Wigmore Castle

This is another of the Marcher Castles built by William fitz Osbern. I wrote a little about him in relation to Chepstow Castle so I won’t repeat myself.

Founded in 1067, it was originally a timber structure on substantial earthworks. The spectacular location is about 1km outside of the town of Wigmore with no adjacent parking and quite a steep climb to approach.

The stone castle remains were built mainly in the 12th to 14th centuries. Much of what is now visible is at first floor level because subsidence and fallen masonry has buried much of the site. This is the only castle I’ve visited where you have to duck as you go through the main gate!

Whilst it would be a challenging project for archaeologists to excavate, possibly even impossible, it’s tantalising to wonder what may be buried beneath modern feet exploring the castle.

From possibly as early as 1075, Wigmore became the seat of the Mortimer family. Ranulph or Ralph de Mortimer, Seigneur of St Victor-en-Caux, was the founder of the House of Mortimer. After the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, Mortimer joined the Rebellion of 1088 against William Rufus. The rebellion was quashed and the new King bribed the barons of Upper Normandy to support him.

Ranulph kept his lands by accepting the bribe and sacking territories in Normandy held by the Robert Curthose, eldest son of the Conqueror. He switched sides again in the 1090s and somehow managed to negotiate the politics of the period so that his son Hugh and descendants were able to remain a powerful force in the region.

Wigmore became the main garrison for military incursions into Wales. The Castle was besieged in 1135 and possibly also in 1264. Lords of the Welsh March like the Mortimers, had many special privileges. This included the right to make war, to hold courts, and to receive certain revenues otherwise reserved for the king of England.

Roger de Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, added new towers with luxurious lodgings and added to the gatehouse in the early 14th century. His notorious involvement with Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, lead to a spectacular rise and fall, as already mentioned in my Ludlow post. He certainly entertained the boy King Edward III and his mother Isabella at Wigmore in 1329, after successfully deposing Edward II. A lavish tournament was staged for the visitors.

Roger’s wife, Joan de Geneville remained at Ludlow, although she spent some time imprisoned when her husband was executed. Her lands were restored to her by Edward III when she was pardoned for her husband’s crimes. Their grandson Roger, 2nd Earl of March, was a founding member of the Knights of the Garter and a military commander in the Hundred Years’ War. The last male heir was Edmund, 5th Earl, who died in early 1425. Some of the events in the lives of the last Mortimers are depicted in Shakespeare’s Henriad, although not always accurately.

Wigmore reverted to the Crown until it was bought by the Harley family in 1601. In the Civil War, the Harleys were Parliamentarians and, unable to defend the Castle, demolished significant parts to prevent it being used as a base by the Royalists. The Castle became the quiet and picuresque ruin that can be seen today.

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