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The Abbaye aux Hommes is an 11th century Romanesque abbey church in Caen, Normandy, known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
The Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen, also known as the Abbey of Saint-Étienne, is a beautiful 11th century Romanesque abbey church known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
Consecrated in 1077, William built the Abbaye aux Hommes as atonement for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, which the Pope had condemned due to their family connection. In 1087, upon his death, William was buried in the foundations. However his grave has been disturbed on multiple occasions, including during the Wars of Religion and later the French Revolution when his remains were scattered, resulting in only his thighbone remaining in the marked grave.
Through the centuries, the Abbaye aux Hommes has undergone many architectural renovations. The main abbey is made up of the original Romanesque nave and transept and the 13th century Gothic choir. A ribbed vault was added around 1120, making the abbey a forerunner of the Gothic architectural style, and the nine spires were a 13th century addition. Further additions occurred right up until the late 18th century. However, despite the many changes, much of the original Norman church remains and forms the core of what visitors see today.
The abbey buildings lead off from the south end of the church, including the refectory; they now house the town’s museum and municipal offices. Impressive features of the church and grounds include the grand staircases, designed without cement to seem as if they are floating, the ceremonial ‘Salle des Gardes’ room and the large collection of 17th and 18th century art and furniture gathered in the monastery.
One of the abbey’s most distinctive features is the white Caen stone it is carved from, this same stone was taken to Britain to build the Tower of London, Canterbury Cathedral and the abbeys of Durham, Norwich and Westminster. The abbey itself was used a model for many Norman churches built throughout England, making it a must-see for those interested in both French architecture and Britain’s Norman history.
The church is open to all visitors but taking a guided tour is recommended in order to fully appreciate all of the buildings incorporated into the church. These tours are available in French and English (although English-speaking tours will be filled quickly!) four times a day.
Contributed by Isabelle Moore
Originally built in the 11th Century, Arundel Castle is the historic home of the Dukes of Norfolk and has been continually occupied and renovated over the centuries.
Arundel Castle is the historic home of the Dukes of Norfolk and has been occupied by their line for over 850 years. Amongst the dynasties to have inhabited Arundel Castle was the highly influential Howard family whose number included Catherine Howard, wife of Henry VIII.
The first structure on the Arundel Castle site was built in the 11th Century by the Normans after the invasion of William the Conqueror, with the earthworks and first buildings completed by 1070 AD. Work continued during the reign of King Henry II and further renovations were undertaken over the following centuries.
During the English Civil War, Arundel Castle was besieged twice - first by the Royalists who successfully captured the site and then by the Parliamentarians.
A significant restoration project took place in the latter half of the 19th century and this ensured that Arundel remained a property of some note.
Today, Arundel Castle sits amongst 40 acres of eye-catching grounds and gardens and is home to an impressive array of priceless artwork, furniture, sculptures and tapestries. The displays on site include possessions of Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as collections from the Duke of Norfolk.
There are also a number of special events hosted at Arundel Castle throughout the year, details of which can be seen on the official website.
Ashby Castle was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War.
Ashby Castle or ‘Ashby de la Zouch’ is a twelfth century manor house turned castle, the ruins of which can be seen in Leicestershire. Originally constructed during Norman times, Ashby Castle was the property of the Zouch family until the end of the fourteenth century.
Expanded and renovated, Ashby Castle achieved the transition from a stately home to a castle in the fifteenth century, after which it was the site of several royal visits from the likes of Henry VII and Charles I. Amongst its additions during this time, Ashby Castle gained the imposing 24-metre high Hastings Tower, built by Lord Hastings.
The demise of Ashby Castle occurred following the English Civil War. During the war, the castle had served as a Royalist base, but in 1646 it was taken by the Parliamentarians and subsequently fell into disuse. Ashby Castle would later inspire Sir Walter Scott, who set certain jousting scenes from his nineteenth century novel Ivanhoe at the site.
Visitors to Ashby Castle can immerse themselves in the site’s history, from enjoying entertaining audio tours and exploring its sunken gardens to embarking on tours of its underground passageways.
Bamburgh Castle is a grand structure which looms high upon a crag overlooking the coast of Northumberland.
Bamburgh Castle is a grand structure which looms high upon a crag overlooking the coast of Northumberland. It looks like everything one would expect of the former home of the kings of Northumbria, even though the castle which currently stands is actually relatively young.
The site upon which Bamburgh Castle is located is initially known to have been occupied by an ancient tribe known as the Votadini in circa 800 BC, however the first mention of Bamburgh Castle itself dates back to around 547 AD. At this time, the Anglo Saxons invaded and captured it. There they set up their capital, Din Guayrdi and built the first stronghold, the site where their kings would reside.
In 993 AD, this incarnation of Bamburgh Castle was destroyed by the Vikings and this was later replaced by a castle built by the Normans. In the twelfth century, King Henry II owned the land, where he built a keep. Remaining sections of this medieval structure can still be seen today, they being the oldest parts of the current Bamburgh Castle. However, most of Henry II’s work was not left to stand for long.
During the Wars of the Roses, Bamburgh Castle was attacked by Edward VI and severely damaged by what was then the latest weaponry. Thereafter, Bamburgh Castle passed hands several times, lying largely derelict. It was only in when it was sold to industrialist Lord Armstrong in 1894 that the Bamburgh Castle we see today began taking shape.
Armstrong restored Bamburgh Castle and it remains in the hands of his family today. It is now open to the public and displays several historical objects.
Barnard Castle contains the ruins of a Norman stronghold which was later owned by Richard III.
The charming ruins of Barnard Castle in County Durham sit above the small market town of the same name.
The first stone fortifications were built on the site by the Norman lord Guy de Baliol, who was granted the estate by William Rufus in 1095AD. However, it was under his nephew Barnard de Baliol that the site and town were truly expanded and it was for Barnard that the castle was named.
In 1216 another of their successors, Hugh de Baliol, successfully defended Barnard Castle from enemies of King John, who besieged the fortress.
During the 14th century Barnard Castle passed into the holdings of the Earls of Warwick and subsequently the Nevilles before coming into the possession of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would later be crowned Richard III.
In 1569 the castle was besieged again – and this time captured – during the uprising against Elizabeth I by the Northern Lords.
By 1626 Barnard Castle has fallen into neglect and the estate was sold to Sir Henry Vane. Sir Henry had also acquired the nearby Raby Castle and chose to strip Barnard Castle of materials to refurbish Raby.
Today Barnard Castle is run by English Heritage and forms a picturesque ruin for visitors to explore. People can stroll around the ruins and still seeing remains including the castle towers and the 14th century Great Hall.
Battle Abbey and Battlefield is an iconic site in England, being the location of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Battle Abbey and Battlefield, also known as 'Hastings Battlefield', was the site of the Battle of Hastings in October 1066.
The Battle of Hasting saw William, Duke of Normandy, become William I, King of England after defeating King Harold II, who was killed in the conflict. William I is also known as William the Conqueror.
Originally built by William the Conqueror to commemorate those who died in battle, today Battle Abbey is a museum which explores this victory and the events which led up to it as well as its aftermath.
The museum uses a combination of multimedia and traditional exhibits to guide the visitor through the Battle of Hastings and audio guides are available to direct visitors through the 100 acre battlefield in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese.
Berkeley Castle was originally built nearly 1,000 years ago, but since then has undergone a number of changes and has been the site of many interesting – and sometimes bloody – events.
