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Farleigh Hungerford Castle

In the scheme of things, this is a relatively late building with quite a minor role in historical terms. Sir Thomas Hungerford came from a modest Wiltshire family. He was land steward to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and, with his patrons’ support, became the first Speaker of the House of Commons.

Thomas built his Castle in the 1380s as a symbol of his rising status. Built on the site of a 13th century Manor House. Not a strategic location, nor with strong defences. This was a statement home.

His son, Walter, made significant additions to the Castle between about 1430 and 1445. He raised the Hungerfords’ status to national importance. Following his father’s allegiance to Gaunt’s heirs, he served with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and throughout the king’s subsequent triumphs in France. Walter’s building works were probably financed by ransoming his French prisoners.

The family fortunes took a downward turn during the Wars of the Roses. Walter’s grandson, Robert, and his eldest son Thomas, were both executed as adherents to the Lancastrian cause. In 1462 the Castle passed into Yorkist hands.

Edward IV gave Farleigh Hungerford Castle to his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester. At some point, the King’s other brother, George Duke of Clarence, or at least his wife Isabelle Neville, must have visited Farleigh Hungerford. Their daughter Margaret was born there in August 1473.

This meant that Margaret was one of the surviving members of the House of York following the Battle of Bosworth. Henry VII then wasted no time securing his claim to the throne. Margaret was married off to Sir Richard Pole, probably in late 1487. This choice was based on the fact that Richard Pole was a ‘relative’ and loyal supporter of Henry Tudor. They shared a maternal grandmother, their mothers were half sisters. Does this make them ‘half cousins’? Margaret was Lady in Waiting to Catherine of Aragon and was eventually martyred for her adherence to the Catholic cause.

At much the same time, in 1486, Walter Hungerford II, regained the Castle for his family as his reward for supporting Henry VII at Bosworth. Walter’s son, Edward, rebuilt the Gatehouse. Thereafter the family went from scandal to scandal. After Edward’s death in 1522 his widow, Agnes, was hanged for having murdered her first husband – Sir Edward’s steward – and having burned his body in the castle’s kitchen furnace.

Sir Walter Hungerford III tried to poison his third wife, Elizabeth, and imprisoned her in the castle for nearly four years. She was locked in the tower and survived with the help of local women. The story goes that each night she lowered a basket from the window to be filled with food.

This same Sir Walter became the local agent of Thomas Cromwell, and was created Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury. He was, however, later convicted of treason, witchcraft and the crime of homosexuality, and was executed alongside Cromwell in 1540.

The Castle was then held by the Crown until Walter IV redeemed the Castle for a large sum of money in 1554. He made some improvements, as did his brother and great nephew Edwards II and III.

Having married into a prominent London Puritan family, Sir Edward Hungerford III became the commander of Parliament’s Wiltshire forces during the Civil War. He proved rather incompetent, however, abandoning Salisbury, Malmesbury and Devizes to the Royalists.

The castle was taken by Sir Edward’s Royalist half-brother John. After witnessing a few skirmishes – the only known military actions in its history – it was regained in 1645 for Sir Edward, who died there in 1648.

The last of the Hungerfords of Farleigh was Edward VI, known as ‘The Spendthrift’. In 1686 he sold the Castle to clear his debts and the Castle was lived in by the Baynton family until 1702. It was then sold for salvage and most of the building was plundered for materials, with the exception of the Priest’s House.

Since 1984, it has been managed by English Heritage. This Castle is very well presented for visitors and I thoroughly recommend the audio tour.

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