03 December 2014

Berkhampsted Castle

Berkhampsted is arguably the most important of the early Norman castles: it was here that William the Conqueror received the submission of the English, after the Battle of Hastings. Controlling the northern approach to London, thirty miles away, William's half-brother Robert of Mortain built, circa 1070, a wooden castle, atop a 43 foot motte, surrounded by a huge bailey. The castle is unusual in that it had two surrounding moats.

Thomas à Becket, Lord Chancellor to Henry II, was granted the castle in 1155, when the first stone buildings were erected. The curtain walls too were built under Becket. The castle was though besieged in 1216 by Prince Louis of France. The possibly first use of trebuchets on British soil overcame the defences. The Earls of Cornwall held the castle for much of the 13th century, and the first Duke of Cornwall, the Black Prince, honeymooned there in 1361.

The castle fell into disuse late in the fifteenth century, and declined thereafter. The railway from Euston, built in 1838, cut across the outer earthworks, but the twin trenches remain in good order. The brick cottage that sits inside the castle, still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, was built in 1865.

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