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
Cardiff Castle is a medieval complex comprised of a range of styles and with a diverse history dating back to the Romans.
Cardiff Castle is a medieval complex comprised of a range of styles and with a diverse history. With its good access to the sea, the site of Cardiff Castle was first home to a succession of Roman forts, initially built in the mid first century AD.
In the eleventh century, the Normans built first a timber then a stone castle on the site of the Roman fortifications. The shell of the stone keep can still be seen and entered by visitors today and the reconstructed Roman wall is also visible.
Over the centuries, several aristocratic families - including the incredibly wealthy Butes - came to own Cardiff Castle, many of whom added to the complex. Under the Victorians, Cardiff Castle was expanded and renovated, creating a luxurious and grand complex with lavish, themed rooms adorned with incredible artwork and architectural features, all designed by famous architect William Burges.
Today, visitors can tour Cardiff Castle’s opulent apartments. Also located at Cardiff Castle is the military museum of the Royal Regiment of Wales as well as pretty gardens to enjoy.
Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman-built fortification which was in continual use as a military stronghold for over 700 years. Today a number of exhibitions about the history of the castle and the local area are on show within the castle itself.
Carrickfergus Castle was established in 1177 and remained a prominent stronghold in Northern Ireland for over 700 years.
Originally built by the Anglo-Norman nobleman John de Courcy, Carrickfergus Castle was modified repeatedly over the centuries as new weapons, tactics and threats brought fresh challenges to those defending the area. Significant works to Carrickfergus Castle were carried out in the 13th, 16th and 17th centuries.
Notable events in Carrickfergus Castle’s history include a successful siege by King John in 1210, the arrival of William of Orange (William III) to Ireland in 1690 and a raid by French forces in 1760. Carrickfergus Castle even witnessed a small naval encounter fought during the America Revolution.
Later uses of Carrickfergus Castle included being used as a prison, armoury, military garrison and an air raid shelter during World War II.
Today Carrickfergus Castle is an historic site run by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and is open to the public. Notable areas of Carrickfergus Castle that are worth seeing on a visit include the restored banqueting hall, medieval life exhibits and the 17th-19th century cannons which once formed part of the castle’s defences.
Castle Keep in Newcastle upon Tyne is one of the city’s most famous attractions and one of the best preserved Norman fortifications in the country.
Castle Keep in Newcastle upon Tyne is a partially restored Norman fortification and one of the best preserved of its kind in Britain.
Built at a key strategic location, the site of Castle Keep has been occupied for almost 2,000 years with the Romans first fortifying the site in the mid-2nd century AD. Indeed the remains of this Roman fort, Pons Aelius, have been excavated and a few elements are visible close to Castle Keep. Following the fall of the Empire, the site came into use as an Anglo-Saxon Christian burial ground.
After the Norman invasion the site was refortified by Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror. This fortification was called the ‘new’ castle upon the Tyne – later lending its name to the city which grew up around it.
The stone structure we see today was built by King Henry II in the late 12th century and was modified further over the next hundred years; in particular a barbican known as the ‘Black Gate’ was added to the in the reign of Henry III. However, by the 14th century the Castle Keep became largely militarily redundant due to the new, wider fortifications built around the town.
Though it was briefly refortified during the English Civil War - and was the last Royalist stronghold in the city – it would never again serve in a military capacity and was used as a prison for some time after. Restoration work during the 19th and 20th centuries returned much of the castle from a ruinous state and it now serves as a popular visitors attraction.
As well as exploring the Castle Keep – including the remains of the former prison chambers – visitors can get a great view of the surrounding area from the top of the fortification.
Castle Rising is a ruined Norman fortification in Norfolk which was once home to Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III.
Castle Rising is a ruined Norman fortification in Norfolk which is now one of the best preserved and castle-keeps in England.
First constructred by the Anglo-Norman lord William d'Aubigny in 1138, it later became the palace of Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III.
Surrounded by twenty acres of expansive earthworks, the castle would have been the very symbol of a medieval fortress. Within the castle can also be found the remains of an early Norman Church.
Castle Rising passed to the Howard family in the 16th century and though it remains in their ownership today it is periodically open to the public in partnership with English Heritage.
One of the oldest Norman castles in existence, the Chateau de Pirou is picturesque, small and yet well-fortified.
The picturesque Chateau de Pirou in Normandy is one of the oldest Norman castles in existence and is now a popular attraction.
The site has been occupied since the 9th century, although at that time it was a wooden construction and was updated to stone in the 12th century. It was built to defend the nearby harbour.
Surrounded by a moat, with granite towers and turrets, and defended by five gates, Chateau de Pirou is simply a wonderful building, constructed just as we might imagine a fortified castle would be built. It was built by the Lords of Pirou, one of whom found favour with William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, and was rewarded with an estate in Somerset.
The Chateau is famous for a legend that is as old as the castle itself. Under siege from Viking invaders, the inhabitants were at a loss for how to resolve their situation. At one stage, the Vikings were surprised by the silence that had fallen over the Chateau. After waiting for a day, the invaders scaled the walls, and were confronted by an empty castle, save for an old man in bed. They promised to spare the old man's life in return for learning of how the castle's inhabitants had escaped. They were told that the family living at the castle had used spells from a book of magic, to transform themselves into geese and flown to safety. The Vikings had indeed recalled geese flying overhead the previous day. The castle was burned to the ground, and the geese were unable to recover the book to reverse the spell. Each year, the geese return to the castle in the hope of finding the book again.
During the Hundred Years War, Pirou came under siege numerous times, and ownership of the castle changed on many occasions. One inhabitant of note was the knight Jehan Falstolf, who was renowned for his bravery, and possibly served as the inspiration for Shakespeare's character Falstaff. Although Pirou was spared demolition during the French Revolution, its buildings were used as barns. The Chateau began to fall into disrepair until restoration work was undertaken in 1968, and Pirou is now privately owned.
On entering the Chateau, one must proceed through four gates, before walking around the castle and proceeding through the fifth and final gate. Entrance into Pirou is across an arched stone bridge, which replaced the drawbridge in the 17th century.
In the lower courtyard there is an 18th century bakery, a cider press building, Saint Laurent's chapel and the Salle des Plaids. The Chapel contains a wonderful 15th century altar, and statues of St John the Baptist and Saint Laurent. The guardhouse, complete with large fireplace, is also well worth a visit.
The Salle des Plaids was converted into a barn during the Revolution, but formerly had housed the justice room, which the Lords of Pirou occupied to collect taxes and solve disputes. It has now been restored, and contains one of the highlights of Pirou - the Pirou tapestry. At 58 metres in length, the tapestry is in the style of the Bayeux tapestry and tells of the Norman invasion of Sicily and the conquest of southern Italy. It is possible to walk up to the ramparts and walk along the castle walls, and this provides excellent views.
Contributed by Chris Reid
Colchester Castle is a beautifully preserved Norman stronghold with a rich history dating back to Roman times, having been built on the site of the Temple of Claudius.
Colchester Castle is a beautifully preserved Norman stronghold with a rich history dating back to Roman times.
Built from 1076 (some say from 1069) and completed in around 1100, Colchester Castle was constructed under the order of King William I for use as a royal fortress.
Colchester Castle would go on to serve several other roles, including being besieged in 1215 by King John and becoming the site of interrogation and jailing of “witches” in 1645 by a self-proclaimed Witchfinder General called Matthew Hopkins. It was also a private home and a library at different times.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Colchester Castle is its keep, which is said to be the largest example of a Norman keep Britain. The grand size of this central tower is a legacy from Roman times as it was built on the foundations of a vast Roman temple known as the Temple of Claudius (said to date back to the 1st century AD). Colchester itself was Roman Britain’s first capital.
