Tracing England’s First Castle

A British amateur historian has found what he believes to be England’s oldest castle – built by Norman adventurer 15 years before the battle of Hastings. Ground-breaking research by an expert on Herefordshire castles, Terry Wardle, strongly suggest that a mystery Norman castle mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 1051 was built in Herefordshire at a place now known as Burghill.It is likely to have been the very first Norman motte and bailey castle ever constructed in England, as all the previously known pre-conquest Norman fortified sites were built between 1052 and around 1063.

The tower of the castle with mound

The reconstruction of the wooden castle

All that is left of Burghill Castle today are traces of the bailey ditch and bank – and the moat around the site of the motte (a now long-levelled mound on which a timber stronghold would have stood). Terry Wardle, who has published his findings as a book (England’s First Castle, History Press), has also reconstructed the likely circumstances that led to the construction of the castle.

The Anglo-Saxon king of England, Edward the Confessor, wanted to be rid of the most powerful noble family in the land  – the Godwines – and he arranged a political “trap”, which forced them into exile. Edward then confiscated the Godwine family lands and gave some of it to his Norman nephew. It was probably through this nephew that a more minor Norman called Osbern was allocated Burghill – presumably so that he could build a castle there to help defend the realm against Welsh raiders. But in 1052, the king and the Godwines reached an accommodation: the Godwines got their political power back – and Osbern had to leave his castle.

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