Our county’s castles

PUBLISHED: 10:16 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:31 06 June 2016

EXG FEB 15 CASTLES

EXG FEB 15 CASTLES

Archant

The county of Essex has always been a location of strategic importance in English history, and this significance is highlighted today by the number of castles that still adorn the landscape. Stephen Roberts tells their stories

 

As the sun set on Hastings and Anglo-Saxon England, the Norman victors imposed their will on their new English subjects, changing the countryside forever as castles sprang up, dominating the defeated. Essex has some notable examples and the history of these landmarks is in many ways a history of Essex itself.

 

Castle Hedingham

The village of Castle Hedingham is dwarfed by its Norman keep, built around 1130. A basement and three storeys rise up 110 feet to battlements, with a further 20 feet to the top of two towers (there were four). At the base, walls are 12 feet thick. This was one of England’s strongest castles, with a moat and perimeter wall enclosing three acres.

The de Vere owners were frequently saddled up for war. Robert, 2nd Earl of Oxford, fought against King John. Robert’s son continued the tradition, fighting in the 2nd Barons’ War against Henry III while the 7th Earl fought against the French at Crecy. Another fought for the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses, leading Henry Tudor’s vanguard at Bosworth, a decisive clash in which Richard III was slain and the Tudors began one of our most famed dynasties with Henry VII. The Earl entertained the victorious king at Hedingham only to be fined more than £10,000 for keeping too many personal troops.

The castle was partly dismantled in the early 17th century following a quarrel between two relatives over the Duke of Norfolk, accused of supporting Mary, Queen of Scots. Lying in 160 acres today, Castle Hedingham is a privately-owned wedding venue and holiday retreat with a large lodge and small cottage for rent.

 

Colchester

Colchester Castle came earlier than Hedingham, built on the site of a Roman temple during the Conqueror’s reign. The keep is England’s largest (at 151½ ft by 110ft), has an apsidal projection for the chapel and is topped by an 18th century cupola. Ignoring this, the structure is like the Tower of London’s White Tower. The castle saw action during the 1st Barons’ War, was occupied by French troops and then retaken by King John. During the English Civil War, Colchester was held for the King and besieged by Parliament for 12 weeks. When the town fell, two Royalist leaders, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, were incarcerated in the castle before being led outside and shot.

James Parnell, a Quaker, was also imprisoned, reputedly in a cell so small and lofty, that he injured himself in a fall. To add insult to injury, he was left outside in the open courtyard on a winter’s night, dying aged just 19.

The castle was part-dismantled in 1683, when it lost its upper stages. The remaining elements are located in Castle Park and house the Colchester Castle Museum, including one of this country’s best collections of Roman artefacts. The castle is licensed for weddings.

Hadleigh

On a hill overlooking the Thames Estuary stands Hadleigh, built by Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justiciar to John and Henry III. Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, lived here after the king dubbed her a ‘Flanders Mare’ and divorced her. The castle, immortalised by a John Constable painting, has no keep, although it does have two remaining towers, both with walls five feet thick.

The castle was rebuilt between 1360 and 1370 by Edward III, becoming one of his favoured residences. A drum tower was later used by Georgian excise men watching for smugglers.Pleshey

Pleshey was home to a 12th century motte and bailey which features in Shakespeare’s Richard II. It still has an impressive 50 foot motte, moat and extensive bailey covering most of the village. Here is perhaps the county’s best evidence of the seismic shift occurring in 1066, for this place did not exist before.

The de Bohuns ruled here, Eleanor de Bohun’s husband, the Duke of Gloucester, being ambushed and killed with the connivance of nephew Richard II. The de Bohuns were avenged three years later when the Duke of Exeter, implicit in the ambush, lost his head to a mob outside Pleshey’s walls. Much of the castle was pulled down in 1629 for a house.

 

Rayleigh

A motte and bailey, passing to the Crown in 1163, Rayleigh was twice repaired in the later 12th century. Rayleigh Mount, an impressive mound, still offers views over the Crouch Valley, as well as providing a backdrop for summer open-air theatre.

 

Saffron Walden

Little remains of Saffron Walden’s castle. Geoffrey de Mandeville was probably the builder of both this and the one at Pleshey. His grandson (another Geoffrey) fought against King Stephen in the 12th century ‘Anarchy’, losing both castles. Henry VIII presented it to the Lords Audley, from whom it descended to the Howards, Earls of Suffolk.

 

Stansted Mountfitchet

This castle, small with two baileys, was built by the Mountfitchets, but destroyed under King John after Richard de Mountfitchet was defeated fighting for the barons. ‘Modern’ Mountfitchet Castle is the only wooden motte, bailey and village reconstructed on its original site. n

 

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:32

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tue, 14:17

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Spend Halloween hunting down ghouls and ghosts in the county’s most haunted places and spaces. We pick 10 absolutely terrifying locations to visit this October.

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chelmsford is on the rise, blossoming from its city status. One iconic landmark which has been part of the landscape for 300 years, and is also enjoying a renaissance, is Hylands House. Petra Hornsby reveals more

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip or an impromptu weekend getaway, Essex is a perfect patchwork of all the little things we love about Britain. Proudly showcasing the charm of the county, we pick 13 towns you must visit when planning a trip to Essex

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This walk from the town of Bures on the Essex and Suffolk border leads you through the Essex countryside to the little villages of Alphamstone and Lamarsh | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A popular Southend escape game venue has launched a new room inspired by the town’s seafaring past

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search