The Temple of Claudius has a dramatic story of its own, having been attacked by the forces of Queen Boudica. The people of Colchester then shut themselves inside the temple, only to be killed within two days.
Today, Colchester Castle is a museum open to the public. Guided tours are available and allow access to those who wish to view the foundations and remains of the Temple of Claudius.
Corfe Castle is the stunning ruin of a castle which has been everything from a royal residence to a military stronghold and even a prison.
Corfe Castle is the stunning ruin of a castle which has been everything from a royal residence to a military stronghold and even a prison.
The current incarnation of Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in around 1066, although even before this, the site was of great historical importance, Indeed, it is said that King Edward the Martyr was murdered here in a plot to position Ethelred "the Unready" as monarch.
Corfe Castle would be expanded and altered over the coming centuries, especially in the 12th to 13th centuries under King John. Not only did this monarch further fortify the castle, he also used it as a prison and even a home. Sold by Elizabeth I in 1572, Corfe Castle became the grand private home, first to Sir Christopher Hatton and which was bought by Sir John Bankes in 1635.
The demise of Corfe Castle and the cause of its current ruined state came with the English Civil War. Having survived one siege in 1643, it would fall to another only three years later, then being demolished by the Parliamentarians.
Today, Corfe Castle is open to the public under the remit of the National Trust.
The medieval Dover Castle is one of Britain’s most significant fortresses and has a fascinating and diverse history.
Dover Castle has been a vitally important fortress in English history, leading it to be known as 'the key to England'. Dover Castle’s location is a central aspect of this history.
Perched high on the England’s coastal white cliffs overlooking the shortest crossing between the island and mainland Europe, Dover Castle has been seen as the first line of defence from invasion. In fact, even before the castle was erected, Dover’s cliffs were a popular site for building strongholds over the centuries with evidence dating back to the Iron Age. Two other such sites, an Ancient Roman lighthouse and an Anglo Saxon fort, are still visible nearby.
The first incarnation of Dover Castle was itself built in the eleventh century by William the Conqueror. Fresh from his victory at the 1066 Battle of Hastings, he built a castle of timber and earth. Over the centuries, Dover Castle would be improved, expanded and renovated, but throughout this time and until 1958 it would be continually garrisoned.
It was King Henry II who gave Dover Castle its recognizable form as a stone fortress in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with further adaptations being made over time to cope with ever changing threats. One of the most interesting parts of Dover Castle is its labyrinth of underground passages.
Designed by William Twiss and constructed within the cliffs themselves in the eighteenth century, these underground tunnels and barracks were intended to defend Britain from a perceived threat of invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite never being needed for this purpose, the tunnels have proved eminently useful in other endeavours, including as a headquarters in the fight against smuggling and, upon being adapted to become bomb-proof, as secret wartime tunnels during World War Two. Dover Castle’s tunnels continued to play a military role and, in what is known as their finest hour, they formed a base during the Dunkirk evacuations in 1940.
Dover Castle Today
Today, Dover Castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public, providing a fascinating insight into the fortress’s history. Visitors can explore the medieval castle and its underground tunnels, viewing numerous exhibitions which immerse them in the lives of Dover Castle’s former inhabitants and tell its fascinating story. Much of this extremely well preserved castle has been restored to its original state or to show what it would have been like at different points in history, offering a truly authentic experience. Fans of ancient history can also view a well-preserved Roman lighthouse. Guided tours are available, some free, some at a charge.
Dudley Castle is a ruined Norman motte and bailey castle which is now open to visitors and also hosts the popular Dudley Zoo within its grounds.
Dudley Castle is a ruined Norman motte and bailey castle which is now open to visitors and also hosts the popular Dudley Zoo within its grounds.
Originally built in the 11th century it was constructed by Ansculf de Picquigny, one of the followers of William the Conqueror. It was rebuilt over the centuries, particularly in the mid-16th century when under the ownership of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and a key player in the politics of the time. Dudley was beheaded for his attempt to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne after the death of Edward VI.
Dudley’s son, Robert was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and the queen visited Dudley Castle in 1575.
The castle was held by the Royalists during the English Civil War and was besieged by Parliamentarian troops in 1644 and 1646 before it was surrendered on May 13, 1646. As with many Royalist strongholds of the time, the Parliamentarian forces later ordered the castle to be slighted, leaving much of the castle in ruins.
In 1750 a fire raged through the complex, finally gutting the once-magnificent palace. Never rebuilt, Dudley Castle became the picturesque ruin which we see today.
Today the castle forms part of Dudley Zoo and a visitors centre within the grounds contains more about the history of the site.
Formerly the home of the Bishops of Durham, Durham Castle dates back to the 11th Century.
Durham Castle is an eleventh century building and the former home of the Bishops of Durham.
Originally commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1072, Durham Castle was intended to ensure Norman control in the North of England. Once under Church control, each bishop, on his appointment, would put his own stamp on the castle, and duly altered it to reflect his own glory.
However, despite the many changes, Durham Castle retains the layout of a Norman motte and bailey castle. It has a well preserved Norman chapel, dating from 1080, and many other features of interest.
Durham Castle is now a residential college for the University of Durham, but is open to visitors on guided tours.
Fortheringhay Castle was the birthplace of Richard III and site of execution of Mary Queen of Scots
Birthplace of Richard III and site of the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots, this Norman motte and bailey castle is now a ruin - in fact very little is left of it today.
Fortheringhay Castle is easily accessable during daylight hours, and should delight those interested in medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and Elizabethan politics
Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain and the legendary burial place of King Arthur.
Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain and the focal point of myth, legend and important historical events.
Although the original stone church of Glastonbury Abbey was constructed by Saxon King Ine of Wessex in around 712AD, the site has a history said to trace back to the 1st century. It is believed that the traditional building of the old church took place in 63AD and that Jesus was brought here by his great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.
The 8th century stone church underwent significant enlargement in the 10th century under the remit of the Abbot of Glastonbury and future Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan. It was added to further under the Normans. So much so in fact that the 1086 Doomsday Book listed Glastonbury Abbey as the nation’s wealthiest monastery.
Sadly, much of Glastonbury Abbey was destroyed in a great fire in 1184, eventually being restored and its Great Church being consecrated in 1213. Glastonbury Abbey would continue to thrive for a few more centuries, only to finally be dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539.
Today, the picturesque ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are a popular tourist site. Many people come to see it for its stunning ruins, others to see the place where legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere were once buried.
Goodrich Castle is a picturesque Norman ruin in Herefordshire that was the site of a bitter siege during the English Civil War.
Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire is one of the most picturesque medieval ruins in the UK. Standing at the peak of a scenic woodland hilltop, this Norman fortification has attracted tourists to view its ethereal remains since the 18th century.
The first recorded structure to be built on the Goodrich Castle site was constructed in the late 11th century by an Anglo-Saxon thegn who retained his lands after the Norman Conquest. However, it is believed that the site may have been used as a fortification for far longer.
The original wooden structure was replaced by a stone fort in the mid-12th century and the living quarters and fortifications of Goodrich Castle were extended over the next 100 years.
Goodrich Castle is perhaps best known for the part it played during the English Civil War, when it became the focus of a bitter siege between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. Occupied by a Royalist garrison at the start of the war, Goodrich Castle was used as a base for attacks on Parliamentarian positions in the local area.
