Visiting Berkhamsted Castle
The ruins of Berkhamsted Castle still stand in Hertfordshire, where it controlled the key route between London and the Midlands. The historic monument played a critical political role from the 11th century to the 14th century. Visitors may view part of the curtain walls in the large bailey ruins.
There is no parking available on the castle site, but visitors may park in the public parking areas near the railway station or the town centre for a standard fee. Visitors may use the on-street parking on White Hill and the nearby streets, bearing the residents in mind.
Access to the castle site is free in reasonable daylight during visiting hours.
The castle ruins are open daily in summer between 10 am-6 pm and 10 am-4 pm in the winter months. The castle ruins are closed on Christmas day and New Years Day.
Location and Access
You can locate Berkhamsted Castle at:
The castle bailey and surrounds are a great place to picnic or imbue the long history of the castle ruins. Visitors may enjoy a scenic walk around the remains of the once mighty rampart and climb the stairs of the bailey to enjoy the view from the medieval stone walls.
Know Before You Go
- The main path into the castle is gravel but is still accessible for buggies and wheelchairs.
- The Visitors Room is open during select bank holidays and weekends and offers a display of castle history.
- Dogs are welcome as long as visitors keep them on a leash.
- Visitors should be aware that the castle has a moat around it which is filled with water most of the year.
- There are no facilities on-site, but visitors may access the public restrooms at the neighbouring station.
- Visitors may not fly drones over the monument area.
- Historic England prohibits visitors from climbing the castle walls.
- A Visitors Center provides information regarding the castle’s pivotal historical role and the prominent figures who occupied the once-powerful site. Often visitors may find English Heritage volunteers to explain more about the historical facts about the castle.
Places To Stay Nearby
Hemel Hempstead Central Hotel
This three-star inn is centrally located and offers excellent facilities for a competitive nightly rate. The hotel offers an in-house restaurant and has wifi and en suite toilet facilities. Visitors may visit the Snow Center nearby for fun on their indoor ski slopes or take the kids to Whipsnade Zoo. Standard room rates start from $36.50.
The Kings Arms Berkhamsted
This quaint hotel is a historical monument, and a former coaching inn set centrally in Berkhamsted. It also offers a bar and lounge and allows visitors to bring their furry best friends to stay in the dog-friendly suites for $159. They offer a selection of rooms ranging from superior at $139 to standard rooms at $99.
The Penny Farthing Hotel
Located in an area of natural beauty, the Penny Farthing is a great venue to stay near the castle ruins. This hotel is close to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio and has 5000 acres of woods in Ashridge to explore. The rooms range from $63 for a standard room to $81 for a superior suite.
History of Berkhamsted Castle
Once a Norman fort of timber, Berkhamsted Castle was protected by earthworks and held a park for hunting deer. The site was home to several key historical figures, including Thomas á Becket, Edward the Black Prince of Wales, and Richard, Earl of Cornwall. The castle fell to ruins in the late 1400s.
-11th Century (Castle Built)
The Norman rule of the English territory was constantly under threat of local uprisings and William sought to keep the taken lands firmly in his grip. In his infamous campaign known as the Harrying of the North, he brutally laid waste to farms and settlements to the area to crush any rebellion in his newly conquered lands.
However Randulph’s ownership was short lived, as he died from a fall from his horse when travelling with the King near Berkhamsted Castle in 1123.
King Henry II granted the Lord Chancellor Thomas à Becket and Becket rebuilt much of the wooden castle in stone. Historians credit Becket with building the stone keep and the outer stone wall defences.
-1164 (Castle Confiscated)
Thomas fell from favour after becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury after failing to provide King Henry with the support that he had promised. Forced into exile, Becket fled the country and his estates and the Crown confiscated the castle.
Queen Berengaria of Navarre owned the castle until King Richard I’s death but was unlikely to have ever occupied the castle as she was known as the only English Queen never to have set foot in England. They had no children and historians suggest that Richard may have been a homosexual and the marriage may never have been consummated.
