Hadleigh Castle

History of Hadleigh Castle

In the 1230s Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, spent great sums of money building Hadleigh Castle. But he was unable to enjoy his new castle for long. 

The castle as it may have appeared in about 1370 with estuarine flats stretching into the distance
The castle as it may have appeared in about 1370, at the end of a ten year programme of refurbishment. Edward III spent large sums of money on a new gateway and high tower, lodging chambers and a chapel. The east front was transformed with the addition of two impressive towers. The castle was surrounded by parkland and possibly a garden or orchard near the entrance © Historic England (illustration by Dominic Andrews)

Building the Castle

In 1215 King John gave this area of land, known as the manor of Hadleigh, along with many other gifts, to Hubert de Burgh, his chief minister or justiciar.

Hubert was a trusted follower of the king, and was the custodian of two important royal castles at Windsor and Dover. At Dover he was soon to prove his great military skill by successfully defending the castle during a fierce siege in 1216.

Effectively ruler of England during young Henry III's childhood, Hubert built this large turreted castle as a statement of his power. His successful career came to an end after quarrels with the king, and he was forced to return his lands, including Hadleigh in 1239.

The castle remained in royal hands, but it was not until the time of Edward II, nearly 100 years later, that the king began to use the castle as a royal residence.

Plan of Hadleigh Castle highlighting the various phases of construction
A plan of Hadleigh Castle showing the phases of its construction. It was built on geologically unstable clay, and there were already problems in 1274, when it was said to be ‘badly built and decayed’. Subsequent landslips have displaced the south wall of the castle and caused the collapse of most of the north-east tower.

A Castle Fit for a King

Edward III was the first king to see the strategic importance of Hadleigh Castle – it was ideally situated as a base for defending the Thames estuary against French raids during the Hundred Years War.

Edward's claim to the French throne had led to war with France. The need for a more systematic defence of the Thames estuary led the king to refurbish and extend Hadleigh Castle and to build Queenborough Castle on the opposite Kent shore.

Hadleigh became a favourite retreat for the ageing king. There are excavated foundations of the most important part of the castle - the great hall. It had a serving room at the end and beyond it a private withdrawing room, or solar.

Edward III's successors took little interest in the castle as a residence. After being leased to a succession of tenants, the castle was sold to Lord Riche in 1551, who sold it off as building materials. During the demolition, a tiled hearth was built into the floor of the hall in order to melt down the valuable window leads.

Further Reading

Alexander, M, and Westlake, S, ‘Hadleigh Castle, Essex’, English Heritage Historical Review, 4 (2009), 5–21 (subscription required; accessed 17 April 2018)

Drewett, PL, ‘Excavations at Hadleigh Castle, Essex, 1971–2’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 38 (1975), 90–154