Ludlow Castle (Shropshire, England)
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Ludlow Castle has a long and fascinating history, playing a very important role in politics and conquest. It’s very hard to summarise all this information in any condensed form, but with the help of Wikipedia I’ve tried my very best! I've visted twice in the last couple of months, but the pictures in this post are from my June birthday visit, during our mini heatwave.
Ludlow Castle was founded by Walter de Lacy around 1075 in an area called Dinham within the manor of Stanton Lacy. The castle was originally named Dinham Castle, and the bridge immediately below the castle remains carried the name Dinham even today. It held a strategic position on a rocky promontory overlooking the River Teme and became an administrative centre for the Welsh Marches.
Walter de Lacy died in a construction accident in 1085 and was succeeded by his son Roger de Lacy. In 1096 Roger was stripped of his titles after rebelling against William II and his lands were given to his brother Hugh de Lacy.
The initial Norman stonework of the original castle was likely completed by 1115. This was essentially a stone ringwork in what is now the inner bailey; it consisted of a curtain wall with four towers and a gatehouse and was one of the first masonry castles in England.
When Hugh de Lacy died in 1115 without any heirs King Henry I gave Ludlow Castle and most of the surrounding lands to Hugh’s niece Sybil, whilst also marrying her to Pain fitzJohn (an Anglo-Norman nobleman and administrator in Henry’s court). FitzJohn used Ludlow Castle as his primary castle until his death in 1137 whilst fighting the Welsh.
This resulted in a dispute over who the castle was to be inherited by; Robert fitzMiles, who had been planning to marry Pain's daughter, laid claim to it, as did Gilbert de Lacy, Roger de Lacy's son. King Stephen, now tenuously on the throne, granted the castle to Robert fitzMiles in 1137 in exchange for his future political support.
Of course, at this time The Anarchy broke out. This was a civil War between King Stephen and Empress Matilda as a result of a succession crisis. Gilbert de Lacy took this opportunity to rise up against King Stephen and seize Ludlow Castle. Stephen, in response, marched an army into the Welsh Marches, where he attempted to garner local support by marrying one of his knights, Joce de Dinan, to Sybil and granting the future ownership of the castle to them. Stephen took the castle after several attempts in 1139.
Gilbert still maintained that he was the rightful owner of Ludlow, however, and a private war ensued between Joce and himself. Gilbert was ultimately successful and retook the castle a few years before the end of the civil war in 1153. He ultimately left for the Levant, leaving Ludlow in the hands of his eldest son, Robert, and then, after Robert's death, his younger son, Hugh de Lacy.
During this period the Great Tower was built by converting the entrance tower. An outer bailey was built to the south and a smaller entrance was made the inner bailey. This is still very noticeable today, as the outline of the original entrance on what was now the main keep can be seen where the bricks filled it in. Gilbert is also thought to be the one responsible for constructed the notable circular chapel (the Mary Magdalene Chapel) within the inner bailey, resembling the churches of the Templar Order.
Hugh de Lacy took part in the Norman invasion of Ireland, and in his absence King Henry II confiscated Ludlow Castle as a way of ensuring his loyalty. Hugh died in Ireland in 1186 and the castle passed to his son, Walter, who was a minor and did not take charge of the property until 1194, and the castle became fully in his possession in 1198 (it was confiscated again as a result of Walter’s support of Prince John’s rebellion against King Richard; starting to see a bit of a theme here? The same thing happened between 1201 and 1215!)
In 1223, King Henry III met with the Welsh prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at Ludlow Castle for peace talks, but the negotiations were unsuccessful.
Walter's granddaughters Maud and Margaret were due to inherit Walter's remaining estates on his death, but they were still unmarried, making it hard for them to hold property in their own right. Henry informally divided the lands up between them, giving Ludlow to Maud and marrying her to one of his royal favourites, Peter de Geneva. Peter died in 1249 and Maud married a second time, this time to Geoffrey de Geneville, a friend of the Prince Edward, the future king. In 1260, Henry officially split up Walter's estate, allowing Geoffrey to retain the castle.
Geoffrey and Maud's oldest granddaughter, Joan, married Roger Mortimer in 1301, giving Mortimer control of Ludlow Castle. Around 1320, Roger built the Great Chamber block alongside the existing Great Hall and Solar complex, along with an additional building on the location of the later Tudor Lodgings, and the Guardrobe Tower added to the curtain wall.
Ludlow Castle was to became the Mortimer’s primary residence, taking over from Wigmore Castle.
Becoming the Earl of March after his role in the Despenser War, imprisonment in the Tower of London, subsequent exile, and relationship with Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer built a new chapel in the Outer Bailey, named after Saint Peter, honouring the saint's day on which he had escaped from the Tower.
Mortimer fell from power the following year but his widow Joan was permitted to retain Ludlow.
The castle then passed down through the Mortimer family, although very rarely were the heirs of it actually old enough to manage the castles themselves. As a result the castle was very often held the Crown.
The castle was inherited by Richard the Duke of York in 1432. Richard took a keen interest in the castle, which formed the administrative base for his estates around the region. Richard also established his sons, including the future Edward IV, and their household at the castle in the 1450s, and was possibly responsible for rebuilding the northern part of the Great Tower during this period.
The Wars of the Roses broke out between the Lancastrians and Richard's Yorkist faction in the 1450s. Ludlow Castle did not find itself involved in the conflict, instead acting as a safe retreat away from the main fighting. An exception to this was the Battle of Ludford Bridge which took place just outside the town of Ludlow in 1459, resulting in a largely bloodless victory for the Lancastrian Henry VI.
In 1473 the future Edward V and his brother Prince Richard were sent to live at the castle; they later became known as the Princes in the Tower, after their mysterious disappearance and likely murder whilst at the Tower of London in 1483.
After Henry VII took the throne in 1485 he continued to use Ludlow Castle as a regional base, granting it to his son, Prince Arthur, in 1493, and re-establishing the dormant Council in the Marches at the property.
In 1501, Prince Arthur arrived in Ludlow for his honeymoon with his bride Catherine of Aragon, before dying the following year. Legends says that his heart was buried on the castle grounds.
Becoming the administrative centre for the Welsh Marches gave the castle and town a new lease of life, ensuring that it thrived when most castles were falling into ruin. However by the 1530s the castle needed considerable renovation; work began in 1534, but following year the castle was still unfit for habitation.
In 1560 the castle was extended by building family apartments between the Great Hall and Mortimer's Tower, and the former royal apartments were converted into a guest wing. The larger windows were also glazed and water was piped into the castle.
When the English Civil War broke out in 1642 between the supporters of King Charles and those of Parliament, Ludlow and the surrounding region supported the Royalists. In 1646 Ludlow Castle fell after a short siege. The castle never recovered or regained the importance it had previously held, and before long fell into ruin and decay.
In the present day Ludlow Castle is owned by John Herbert, the current Earl of Powis, but is held and managed by the Trustees of the Powis Castle Estate as a tourist attraction. It is paid entry, and is considered by English Heritage to be "one of England's finest castle sites".
Pictures taken June 2018