-1215 (Castle Sieged)
The robust local barons rebelled against the Crown in the First Barons War between King John and the French-supported barons. Prince Louis, the future King Louis VIII, sieged the castle for 20 days and forced the occupants to surrender.
The French Price used siege engines to hurl stone missiles at the castle quite possibly from the set of earthworks around the castle of which some evidence still remains. The castle garrison surrendered and their attackers allowed them to leave with their weapons and armour,
Louis VIII’s defeat at the Battle of Lincoln restores King Henry III to the throne, and the baron’s war simmers down. The Crown regains control of the castle.
King Henry III grants the castle to Richard Earl of Cornwall, who uses it as his administrative centre.
King Edward I, gave Berkhamsted Castle to his wife Margaret of France, which she passed down to Isabella of France, wife of Edward III.
Edward II granted the castle to his royal favourite, Piers Gaveston along with the earldom of Cornwall. Gaveston got married in the castle with Edward as his guest but they fell from power in 1327. John, Edward's son, took over as the new Earl of Cornwall.
-1337 (Black Prince Controls Castle)
Edward III used the castle as his favoured residence. He later granted it to his son Edward, the Black Prince who assumed the newly appointed Duchy of Cornwall. The Prince took advantage of the aftermath of the Black Death to extend the castle park by almost 65 acres (26ha) creating a massive area covering 991 acres (401ha.)
-1356 (Castle Used as Prison)
The Black prince imprisoned King John II of France in the castle after his capture at the Battle of Poitiers. The King would remain in English captivity in various locations including Beckhamsted until 1360 when the English released him for 83 hostages.
When the Black price became ill after fighting in France he retired to his much loved castle and died there in 1376.
The famous author Geoffrey Chaucer oversaw renovations on the cate site n his role as a clerk. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The canterbury Tales and is renowned as the greatest poet of the Middle ages.
Edward IV granted the castle to his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, where she lived until she died in 1495.
-The Early 1500s
The castle falls into ruin due to neglect.
Sir Edward Carey, keeper of the Jewels to Queen Elizabeth, builds Berkhamsted Place on the hill above the castle with stones plundered from the ruins. The house was demolished in 1967, and a farm and cottages occupy the site.
The government took control of the castle, where English Heritage now protects the scheduled monument.
Berkhamsted Castle Occupants
- 11th Century: Robert of Mortain
- 1086: The Crown granted Randulph, Lord Chancellor, the castle site to build another wooden fort.
- 1155: Thomas à Becket assumed the castle in his role as Lord Chancellor and extensively rebuilt the wooden fort in stone.
- 1191: The wife of King Richard I, Queen Berengaria of Navarre, occupied the castle until King Richard’s death.
- 1204: Queen Isabella of Angoulême occupied the castle until the siege.
- 1227: King Henry III grants the castle to Richard Earl of Cornwall, who used it as his primary residence and administrative centre.
- 1291: Queen Margaret of France occupied Berkhamsted Castle.
- 1337: Edward, the Black Prince, occupied the castle.
- 1356: The Black prince imprisoned King John II in the castle.
- 1399: The castle passes down from Henry V to his wife Margaret of Anjou.
- 1469: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, occupied the castle until she died in 1495.
Images of Berkhamsted Castle
Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package
Berkhamsted Castle Facts
- People have occupied Berkhamsted for over 5,000 years as there is evidence of Neolithic stone flint workings.
- The town High Street was once a Pre-Roman route mentioned in 970 AD.
- Berkhamsted Castle was the favoured residence of The Black Prince, who spent his honeymoon with Joan of Kent.
- Some say that the Black Prince Edward died within the castle walls, while others argue that he died in Westminster Palace.
- There was once a large deer park around the castle for hunting as well as an extensive vineyard for the castle occupants..
Berkhamsted Castle Q&A
How Big Was Berkhamsted Castle?
The Berkhamsted motte mound is around 14 m high (45.9 feet) and 55 metres (180.4 feet) in diameter and comprises a motte in the northeast corner of an oblong bailey. The motte stands on a shell keep of about 18 metres wide (59 feet), and the bailey occupies around 1.3 hectares (13,000 sq m).