As the war turned however, Parliamentarian forces targeted Goodrich and a siege began in 1646. After building trenches and utilising the famous ‘Roaring Meg’ mortar, the Parliamentarians began to wreak heavy damage upon Goodrich Castle and the defending garrison was forced to surrender.
After the war, although Goodrich Castle was not destroyed, it was intentionally damaged to ensure it could no longer serve as a stronghold.
By the late 18th century, Goodrich Castle was seen as a idyllic ruin and was therefore never fully restored.
Today the Goodrich Castle site is run by English Heritage and visitors can wander through the ruins and even see the infamous ‘Roaring Meg’ mortar, which was moved to the site by Herefordshire Council. An audio tour is available and the views from the castle are a must-see.
The visitor's centre also contains information about the history of Goodrich Castle and artefacts from the site. Various special events are also held at Goodrich throughout the year, check the official website for further information.
Hastings Castle was one of the first Norman castles to be built in England.
Hastings Castle was originally built as a timber structure a short time after the Norman invader William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066. This was not far from the site where, shortly afterwards, William decisively defeated King Harold in one of the most significant battles in English history, the Battle of Hastings.
Having emerged victorious and achieved the conquest of England, William was crowned King William I on 25 December of that year. However, it was only in 1070 that the Norman king gave orders to transform Hastings Castle into a fully fledged stone fortified castle, the ruins of which can be seen there today.
Some parts of the structure were added later, notably the Church of St. Mary in the Castle, built by the Count of Eu, to whom William gave Hastings Castle. The Count of Eu would continue to hold Hastings Castle for most of the Norman period.
At one point, Hastings Castle was dismantled on the orders of King John, who feared it being taken by French Prince Dauphin Louis. Although rebuilt and refortified by Henry II in around 1220-5, Hastings Castle would not remain intact for long.
Battered by brutal winds in the thirteenth century, the area of Hastings suffered severe deterioration, with many tracts of land falling into the sea. Hastings Castle was no exception. Great segments of the castle were lost and, with the harbour having been destroyed too, it was abandoned. The only part of Hasting Castle that continued to function was its church, although this was disbanded during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Today, Hastings Castle is open to the public, who can tour its ruins and enjoy a short presentation on its history.
A picturesque Norman abbey which was partly destroyed during the French Revolution, Jumièges ranks among the most beautiful ruins in France.
Ranking among the most beautiful ruins in France, Jumièges Abbey now stands as a stark yet picturesque shell, all that remains of its once glorious past.
In fact, Jumieges Abbey was one of the oldest monasteries in Western Europe, tracing its history back as far as the mid-7th century, when it was founded by Saint Philibert. This first incarnation of Jumièges was destroyed by the Vikings but it would be rebuilt by the dukes of Normandy. The monastery was consecrated anew in 1067 by William the Conqueror.
For several centuries Jumieges thrived – despite damage during the Hundred Years War – but eventually the abbey met its end during the French Revolution, when the monks were forced to leave and the abbey closed.
Following the Revolution, Jumièges Abbey was sold off, stripped of valuables and much of the masonry pillaged for other structures.
Today, the attractive ruins of Jumièges have become a popular attraction, and visitors can explore the remains of the abbey as well as its scenic grounds.
Kenilworth Castle is a former medieval stronghold and royal palace, most famed as the home of Elizabeth’s beloved Robert Dudley.
Kenilworth Castle is a former medieval stronghold and royal palace, most famed as the home of Elizabeth’s beloved Robert Dudley.
It was King Henry I's treasurer, Geoffrey de Clinton, who built the vast Norman keep of Kenilworth Castle in the 1120s which can still be seen there today.
Kenilworth earned the status of royal castle over the coming centuries and underwent a series of changes, both under the remit of Henry II and under King John, who put into place greater fortifications from 1210 to 1215, solidifying its role as a stronghold. In fact, so impenetrable was Kenilworth Castle by this point that when it underwent a great 6-month siege by Henry III in 1266, its resident rebels only faltered when they ran out of food.
The transformation of Kenilworth Castle from castle to palace came in 14th century, when the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, made his mark on the site. Thus, Lancastrian kings and Tudors alike both enjoyed time there.
Yet, it was under Elizabeth I that Kenilworth Castle had its heyday. The property of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester from 1563, Kenilworth was something of a token of love in architecture. Dudley, who is renowned as the Queen’s one true love, made extensive changes to the castle to make it fit for his queen and her entourage, doing everything from refitting and remodelling to adding new buildings, all on a lavish scale.
Kenilworth Castle finally met its decline after the English Civil War. Having been under Parliamentarian rule since August 1642, it was condemned to ruin in 1649, if only to save on the costs of maintaining it. Now a magnificent ruin, Kenilworth Castle is open to the public and also offers beautifully recreated Elizabethan gardens.
Kidwelly Castle is a Norman masterpiece which still stands majestically in the calm Welsh countryside as a reminder of the tumultuous Anglo-Welsh past.
Kidwelly Castle has overlooked the river Gwendraeth and the town of Kidwelly since 1106, shortly after the Norman conquest.
Originally intended to defend Norman - and therefore English - rule against the Welsh, Kidwelly Castle fell several times during revolts in the twelfth century. But it stood firm when besieged in 1403 by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh prince who led a powerful uprising against English rule.
Due to its place at the centre of several military engagements, Kidwelly underwent several repairs and improvements throughout the High Medieval period and was constantly adapted to deal with the various threats it faced.
The castle’s current form principally developed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries and has remained largely constant ever since. Originally a wooden fortification, it was rebuilt in stone and continually improved over this period. It still remains today as a much-valued fixture of the Welsh countryside and a fascinating insight into the country’s medieval past.
The castle’s sophisticated defence system includes a circuit of inner walls to act as an extra buttress, following the semi-circle curve of the outer fortifications and ditch. All remain in good condition, and visitors can see most of the walls standing at their original height. Their imposing nature is best appreciated by walking around the outside of the castle. So well-maintained is the exterior that it was used as a location for the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
In the town of Kidwelly are more sites of historical interest, not least the eighteenth-century Old Malthouse and the Castle Mill of 1804. Visitors can also take in Carmarthen, which is just nine miles away.
Contributed by Siobhan Coskeran
King Johns Palace is a ruined Norman townhouse built around 1180AD, the remains of which are now open to the public.
King Johns Palace is a ruined Norman townhouse in Southampton, the remains of which are now open to the public.
First built around 1180AD, the stone-built merchant’s house was later incorporated into the town’s defensive walls and gun ports were built into the structure. Despite this change the house continued to be occupied through the centuries, being used as a private residence, business premises and even a coach house and stables.
The house gained its unusual name from the belief that King John stayed here in the early 13th century. However, this is no longer believed to be accurate though the name persists.
In more recent times however, King Johns Palace suffered and with the loss of the roof the building was left in a semi-ruinous state. Despite this, the main stone structure still survives, along with corridors, chambers and the main walls. It therefore remains as a fine example of a Norman stone structure and nowadays it has become a draw for tourists.
King Johns Palace can be viewed as part of a trip to the Tudor House and Gardens, which borders the property.
Leeds Castle in Kent was a twelfth century stronghold which has since served as a royal palace, a prison and as a stately home.
Leeds Castle was originally constructed as a fortification in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur, a lord under William the Conqueror.
