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Castles in Shropshire

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Shropshire's position on the border with the Welsh Marches has meant that the county's castles have seen many attacks and sieges over the centuries.

The frontier with Wales was a turbulent area for a considerable time after 1066. Much of the area had been devastated in per-conquest fighting between the Saxons and Welsh, and it was not fully under the control of the Normans until the uprising, led by Edric the Wild in 1068-9, was successfully put down.

1069: the Welsh, with the men of Cheshire, laid siege to the King's castle of Shrewsbury aided by the townsmen under Edric the Wild

 

Indeed the need to fortify this area against the Welsh was so important that castle construction in Shropshire was often supported by the King. 

Bishop's Castle, for example, was ordered to be occupied for the better defence of the March in those parts, and Whittington licenced in 1221 to build the castle up only as much as was essential to fortify it against the Welsh.

Bishop's Castle: the remains of the castle

Financial help was also provided by the crown for strengthening the castles of Shropshire against attack. Caus Castle was continually maintained by the crown during the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1165, Henry II provided a garrison for Caus; Richard I contributed 10 marks in 1198 towards the building of a curtain wall; and in 1263 Henry II granted a further 50 marks for defensive towers. Bridgnorth Castle was also provided with an outer bailey and barbican by King John in the early 13th century.

 

Events and Sieges of the 12th - 15th Centuries

1102: The previous year, Robert de Bellesme had fortified Bridgnorth Castle. He was therefore in a strong position when he decided to side with the Duke of Normandy against King Henry I, the duke's younger brother. The King retaliated by besieging Robert's castles of Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury, removing them from the rebels hands and securing his position as king.

1139: There were many baronial revolts against King Stephen in support of Henry I's daughter Matilda in 1100s. In Shropshire, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Ellesmere and Whittington all held against King Stephen when he marched through the county in 1139. Shrewsbury castle was however stormed, and it is reported that nearly 100 garrison men were hanged as a result! Ludlow castle was also placed under siege by King Stephen, however, this time the King was unsuccessful in taking the castle. During the siege, King Stephen's ally, the young Prince of Scotland, was caught by a grappling iron which had been thrown from one of the windows in the Beacon Tower. Seeing this, King Stephen rushed to the prince's aid and freed him from the enemies hands.

1155: With the accession of Henry II in 1154, the number of baronial castles in rebel hands were reduced. In Shropshire this included Cleobury castle and Bridgnorth castle which were held by the rebel Hugh de Mortimer. During 1155 both castles were captured by the king, with Cleobury being destroyed and Bridgnorth maintained as a royal stronghold. It is thought that Henry II built and used Pan Pudding Hill as a siege castle when he was preparing to attack and seize Bridgnorth Castle.

Pan Pudding Hill, Bridgnorth

1195: The threat of Welsh attack was still prominent at the close of the 12th century. In 1195 Clun Castle was stormed and burnt by the Welsh leader, Prince Rhys. At this time the castle was still built of timber, and it is thought that this attack probably triggered the rebuilding of the castle in stone.

1199 - 1216: There was much trouble during these 17 years and the reign of King John. Opposition to the king came from many Shropshire barons and there was still problems with Welsh attacks even though King John's illegitimate daughter was married to the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn. During this period the King besieged the castles of Clun and Oswestry which were then held by the Fitz-Alan family.

1223: During this year Whittington was captured by the Welsh. At this time the castle would have been much easier to besiege as the building of the curtain wall and towers of the inner bailey had not been completed.

1215 and 1234: Shrewsbury Castle was the target of welsh attacks during these years, and was captured by Prince Llywelyn on both occasions.

1250s - 1260s: Early in Henry III's reign the threat from the Welsh increased and many castles became highly fortified as a result. A power struggle between the barons of Shropshire and the King then ensued, during which the rebel barons captured Ellesmere and Bishop's Castle. In the July of 1263, it is reported that Bishops Castle was stormed by John Fitz Alan. This attack resulted in a constable being killed and the town being occupied for 16 weeks. 

Ellesmere Castle

1282: Although Edward I's conquest of Wales in 1277 had made Shropshire safe from immediate Welsh attack, there was one last uprising in 1282 when the Welsh destroyed Rowton Castle.

1283: In this year, David ap Gruffyd, Prince of Wales was executed at Shrewsbury for treason against Edward.;

1400: During the early 15th century, Owain Glyn Dwr led the Welsh in revolt against Henry IV. The castle of Clun, Oswestry and Whittington were all attacked. The effects of this Welsh revolt were lessened by the outcome of the Battle of Shrewsbury, which prevented the union of the Percy's, earls of Northumberland, with Glyn Dwr.

1459: During the Battle of Bore Heath in Staffordshire, Ludlow Castle was plundered and taken by the Lancastrian forces.

The Civil War of the 17th Century

A number of Shropshire castles were garrisoned during the Civil War of the 1640s, despite many being ruinous. This Civil War took place between King Charles and Parliament. The King is said to have visited Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth in 1642, but Shrewsbury was captured in a surprise night attack led by the Parlamentarians in 1645. A Parliamentarian news-sheet of 27th August 1645 lists the royalist garrisons of castles in Shropshire. These include Bridgnorth, Broncroft, Caus, Dawley, Lee, Ludlow, Moreton Corbet, Oswestry, Rowton, Shrawardine, Stokesay and Tong. It is interesting that a number of fortified manor houses are included in this lists, even though their defensive strength was limited, and certainly not strong enough to resist the canon.

Moreton Corbet Castle

A number of other castles were used during this period, including Alberbury Castle, and Hopton Castle were Henry Wallop installed a Parliamentary garrison of 31 men under Samuel More. Eventually all the listed royal strongholds were captured by the summer of 1646, although Bridgnorth held out out until April and Ludlow until June. The effects of the Civil War can be seen quite clearly at Bridgnorth. The leaning keep is a direct result of the castle being undermined and blown up by Parliamentary forces during the 1646 siege.

Bridgnorth Castle Keep, Stamper

From the mid 17th century, the fate of the castle was sealed. In order to prevent castles being used by royalist supporters against Cromwell, The Lord Protector, many castles were slighted or destroyed.

This Learning Zone was researched, written and designed by Natalie Gibbs whilst working as a Volunteer.


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