Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tracing England's First Castle

A British amateur historian has found what he believes to be England's oldest castle - built by Norman adventurer 15 years before the battle of Hastings. Ground-breaking research by an expert on Herefordshire castles, Terry Wardle, strongly suggest that a mystery Norman castle mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 1051 was built in Herefordshire at a place now known as Burghill. It is likely to have been the very first Norman motte and bailey castle ever constructed in England, as all the previously known pre-conquest Norman fortified sites were built between 1052 and around 1063.
A reconstructed early Norman castle at Saint-Sylvain d' Anjou in France
All that is left of Burghill Castle today are traces of the bailey ditch and bank - and the moat around the site of the motte (a now long-levelled mound on which a timber stronghold would have stood). Terry Wardle, who has published his findings as a book (England's First Castle, History Press), has also reconstructed the likely circumstances that led to the construction of the castle.
The anglo-Saxon king of Englad, Edward the Confessor, wanted to be rid of the most powerful noble family in the land  - the Godwines - and he arranged a political "trap", which forced them into exile. Edward then confiscated the Godwine family lands and gave some of it to his Norman nephew. It was probably through this nephew that a more minor Norman called Osbern was allocated Burghill - presumably so that he could build a castle there to help defend the realm against Welsh raiders. But in 1052, the king and the Godwines reached an accommodation: the godwines got their political power back - and Osbern had to leave his castle.

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