About Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle has been a feature of the Gloucestershire countryside since the 11th Century. Built by William FitzOsbern in 1067, it was one of many motte-and-bailey castles constructed by the Normans shortly after the Conquest of 1066. Before long it passed into the hands of the Berkeley family and was rebuilt by them in the 12th Century.

In its long history, the castle has witnessed a number of dramatic events. It was the centre of a controversy during a period of civil war in Britain and Normandy known as The Anarchy, when Roger de Berkeley was dispossessed for failing to ally himself with the House of Plantagenet. It was because of this that the castle passed to Robert Fitzharding in 1152, a wealthy burgess of Bristol and supporter of the Plantagenets who founded a new Berkeley line. His descendants still hold the castle now, making it the oldest castle in Britain to be lived in continually by the same family.

Two centuries later, Berkeley Castle was once again a site of intrigue. Early in 1327, Edward II had been deposed by his wife, Queen Isabella, and sent to the castle for imprisonment. On 21st September, Edward was reportedly murdered. No details are known, but popular stories tell a tale of a red hot poker or suffocation. Visitors can still see the cell where the deed is thought to have occurred and might even hear the echoes of Edward’s cries in the 11m-deep dungeon on the anniversary of the event.

Like many major strongholds in England, Berkeley Castle was also caught up in the English Civil War – the parliamentarians laid siege to the castle in 1645 and eventually captured it from the Royalist defenders.

Berkeley Castle’s sombre past can also been seen in the grand Great Hall. It was here that the last court jester in England, Dickie Pearce, died after falling from the Minstrels' gallery. In the adjoining chapel, visitors can see some of the more pleasant aspects of the castle, including painted wooden vaulted ceilings and an illustrated vellum book of Catholic chants.

A walk around the castle also reveals a number of tapestries and paintings by English and Dutch Masters. And outside, the castle has yet more to offer. Its beautiful Elizabethan gardens are home to Elizabeth I's bowling green and a pine that is thought to have originated from a tree at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, where the attempts of Charles Stuart to challenge Hanoverian power in Britain were halted.

Visitors can hear about the history of the castle in full on an hour-long tour that is included in the admission price, and may be treated to special events on bank holidays and during the school holidays. There is also a butterfly house within the grounds, entry to which is included in the ticket price.

Contributed by Siobhan Coskeran

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