The original castle was rebuilt in stone and extended over many years, yet the position remains consistent with the initial build. The castle boasted two complete moats in its prime, and visitors approached the castle from today’s Castle Street. They entered through a low wooden bridge across the River Bulbourne and a second drawbridge led to the central Gateway.
What Kind of Castle Is Berkhamsted?
According to English Heritage, the castle is of a certain masonry and timber type, and they described it as a Norman castle. Norman built the castle to protect the vital route between London and the Midlands in the tumultuous Norman conquest in the 1100s.
The castle follows the traditional motte and bailey structure of the time. The motte and bailey system followed a plan of placing a tower atop a mound (the motte) and enclosing an area of land round the tower in a defensive ditch or palisade.
Berkanstead was initially a wood and earthwork fort that the builders later replaced with stone as building styles progressed in medieval architecture.
How Old is Berkhamsted Castle?
William I commissioned the building of the original Berkhamsted Castle somewhere around 1066 and placed the castle on a vital trade route in the area. In 1086 Robert of Mortain’s son rebelled against the crown and the first wooden motte and bailey was slighted.
Another timber and earthworks fort followed the first build until Thomas á Becket rebuilt the castle in stone in 1155.
Was Berkhamsted Castle the Scene of Any Battles?
Shortly after the original motte and bailey fort was built, it was destroyed in 1086 by Henry I when Robert de Mortain’s son rebelled against the monarch. The castle was also the site of a violent siege in 1215 when the French Prince Louis supported the local Barons and attacked Berkhamsted Castle.
The siege lasted 20 days and evidence suggests that the remains of an earthwork surrounding the castle site were built at this time. Prince Louis made use of siege engines called trebuchets that hurled large stone missiles at the castle. The garrison held up bravely but surrendered after 20 days, and were allowed to leave with their weapons and armour,
Location of Berkhamsted Castle
Berkhamsted castle ruins lie north of the town in a gap through the Chilterns and comprise a motte standing northeast on the corner of a 1.3-hectare (13,000 sq m) bailey. The original location shows three concentric lines of defence with five bastions flanking the defences in the northwest and three to the northeast.
Although there were extensive rebuilds and renovations between the 12th and 15th century, the site of the castle remained constant and did not move from its original site in its lifespan, Although the castle grounds and estates were extended during the Balck Prince’s occupancy.
Other Places To Visit Near Berkhamsted Castle
The ruined Old Gorhambury House is a fascinating example of an Elizabethan prodigy house built in 1563-1568. Early prodigy houses were showy residences that reflected their occupants’ wealth, usually courtiers and high-status families.
Grhumbury House was once a great mansion built in 1563 by Sir Nicholas Baron who was Keeper of the Great Seal. As a show of his status and power, Baron spent considerable sums to adapt and expand his residence. Most of the building stands in ruins but the elaborate entrance porch is still a fine example of Tudor architecture.
Visitors may visit the Old Grohhbury house for free during reasonable daylight hours. However,
As these ruins are part of a private estate, you will need to check the Gorhambury Estate Website for opening hours before you visit. The elaborate entrance porch still stands on the private estate of Lord Verulam and reflects in a small part the grandeur of the original building.
The Roald Dahl museum revolves around The illustrious and much-loved writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl lived in Gipsy House for 36 years and wrote many of his famous novels here. The main draw in Dahl’s writing hut with his original self-made chair and his possessions are now placed in a gallery for visitors to enjoy.
The Natural History Museum at Tring once belonged to Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, and now belongs to the Natural History Museum in London. The quirky venue offers one of the most extensive collections of stuffed animals and insects in the UK.
The exhibit forms part of Walter’s extensive private natural history collection and even includes some mummified Egyptian animals. One of the most famous exhibits is a series of costumed fleas that Walter procured in Mexico. The museum boasts 4,900 specimens that have been open for display for almost 125 years as a glimpse into the life of a fascinating man.