One of the most famous castles in England can be found in a small town in the southwest of the country.
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting Berkeley Castle facts, a castle that holds some remarkable records!
1. It’s located in a town with the same name
Berkeley Castle is located in the town of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, England. This town is located in the southwest of the country and at the east bank of the River Severn, the longest river in Great Britain with a length of 220 miles (354 kilometers).
This town was fairly important during the Middle Ages and was a notable port and market town. This is emphasized by the fact that it was the meeting place of the “Hundred of Berkeley,” making it the administrative center in the area.
2. Berkeley Castle was built by a companion of William I
The original structure on the location was built shortly after the Norman Conquest of England in the year 1066. It was constructed as a motte and bailey castle in 1067, one of the numerous castles that were built in England by the invaders to gain control over a certain area.
The job was done by William FitzOsbern, Lord of Breteuil, a relative and one of the closest allies of William the Conqueror. It has been proven that he fought together with William at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a defining battle during the Conquest.
Berkeley Castle is one of the many castles he built during this period, even though his main residence was Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
3. It was originally held by another Berkeley family
A family member of William FitzOsbern took on the name “de Berkeley” and was awarded the castle. The castle stayed in the possession of the “de Berkeley’s” for 3 generations, all of whom were named “Roger de Berkeley.”
This original family was originally from the Flanders region (modern-day Belgium) and the first member was a Flemish noble named “Roger de Tosny.”
Even though the castle was still a humble structure during this period, all 3 generations expanded it during the first half of the 12th century.
4. The castle changed hands during “The Anarchy” of the 12th century
During “The Anarchy” between 1135 and 1153, the original Berkeley family was dispossessed, and the castle and feudal barony of Berkeley was awarded to Robert Fitzharding, an Anglo-Saxon nobleman and wealthy merchant from Bristol.
He was the founder of the Berkeley family who still owns the castle today!
5. The shell keep was the first stone structure to be completed in 1156
The new Berkeley family didn’t waste any time as they instantly acquired permission from King Henry II to rebuild and fortify the castle. The royal charter mentioning this was issued in 1153 and they started construction works instantly.
The first stone structure on the site to be completed was the shell keep which was built in a circular shape. It’s assumed that this keep was built on the location of the original motte, a mound that was a crucial feature of this original structure.
This shell keep as constructed between 1153 and 1156.
6. It took about 30 years to build the castle’s curtain wall
The next feature that was built to strengthen the castle’s defenses was the curtain wall which ran all around the complex. The construction of this wall took over 3 decades!
The construction of the curtain wall was started by Robert and finally completed in the year 1190 by his son Maurice.
7. Most parts of the castle date back to the 14th century
Most parts of the castle as it appears today were built by the son of Maurice, Thomas de Berkeley, 3rd Baron Berkeley. These were all completed at the beginning of the 14th century and include:
- Thorpe’s Tower, which is situated to the north of the keep.
- The inner gatehouse to the southwest of the keep.
- All the other buildings of the inner bailey.
8. A famous prisoner at the castle was probably murdered here
One of the most remarkable Berkeley Castle facts is that Thomas de Berkeley was given guardianship of King Edward II after he was deposed in 1327.
Edward was held at the castle between April and September of that year until he was murdered here on September 21, 1327, while he was sleeping in his cell.
One of the most interesting Berkeley Castle facts is that Thomas de Berkeley was not present at the castle at the time that the murder took place and was cleared of all charges a decade later in 1337.
9. The last private battle in England was fought because of Berkeley Castle
In the second half of the 15th century, a dispute regarding the ownership of Berkeley Castle arose between Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle, and William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley.
This dispute ended up in the Battle of Nibley Green, one of the most famous battles in English history, and not because of its size or importance!
This battle was fought on March 20, 1470, and was the last battle to be fought in England between private armies of feudal magnates. The battle resulted in a Berkeley victory so they retained possession of the castle.
10. The last court jester in England fell to his death at the castle
A jester, also referred to as a fool, was an entertainer who had huge success in England and other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, all the way through to the Renaissance period.
The final court jester in England was a man named Dickie Pearce. He didn’t make people laugh in 1665 when he fell from the so-called Minstrels’ gallery, a balcony in the Great Hall of the castle, and was killed on the spot.
His tomb is now located right next to the castle in the St Mary’s churchyard.
11. Berkeley Castle holds some remarkable records
The castle has an extremely rich history and holds some remarkable records. It’s the third-oldest continuously occupied castle in England after Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, which are both royal fortresses.
It is also the oldest castle which has been continuously owned and occupied by the same family in England!
As for the interior features, it contains a four-poster bed which is the oldest continuously used piece of furniture in England as it’s over 400 years old!
12. The castle has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1950s
Berkeley Castle has been listed as a Grade I building since October 21, 1952. Before that in the early 20th century, the 8th Earl of Berkeley had conducted serious renovations to return the castle back to its former glory.
Ever since the year 1956, the castle has been a popular tourist attraction in the region and remains open to the public until today!