lincoln Castle was completed in 1068, and was one of the first castles built by order of William the Conqueror. Built originally of wood, the castle was rebuilt of stone in 1136.
Lincoln Castle has several towers: one called Lucy's Tower after Lucy de Tailebois, an early sheriff of Lincoln; Cobb Hall, a prison tower complete with dungeons; and the most recognizable one, the Observatory Tower. John Merryweather, the person responsible for the building of the Observatory Tower, claimed he needed a tall tower to watch for potential prison escapees; however, many say the real reason for the tower was so Merryweather could engage in a hobby of his- stargazing and astronomy.
Another interesting room in the castle is the chapel, built in a semi-circle rising steeply above the altar with high barriers in between the seats so the prisoners could see the priest, but not each other.
Lincoln Castle proudly contains an original copy of the Magna Carta. Another rarity is a section of an Eleanor Cross. The story of the Eleanor Cross is a sad one. When Queen Eleanor died, her grieving husband, King Edward I, carried her body to London for burial. Every time the procession stopped for the night, the king erected a cross. Only three of these crosses have survived to this day, with part of one at Lincoln Castle.
While Queen Eleanor's body is buried in London, her entrails are entombed in Lincoln Cathedral and her heart in Blackriars in Lincoln.
Visit the Lincoln Castle website.
Creative Commons photo of Lincoln Castle courtesy of wumpus. Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Dave Hitchborne under a CC license.
Defend the castle
Defend your home with the knight with lance and the mace wielding soldier. You know those three headed dragons are just lurking in the shadows, waiting to attack. I've seen them...but don't quote me on that.
Located in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, England, Herstmonceux Castle was built of brick in 1441 by Sir Roger Fiennes. Brick was an unusual building material, but the castle was built more for comfort than defense. A very large moat surrounds the castle, and entrance is gained via a bridge built also of bricks. The castle is one of the oldest brick buildings still standing in England today.
In the 16th century, Lord Dacre, the last Earl of Sussex was forced to sell the castle and the new owner dismantled much of Herstmonceux Castle and built Herstmonceux Place further uphill.
Herstmonceux Castle, now practically a ruin, was then bought by Lt. Col. Claude Lowther in 1911, who began rebuilding the castle. After Lowther's death, Sir Paul Latham took over the reconstruction, and greatly contributed to the Herstmonceux Castle we see today. As mentioned, the brick castle wasn't built for defense, and the location of Herstmonceux Castle was not the best place for a defensive stance. Luckily, the castle was never attacked, and did not need rebuilding because of war damage like so many other castles have.
In 1993, Herstmonceux Castle became property of Queen's University of Canada and is now an International Study Centre.
Photo of Herstmonceux Castle in the upper left used under a creative commons license and is attributed to 6mat1.
Located near the town of Ravenglass, Cumbria, England, Muncaster Castle has been home to the Pennington family since 1208. Muncaster carries the distinction of being called one of the most haunted castles in Britain.
Throughout the centuries, the Pennington family have accumulated many treasures that are kept within the castle. One item in particular is very special to the family; a drinking bowl called the Luck of Muncaster given to the family by Henry VI. The king said that the Pennington family would continue to reside in Muncaster Castle as long as the bowl remains unbroken.
Muncaster Castle is said to be haunted by several ghosts, some say they have seen the king himself, Henry VI roaming the castle, perhaps to check the condition of the Luck of Muncaster.
The ghost of a murdered girl, Mary Bragg, haunts the grounds of Muncaster Castle. She was hung on the main gate by drunken youths who were never brought to justice. Is she seeking revenge?
It is also reported that an apprentice carpenter haunts the castle. He was reportedly decapitated by Tom the Fool, the Court Jester, by order of Sir Ferdinand Pennington, because of his courtship with Ferdinand's daughter Helwise. This ghostly carpenter is seen carrying his head.
The most famous ghost is Thomas the Fool himself. His real name was Thomas Skelton, and he is believed to have been the last court jester in England. Tom was indeed a prankster, but with a dark side. He is reportedly responsible for quite a few deaths at Muncaster Castle and beyond. One of his pranks was to give false directions to the nearby town of Ravenglass, pointing the travelers towards the hidden bog marsh and quicksand. Not everyone realized this in time, and those were never heard from again.
Thomas Skelton died near the year of 1600, and according to legend, met his end in the very bog marsh he sent others to. The portrait of Tom the Fool still hangs in the castle.
Muncaster is also home to the Owl Centre and World Owl Trust.
Visit the official Muncaster Castle homepage to learn more about this mysterious castle.
Berry Pomeroy Castle
Located near the village of Berry Pomeroy, Devon, England, Berry Pomery was originally home to the Pomeroy family. In 1547 Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, bought the castle from the Pomeroy family, but soon fell out of favor with the court and was beheaded on a charge of treason. The property belonged to the crown until 1558, when the son of Edward Seymour became the property owner and carried out many renovations on the castle.
Berry Pomeroy was passed down throughout the Seymour families (most of whom were named Edward). By 1701, the castle was practically in ruins. Today, the castle is owned by the Duke of Somerset, and is heralded as the most haunted ruins in Britain.
One of the ghosts is known as the White Lady and is believed to be the ghost of Lady Margaret Pomeroy who was imprisoned in the dungeons by her sister, Lady Eleanor. Lady Eleanor was insanely jealous of her little sister, who was the prettier of the two, and locked her in the castle dungeons after Lord Pomeroy left on a crusade. Poor beautiful Margeret was imprisoned in the dungeon for almost 20 years before the hateful Eleanor stopped allowing her food and drink. Lady Margeret finally died of starvation.
Seen in a long blue cape, the Blue Lady is believed to be the spirit of the daughter of a Norman Lord, who gave birth to the child of her own father. Here the stories take two different paths, one is that the baby was strangled in the tower by the father, another that the baby was strangled by the mother. Those who say they have seen the ghost say she is wringing her hands, as if in anguish over taking the baby's life. It is also reported that her hatred of men causes her to try to lure men to their deaths by appearing in unsafe areas of the castle ruins. There are also reports of the ghostly cries of the murdered infant.
Learn more at the Berry Pomerywebsite.
Creative Commons photo of Berry Pomeroy courtesy of J Morley.
Which castle would you most like to visit?
Travel in England
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Why not check out my other castle series?
Have you been to any of these castles? Or did you like this page? Let me know!