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Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Manor was held by Earl Godwin, father of King Harold, before the Battle of Hastings, and was given to William FitzOsbern by the Conqueror. He built the first, wooden, fortification on the site. This was demolished, possibly during the rebellion in 1088. The mound is all that remains as the foundation of the Keep.

Roger de Berkeley began the reconstruction and the site was held by three successive Rogers for the Crown. Henry I spent Easter 1121 at Berkeley, staying in a royal lodging during the tenure of the second Roger. The Castle was held by Roger III for King Stephen until he was evicted by the future Henry II.

Henry granted the Castle to Robert FitzHarding Ist Baron Berkeley, a wealthy Bristol merchant with the funds to support Henry in his war against King Stephen. FitzHarding was himself a man of peace, also founding St Augustine’s Abbey in Bristol and retiring there until his death in 1170. It was then held by his descendants throughout the turbulent years that followed.

It was seized by King John because the 3rd Baron sided with the Barons who forced John to sign Magna Carta at Runneymede. It was, however, restored by King Henry III in 1223. The next Baron then sided with Simon de Montfort against Henry III, but somehow survived, with his son fighting with Edward I in many campaigns, including Bannockburn.

It was the next King who had the most notorious connection with Berkeley. Edward II was known for his favourites, including Hugh le Despenser. The 7th Baron launched raids against Despenser lands and was imprisoned in Wallingford Castle, where he died in 1326. However Edward II was then deposed by Mortimer and Isabella in 1327. This was the Castle where the King may have been murdered. The ‘popular’ tale about his death involved a red hot poker, however this story did not emerge until much later. It is more likely that he was smothered, if indeed he was killed at all.

The Castle was subsequently less prominent, dominated by family quarrels, until it’s capture by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. The Castle suffered minimal damage but the Keep was slighted. The Castle, today, is still lived in by descendants of the same family and still retains it’s Medieval Great Hall.

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