In 1278, Leeds Castle took on a different role, as a royal palace to King Edward I, who expanded it, adding further elements such as an impressive barbican.
Leeds Castle passed through numerous royal hands over the coming centuries, hosting a myriad of important guests including Henry VIII, who visited it on several occasions. Henry VIII also extensively renovated the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Eventually falling into private ownership under King Edward VI, Leeds Castle survived the English Civil War in the hands of parliamentarians and later acted as a prison for Dutch and French prisoners of war.
Today, Leeds Castle is a leisure facility, housing an aviary and a maze along with a dog collar museum. Guided tours are available for groups and schools and audio tours are also available.
Lincoln Cathedral is an imposing medieval structure with a history dating back to Norman times.
Lincoln Cathedral is an imposing medieval structure with a history dating back to Norman times. First consecrated in 1092, around 20 years after Lincoln was designated a seat of a bishopric, Lincoln Cathedral was then the home of medieval Britain’s first Norman Bishop, Remigius.
Since that time, Lincoln Cathedral has been renovated and rebuilt several times, mostly following damage caused to it by disasters. These included a fire in around 1141 and an earthquake in 1185, after each of which Lincoln Cathedral had to be at least partially rebuilt.
In the 1230’s the cathedral’s central tower collapsed, replaced in 1255 and raised to its current height in 1311. The result is that Lincoln Cathedral boasts a wealth of architectural influences. Guided tours of the cathedral are available (see website for times).
Ludlow Castle, the finest of medieval ruined castles, set in glorious Shropshire countryside, at the heart of this superb, bustling black
Ludlow Castle, the finest of medieval ruined castles, set in glorious Shropshire countryside. Initially a Norman stronghold it then turned royal castle, the imposing ruins of which can be seen today.
The castle’s origins can be traced back to the 11th century and to Walter de Lacy, a Norman nobleman who is said to have been given the land by a prominent supporter of William the Conqueror. The exact date on which Ludlow Castle was founded is unclear, but the earliest parts still standing today were the work of de Lacy’s sons, Roger and Hugh.
In the 15th century, Ludlow Castle became property of the Crown, to be abandoned in 1689 and fall into decay. Having been acquired by the Earls of Powis in 1811 and still under their ownership, Ludlow Castle is now open to the public.
Described as the most pleasant spot in Wales, Manorbier is a well preserved medieval castle located on the Welsh coast in Pembrokeshire.
Nestled in a tranquil spot amidst the Welsh Countryside, Manorbier Castle is a pretty, partially-ruined Norman fortification which overlooks the scenic coastline.
The notable 12th century author and one-time resident of Manorbier, Gerald of Wales, may have been biased when he described the castle as "the pleasantest spot in Wales" - it was his grandfather Odo de Barri who first built Manorbier in the 11th century - yet the well preserved and impressive ruins set amongst a beautiful landscape are well worth a visit.
Odo de Barri was a Norman knight, who was granted land in Wales, including Manorbier, as reward for his assistance in conquering Pembrokeshire. Odo initially built a structure out of earth and timber, but this was replaced by his descendants with the stone structure that remains to this day.
The castle was owned by the de Barri's until eventually ending up in the hands of the monarchy before Queen Elizabeth sold what she described as a "ruinous" castle in 1630. J.R. Cobb, who was a tenant at Manorbier in the late 19th century, was responsible for much of the restoration work. The castle has largely avoided conflict in its history, suffering just two minor assaults. Richard de Barri stormed the castle in 1327 to reclaim his property, and the Parliamentarians also seized the castle during the English Civil War.
Today, Manorbier Castle is located in a beautifully unspoilt corner of Wales and sits atop a hill overlooking the beach. The beauty of Manorbier and its surroundings provide a contrast with its past - as Manorbier under the de Barris would have played an important role in subjugating the Welsh population after the Norman conquest.
Manorbier Castle itself is a basic rectangular-shaped Norman fortress with imposing corner towers, in addition to an impressive gatehouse, attractive gardens and a huge barn. Today, visitors can explore various stairs, towers, rooms and battlements and even the dungeons and hidden passageways which lurk under the fortress. There are also a number of historical displays and life size waxwork figures on display.
Contributed by Chris Reid
Monreale Cathedral is a twelfth century church near Palermo and an excellent example of Norman architecture.
Monreale Cathedral (Duomo Monreale) in Sicily is a fine example of Norman architecture. Constructed from 1172 under King William II and completed a few years later, Monreale Cathedral certainly met this monarch’s desire to create a magnificent church to rival any other, particularly that of Palatine.
Every detail of Monreale Cathedral was carefully designed and even the columns of its cloisters are adorned with incredibly elaborate carvings. Norman symbols can be found throughout, including many depictions of griffins and lions.
However, it is the wealth of twelfth century mosaics which really acts as the star attraction of Monreale Cathedral. Considered to be some of the best preserved of their kind, the mosaics of Monreale Cathedral show various scenes from the Old and New Testament.
An imposing rocky outcrop in Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is the site of a stunning Romanesque Abbey, medieval church and historic battlements.
Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing historic village in Normandy, France which dominates the skyline from its position atop a small rocky island. Joined to the coast via a causeway, Mont Saint-Michel is best known for its Benedictine Abbey and Parish Church.
A settlement in Roman times, Mont Saint-Michel was later a stronghold of the Romano-Bretons until it was destroyed by the invading Franks. The area was to see a revival in the early eighth century when a church was built on the site. Legend has it that the church was built after the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, instructing him to build the house of worship there.
However, Mont Saint-Michel rose to real prominence with the coming of the Normans when William I, Duke of Normandy, conquered the area and settled a community of Benedictine monks on the site. From the 11th to the 16th century the Romanesque Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was constructed and expanded time and again, forming the imposing structure that is seen today. It was a prominent site for Pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. During this time a village grew up around the Abbey with a maze of streets and buildings that can still be walked today.
Mont Saint-Michel was attacked by the English during the Hundred Years' War, but never captured, and the site was used as a prison during the French Revolution. In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel was declared a UNESCO world heritage historic site.
Today visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel to view the remarkable Abbey and Church and to stroll through the ancient streets. Be warned however that the climb to Abbey is demanding. Many other sites remain including the medieval ramparts, the Mont Saint-Michel Museum of History, a Maritime Museum and the 14th century Tiphaine's house.
There is a tourist office next to the site entrance. Guided tours to Mont Saint-Michel are available as are audio guides for an additional cost.
Okehampton Castle was once Devon’s largest castle and was listed in the Doomsday Book.
Listed in the Doomsday Book of 1086, Okehampton Castle was built during Norman times and expanded in the fourteenth century, becoming the stately home of the Earl of Devon, Hugh Courtenay.
Okehampton Castle remained in the ownership of the Courtenay family until 1538, when Henry Courtenay entered into a dispute with Henry VIII and was executed in the Tower of London. Thereafter, Okehampton Castle fell into disuse.
The remains of Okehampton Castle are now open to the public and managed by English Heritage.
Palazzo dei Normanni is a Norman palace expanded from a ninth century Islamic building.
Palazzo dei Normanni, also known as the Palazzo Reale, in Palermo in Sicily has been used as a place of governance for centuries and remains so today. In fact, it is currently the seat of Sicily’s regional government.
Begun in the ninth century AD when Sicily was under Islamic rule, the Palazzo dei Normanni was expanded and renovated by the Normans from 1072. Once abandoned by the Normans, Palazzo dei Normanni would remain untouched until the sixteenth century when it was restored.
