is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle, typically built by the
Normans. The purpose was a defensible stronghold that acted as
the centre point of a Norman settlement. The motte (see picture
left) was a mound and it was surrounded by the bailey, or
enclosure. Frequently the motte was crowned with a keep, usually
built in stone, and the bailey was protected by a palisade or
wall. Uniquely, as far as is known, Berkhamstead was also
surrounded by a double moat.
had a chequered history and several famous, and infamous, residents
during its 900 year history. The original castle was a timber
construction erected by William the Conqueror’s brother Robert of
Mortain. It was replaced with a stone tower in the mid 12th century
when the castle was occupied by Thomas a Beckett, then Henry II’s
chancellor. It must have been a strong building because in 1216 it
withstood two weeks of battering by mangonels (a type of early catapult
that hurled huge rocks) during Prince Louis of France’s abortive
attempt to seize the English throne.
In 1336 its new owner was Edward the Black prince, son of
Edward III. He was named Duke of Cornwall, a title held by the
monarch’s eldest son ever since. In 1495 it was abandoned and
never lived in again. When the London to Birmingham
railway was built in 1838 a part of the outer wall, including the main
barbican gate, was destroyed but the proximity means that passengers
using the line today get an excellent view across the bailey.
Remains of the mid 13th
century chapel can still be seen today, (above right)as well as parts
of the original kitchen range, with fireplaces and an oven. (above
left) On the top of the motte can be seen the remains of one of two
wells on the site. Having a water supply within the tower meant that
the settlement could be gathered into a central point, in case of
attack, and would be able to withstand long sieges.