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History and Research: Berkhamsted Castle

One of the most important early Norman castles, Berkhamsted controlled the northern approach to London, only 30 miles away.

Berkhamsted Castle around 1190

Berkhamsted Castle around 1190. The south gateway of the castle led towards the town. The railway, built in 1838, has cut through the outer gate and earthwork defences.

Origins

William the Conqueror received the submission of the English at Berkhamsted Castle after the Battle of Hastings. Around 1070, his half-brother, Robert of Mortain, built a timber castle. It was in the classic Norman motte-and-bailey form, with a defensive conical mound and oval bailey.

The castle stayed in royal hands, and in 1155 Thomas Becket was granted the honour of Berkhamsted by King Henry II.

As chancellor, he was the king's right hand man and enjoyed great favour. He rebuilt the castle to befit his new status and house his large staff. Becket's buildings probably included the huge stone curtain wall. Later in 1164, during his quarrel with the king, Becket was accused of embezzlement. He was disgraced and the honour of Berkhamsted was removed.

Sources

Remfry, P M 1995. 'Berkhamsted Castle, 1066-1495', Malvern: SCS Publishing

Disclaimer

The text and pictures on this page are derived from the 'Heritage Unlocked' series of guidebooks published in 2004. We intend to review, update and enhance the content in the near future as part of the Portico project, whose objective is to provide information on the history, significance, research background and sources for all English Heritage properties.

Portico: Researching English Heritage Sites