One of the main attractions at Palazzo dei Normanni is the Cappella Palatina. This famous chapel was constructed under the rule of King Roger II and completed in 1140. It is most well known for its stunning combination of Byzantine, Islamic and Norman styles.
Other things to see include the royal apartments. Note that guided tours are only provided in Italian.
Palermo Cathedral dates back to Norman times and was the site of coronations and royal burials.
Palermo Cathedral (Cattedrale di Palermo) was founded in the 1184, but has since been added to over the centuries. As such, it boasts a rich mix of architectural styles ranging from Norman to Gothic and Catalan.
Befitting the fact that it was originally built over the site of a mosque (which itself had been a church beforehand), Palermo Cathedral also has hints of Islamic influences.
The Cathedral has an illustrious history which includes being the site of royal coronations. Furthermore, inside Palermo Cathedral are buried the former emperors and monarchs of Sicily, amongst them Emperors Henry VI, Frederick II and Sicily’s first king, Roger II.
Pieces from the tomb of Constance of Aragon, who is also buried at Palermo Cathedral, can be found in the treasury.
Pevensey Castle is a picturesque ruin of a medieval castle built in the place where William the Conqueror landed in 1066.
Pevensey Castle is a Norman castle built upon the fourth century AD Roman fort of Anderida, the substantial remains of which are still visible today. Indeed, the main outer defensive walls of the larger Roman fortification have survived very much intact, forming a wider outer ring within which the main castle now stands. These Roman walls are among the very best Roman remains to have survived in the UK.
Pevensey Castle itself, found within the south-east corner of the Roman walls, mostly dates back to the Norman invasion of 1066. In fact, Pevensey was the site where William the Conqueror landed in Britain on 28 September of that year. There the Normans found the fourth century AD Roman fort, upon which they built the first incarnation of Pevensey Castle in timber. Pevensey Castle was actually the first castle that William built.
Later under the Normans, in the twelfth century, the timber castle was replaced by a stone structure, the beginnings of the Pevensey Castle we see today. With an imposing gatehouse, bailey wall and square keep, Pevensey Castle was a mighty fortification. So much so that, despite several attempts to breach its walls - most notably in a siege carried out Simon de Montfort against the sheltering supporters of King Henry III in 1264 - Pevensey Castle survived the medieval period.
Over the centuries, Pevensey Castle would continue to be reinforced several times, including in the sixteenth century and during the Second World War. Now a picturesque ruin under the remit of English Heritage, Pevensey Castle is open to visitors. Amongst its attractions are the remaining elements of the Roman fort, which includes the majority of the original outer walls and towers, as well as the medieval dungeons.
Originally a Norman structure, Pontefract castle played an increasingly important role in English Royal history for over 500 years. Today it lies in ruins but has much for visitors to enjoy, including its underground dungeons.
Pontefract Castle was a key strategic military stronghold in Northern England which played a crucial role in many of the country’s most bitter conflicts for over five hundred years.
The land that now houses the remains of one of the most notorious castles in England was given to Ilbert de Lacy soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066AD. While not always finding themselves on the right side of the various power struggles of the period, the Lacy family by and large remained in residence at Pontefract, if sometimes as tenants of the King rather than owners.
During their tenure they continued to improve the castle, upgrading the original motte and bailey structure with a more permanent and larger military fortress which the famous king Edward I described as the “key to the north”.
One of the most infamous moments in Pontefract Castle’s history came in 1399, when Henry IV, a Lancastrian, used it to imprison and murder the deposed king Richard II. With the accession of the Lancastrians to the throne, Pontefract quickly began to hold a key position in the north of England, growing in size and importance whilst other castles nearby dwindled. Pontefract remained a Lancastrian stronghold during the Wars of the Roses.
Other notable events said to have taken place here include the surrender of the castle to the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ rebels – who rose up against Henry VIII – as well as being a setting for the infamous liaisons between Henry’s fifth queen, Catherine Howard, and Thomas Culpeper.
During the English Civil War it was the last Royalist fortress to surrender and underwent numerous sieges until Parliament, more specifically Oliver Cromwell, ordered its demolition following Charles I’s execution.
Pontefract has a history rife with famous prisoners – Richard II, James I of Scotland and Charles Duke of Orleans were all imprisoned at different times in one of the castle’s many dungeons. When Edward II crushed his opposition, Thomas of Lancaster was executed here, and throughout the Wars of the Roses many rebels were put to death at the site.
Today Pontefract Castle hold but a shadow of its former glory. Parts of the original motte and bailey wall can still be seen, as can remnants of the chapel. Unfortunately nothing remains of the Great Hall except the cellars underneath.
One of the most fascinating aspects for visitors are the so-called ‘Magazine Tours’ which take people underground to view the castle’s notorious cellars and dungeons, as well as the writing and names scratched onto the walls by the unfortunate prisoners.
Recent excavation at the castle has unearthed many English Civil War items, both domestic and military, from helmets and spurs to spoons and combs. They will eventually be house at the Pontefract Museum.
Contributed by Ros Gammie
Portchester Castle has been a Roman fort, a Norman keep and even a wartime prison.
Portchester Castle in Hampshire offers a fantastic insight into various periods of British history and originally dates back to the Roman era.
Built during Roman times, probably in the third century AD, Portchester Castle is the country’s only example of a Roman fort whose walls still stand complete up to around six metres.
Over the centuries, Portchester Castle has been renovated and rebuilt many times and its use has altered to suit the needs of its owners. In the eleventh century, parts of Portchester Castle were rebuilt into a Norman keep and in the fourteenth century Richard II transformed it into a palace. Like their Roman predecessor, both of these incarnations served a defensive function.
Yet, during the Napoleonic Wars, the role of Portchester Castle changed, as it became a prison for around 7,000 French prisoners of war. This change was due in large part to the reduced importance of Portchester Castle as a defensive structure following the building of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard by King Henry VII.
Today, Portchester Castle is run by English Heritage who offer audio tours and exhibitions about the site as well as children’s activities.
Restormel Castle was a 13th century castle in Cornwall, the pretty ruins of which are well preserved.
Restormel Castle was a stone castle defended by a moat and located on a large mound overlooking Cornwall. Its historic ruins, which date back to the late 13th and early 14th century and may have been built by King Edmund, are made up of a dramatic circular stone keep. It is thought that an earlier castle, one originally constructed by Norman conquerors in the 11th century, once stood on the site of Restormel Castle and some aspects of this original castle still remain today.
Initially part of the Manor of Bodardle, Restormel would go on to be owned by Edward, The Black Prince, in the 14th century before it later fell into disuse. In 1644, Restormel Castle found a short reprieve from dereliction as a stronghold in the English Civil War. At this time, it was captured by the Royalist, Sir Richard Grenville.
Today, Restormel Castle is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and is managed by English Heritage.
Rouen Cathedral is the site where Richard the Lion Heart’s heart is buried.
Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen) is an historic gothic church, part of which dates back to 1145 and other aspects of which were reconstructed following a fire (and completed in 1250). Its famous façade, immortalised by the artist Claude Monet, was revamped in the fifteenth century.
Imposing and dominated by its vast, albeit uneven, towers, Rouen Cathedral at one point had the honour of being the tallest building in the world.
One of the most famous attractions inside Rouen Cathedral is the Chapelle de la Vierge or “Lady Chapel”, which houses numerous tombs ranging from Norman dukes and French monarchs to religious leaders. Amongst these tombs lies that of Richard the Lion Heart – or at least that of his heart.
Richard the Lion Heart (1157 - 1199) was King Richard I of England and was renowned as a brilliant military leader, hence him being known as the “lion heart”. His heart was buried in Rouen, while the rest of him is located in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France.
In existence since 1069, Selby Abbey has been used for worship for over 900 years. In the heart of Yorkshire and often known as the hidden gem of the county, it is not especially well known despite being unmatched in its beauty and archaic stance.
Selby Abbey is a beautiful Norman church in the heart of Yorkshire, England, with a history dating back to 1069AD.
The original Selby Abbey was constructed towards the end of the 11th century after a monk, known as Benedict of Auxerre, had a vision whereupon he was called by St. Germain to build a new monastery at ‘Selebiae’.
Over the next 500 years approximately 35 abbots led Selby Abbey, with constant additions being added to the structure. Over time, the abbey became one of the most renowned churches in England, with regular visits from kings and nobility, who often bestowed ornate gifts upon it.
Unfortunately, as with so many other abbeys, following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries Selby Abbey found itself on the wrong side of history. Though the church building itself survived, Selby became a shadow of its former self and was left to slowly decay – with large parts of the structure, including the central tower, falling to ruin.
However, the history and legacy of this great building led many to campaign for its restoration, and in the middle of the 19th century the church was repaired and reconstructed. Despite further fire damage in 1906, Selby Abbey was once again sympathetically restored leaving the building we now know, which still clings to its historic Norman roots.
Today, visitors can tour Selby Abbey when it is not in use for services and can explore the rich narrative of this historic church. In addition, the abbey is often used to host concerts and other performances from a host of renowned acts.
It is worth noting that Selby Abbey is stillI an active place of worship and often has weddings and christenings taking place there. Currently a restoration programme is also underway.
Contributed by Victoria Haughton
St Mary’s Abbey is a picturesque ruined Benedictine abbey in York, located in York Museum Gardens.
St Mary's Abbey is a picturesque ruined Benedictine abbey in York, located in York Museum Gardens.
The abbey was founded in 1088 and the surviving ruins date from a rebuilding programme begun in 1270 and finished by 1294.
One of the largest and richest Benedictine monasteries and one of the largest landholders in Yorkshire, St Mary's Abbey was closed and subsequently substantially destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum holds the famous embroidered account of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum (Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux) is housed in a seminary in Bayeux called Centre Guillaume Le Conquerant and holds one of the most famous historical chronicles in the world, the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Bayeux Tapestry is 230-foot wool embroidered account of William, Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England including the Battle of Hastings where he defeated Harold, the King of England on 14 October 1066. Whilst the origins of this incredibly detailed tapestry are a subject of controversy, it is thought that it dates back to the year of the battle and was commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux.
Told from the Norman viewpoint, the Bayeux Tapestry has itself been a subject of debate, but it remains one of the only sources telling the story of the Norman Conquest and a useful insight into the medieval world. The importance of this historical document has been recognised by UNESCO, who listed it on their Memory of the World Register.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum displays the original embroidered piece in a special gallery and has a further exhibit offering an insight into the story it tells as well as the way in which it was made. Audio guides lasting twenty minutes explain each of the 58 scenes shown in the tapestry are available in 14 languages and for children in English and French.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum also has cinema room, showing a documentary about the history of the Norman Conquest and the tapestry. A visit to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum lasts around 1.5 hours.
The Tower of London is a famous fortress and prison originally commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror.
The Tower of London, originally known as the White Tower, was commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror and work on it was underway by the 1070s. It was designed as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century.
The Tower of London was also used as a residence for monarchs of England, and it was traditionally used by monarchs in the run up to their coronation. However the Tower is most famous for its use as a prison.
The Tower of London held prisoners for over 850 years - from Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham who was imprisoned for extortion in 1100 and who managed to escape to infamous East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray in 1952 for going AWOL from the army.
Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I was imprisoned here by her half-sister Mary I. She sat on the steps by the watergate (known now as Traitor’s gate) and wept. She was later forgiven and released.
Only seven people were executed within the Tower’s walls - including Anne Boleyn - but the list of people who at one time or another were imprisoned in the Tower of London reads like a who’s who of 1,000 years of Britain’s history and includes:
William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, Scottish knight in 1305
Richard II of England in 1399
James I of Scotland in 1406
Henry VI of England in 1471
Edward V of England & Richard of Shrewsbury – The Princes in the Tower in 1483
Saint Thomas More, Renaissance humanist in 1534
Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII in 1536
Thomas Cromwell, Reformation advocate in 1540
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1553
Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned Queen of England in 1553
Queen Elizabeth I in 1554
Sir Walter Raleigh, explorer, writer, poet and spy in 1603
Guy Fawkes for his part in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605
Samuel Pepys, diarist in 1679
Sir Robert Walpole, future Prime Minister in 1712
Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi party in 1941
Also at the Tower are mysteries, for example, what did happen to the Princes in the Tower? It also supposedly boasts ghosts, notably Arbella Stuart, cousin of James I who was imprisoned and possibly murdered in the Queens’ house in 1615.
There is a great deal to see and do at the Tower: the beefeaters, ravens, site of the menagerie and just walking around it to soak up the history. Allow plenty of time for your visit. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions of the United Kingdom.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal events, from coronations and weddings to burials.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the eleventh century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
Before the Abbey
In fact, the site on which Westminster Abbey was built was already of religious importance prior to its construction. The earliest record of the site of Westminster Abbey being used for religious purposes dates to the mid 10th century, when St Dunstan arrived at what was then known as Thorny Island to establish a religious house for the Benedictine order. The king built his church near to the existing monastic buildings.
The First Burial, the First Coronation
Westminster Abbey was consecrated in December 1065, a few days before Edward died. Fittingly, the king was the first of a long line of monarchs to be buried there. In 1066, William the Conqueror added to the growing prestige of Westminster Abbey by choosing to be crowned there, becoming King William I on 25th December 1066. From that point onwards, Westminster Abbey would be the site of almost every royal coronation.
By the middle of the 12th century, Edward the Confessor had been canonised and his remains were moved to a magnificent shrine within the Abbey’s sanctuary, where pilgrims would flock to ask for his intercession. They also gave donations to the shrine, making Westminster Abbey rather wealthy. In the 13th century, King Henry III resolved to rebuild Westminster Abbey to make it rival the French Gothic cathedrals of the era. This construction project would eventually form the current incarnation of the Abbey. He also moved the remains of St Edward to an even more magnificent shrine, where he still remains.
Death of Henry IV
One of the most famous events recorded to have taken place in the Abbey was the death of Henry IV in the Jerusalem Chapel in 1413. It had been predicted that he would die in Jerusalem, so, when he collapsed in the Abbey, he knew he was dying when he was taken to the Jerusalem chamber. Shakespeare immortalised the scene with Henry V trying the crown on while his father lay dying.
The 16th century finds the Tudor monarchs influencing the history of the Abbey: Henry VII started to build the Lady Chapel, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery (but spared the Abbey) and Elizabeth I established the Abbey as the foremost cathedral in England (a position it only held briefly).
Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. There are 600 tombs and monuments to see, many of them Royal and open to visitors. Some of the most famous royals buried there are Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Henry III. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Abbey and there is a service each Remembrance Sunday. Funeral services for important figures and royalty are also held in the Abbey and over time prominent funerals at the Abbey have included those of Winston Churchill, George VI, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth I.
Poets’ corner is one of the main attractions at the Abbey, it being the burial site of many prominent non-royal figures. The first poet to be buried here was Geoffrey Chaucer, and many others have joined him in the succeeding centuries.
The Coronation Chair
In addition to the numerous burial sites and architectural features, one of the most impressive sites at Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I (Longshanks). Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland.
To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of Westminster Abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming.
Along with Westminster Palace and Saint Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of the 13th century church which belonged to a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of the 13th century church of a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
An Anglo-Saxon monastery was actually first founded here by Northumbria’s King Oswy in 657AD, but nothing remains of this now. Instead, the jagged walls and arches that stand here are what are left of a later gothic church, part of an abbey begun in 1220 by the Normans.
Whitby Abbey has several claims to fame, although mostly from its first incarnation. The site has been the residence of Caedmon the cowherd as well as a royal final resting place. What’s more, Dracula author Bram Stoker used the site as inspiration for his dark novel.
Over time, Whitby Abbey has suffered from a series of destructive elements, having been ravaged by invaders, dissolved by Henry VIII and pummelled by wartime bombs.
Today, Whitby Abbey is open to the public under the remit of English Heritage. There is also a modern visitor centre which tells the story of Whitby Abbey as well as having exhibitions of finds from the site, including from the 7th century abbey.
Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world and the official home of the Queen.
Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world. Covering an area of approximately 13 acres, it contains a wide range of interesting features. These include the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s dolls house and the beautiful St George’s Chapel. It is also the burial place of ten monarchs, including Henry VIII and his beloved wife (the one who gave him a son), Jane Seymour.
The building of Windsor Castle began in the 1070s at the behest of William the Conqueror, with the intent that it was to guard the western approach to London. Since that time, the structure of Windsor Castle has been embellished by many of the monarchs of England and the UK. Notably, in the 1170s, Henry II (the first Plantagenet) rebuilt most of the castle in stone instead of wood, including the round tower and the upper ward, where most monarchs have had their private apartments since the 14th century.
In the mid-fourteenth century, Edward III, who had recently founded the Order of the Garter, built St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle for the use of the knights of this Order. A further addition, St George’s Chapel, was started by Edward IV, but was not finished until the time of Henry VIII. It is here that the ten British monarchs lie buried.
During the English Civil War, Windsor Castle served as a prison and it was to St George’s Chapel that the body of Charles I was brought for burial after his execution. Charles II and George IV (formerly the Prince Regent) made further contributions to the architecture of Windsor Castle in the 1650s and 1820s respectively.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert loved Windsor castle, and Prince Albert died there of typhoid in 1861. Queen Victoria built a mausoleum in the grounds of the castle, Frogmore, where Albert and later Victoria herself were buried.
In the Second World War, Windsor Castle became home to our present Queen, Elizabeth II, and her family, George VI, the (future) Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. It remains a favourite home of Queen Elizabeth, and she spends most of her weekends there. There was a huge fire at the castle in November 1992 which took 15 hours and one and half a million gallons of water to extinguish. It began in the Private Chapel and soon spread to affect approximately one fifth of the area of the castle. It took five years to restore the Castle, and it was finished by the end of 1997.
There are numerous exhibitions and tours at Windsor Castle. In fact, a typical visit can take up to three hours. This site features as one of our Top Ten UK Tourist Attractions.
The York City Walls are England’s most intact set of city walls and one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The York City Walls are England’s most complete set of city walls and one of the city’s most popular attractions. Made up of structures built at different times of the city’s history, resplendent with four main ornate stone gateways known as “bars” and 34 towers and offering a great way to see the historic sites of York, these walls are an integral part of the city.
The first incarnation of the York City Walls were originally established in 71 AD during Roman times, built to protect the 9th Legion from the locals. This leads some to call them the Roman City Walls, but very little of the Roman walls remain. One structure which can be found is the Multangular Tower, an imposing third century AD ten-sided stone tower located in the gardens of the York Museum.
Anglo Saxons and Vikings
The Romans left Britain in around 400 AD, ushering in the Anglo Saxon age, during which time the exact fate of the York City Walls is unknown. However, there are some records from the time when the Vikings captured York in 866 AD, showing that the walls still existed but were in a bad state of repair. It is thought that the Vikings added to and strengthened the walls, although this too is uncertain.
The Normans and up to the 16th century
Renovated, fortified and extended under the Normans, the York City Walls continued to be added to up to the sixteenth century. Their gateways or “bars” were also used from the mid-thirteenth century onwards as a way to control who came in and out of the city, even as types of medieval toll booths to levy entry fees for non-freemen bringing goods to market.
English Civil War
In 1644, during the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians laid siege to the York City Walls, trying to capture the city from the Royalists. On 16 July 1644, the city fell to the Parliamentarians, but only after severe clashes which caused damage to the walls.
However, some of the greatest destruction caused to the York City Walls was not committed by act of war, but by administrative action. In the nineteenth century, it was found that the upkeep cost of York’s walls was very high, especially as they were in a bad state of repair. As a result it was decided to demolish parts of the walls.
Amongst other things, both Skeldergate Postern and Micklegate barbican were destroyed, despite the fact that Parliament had not given the requisite permission for this action. Reconstruction was later undertaken to repair many of the demolished sections.
The Victorians also made their mark on the York City Walls, adding, amongst other things a further bar (Victoria Bar) and the Robin Hood Tower.
Modern Times and the Gateways
Today, visitors can walk along the York City Walls, which run for some 2.5 miles and enclose the historic part of the city. The main gates to see are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar, all mostly constructed in the fourteenth century with later additions. Micklegate is the most important of the gates, and is the site where Richard, Duke of York was beheaded in 1461 and his head was displayed.
York Minster is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in northern Europe, built by the Normans and expanded over the centuries.
York Minster is a vast gothic cathedral – one of the largest in Northern Europe – officially known as The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. The term “Minster” is attributed to the cathedral as it was a teaching church founded by the Anglo Saxons.
In fact, the first church built on the site of York Minster was a small wooden one constructed in the seventh century for the baptism of the Anglo Saxon monarch, King Edwin of Northumbria. This was soon replaced by a stone church, however this was destroyed in a fire in 1069.
It was the Normans who began building the basis of the York Minster which exists today. Begun in 1080 and completed in 1100, the Normans built a vast cathedral, the remnants of which can be viewed in the undercroft of the current cathedral together with the remains of ancient buildings from the Roman era.
Over the next centuries, York Minster was enlarged and renovated, much of the work being instigated by Archbishop Walter Gray. By 1472, the structure of York Minster was complete with the addition of the north and south transepts, the nave, the Lady Chapel, the Quire, rebuilding the collapsed central tower (this had to be supported once again in the twentieth century) and the western towers.
Since these major works, York Minster has changed little. Some reconstruction works had to be undertaken due to outbreaks of fire at the cathedral (one such fire being set deliberately in 1829).
There is much to see at York Minster. In addition to admiring its beautiful architecture and imposing proportions, one can visit the undercroft to see ancient Roman and Norman ruins and climb the 275 steps of the central tower for great views of the city.
Exhibitions within York Minster focus on the long and vibrant history of the site. Of particular interest is the section dedicated to Roman history, from the Roman barracks first establishment here to the life of Constantine the Great, who was declared Emperor in York. In addition to these displays, under foot are glass floors which reveal the ruins of the original Roman buildings.
As well as individual passes, there are various types of guided tours available (mostly for group booking) including a free guided tour of up to 1.5 hours which details the history of York Minster.