Pleshey Castle is probably Essex’s best example of an earth-built Norman motte and bailey castle. The whole village of Pleshey still lies within its Norman defences which sweep round in a great semi circle. Privately owned.
A village in Mid-Essex, half-way between Chelmsford and Dunmow; the castle was once the seat of the Constable of England, the residence of Thomas of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward III., but of it nothing now remains except the huge ancient earthworks surrounding the site, and a fine brick bridge of a single pointed arch, leading up to the mound upon which stood-the keep.
A Roman fortification of oval trace, measuring nearly a mile in circumference, encircles the village, and within it, at the S. side, is this gigantic mound, perhaps Roman also ; a fosse runs round three sides of the rampart, on the W., N. and E. In Domesday the locality is called Plesinchou, and it was then held from William I. by Eustace, Count of Boulogne. When his granddaughter, Maud, married King Stephen, her father’s great estates became vested in the Crown, and Stephen conferred the castle on Geoffrey de Magnaville, or Mandeville, whom he created Earl of Essex and Constable of the Tower of London. Geoffrey espousing, however, the cause of the Empress Maud, .was seized and imprisoned by the King, and only recovered his liberty by the cession of this castle, together with the Tower and the Castle of Saffron Walden. By Henry II. the estates were restored to his son Geoffrey, who, dying in 1167, .was succeeded by his brother William, to whom leave was given to fortify a castle ; and we may take this as the date of the erection of Pleshy. Here he married, in 1180, Hawise, daughter and heir to William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle, the founder of Scarborough Castle, whose mother was Adeliza, the daughter of the Conqueror, and in his wife’s right William Mandeville obtained the Earldom of Albemarle. He died s.p. in 1198, and was succeeded by his second cousin, Beatrix de Saye, who married Geoffrey FitzPiers, of Ludgershall, Wilts. He was Chief Justice of England, and was in her right made Earl of Essex. His two sons succeeded, taking the name of Mandeville, and dying s.p., left a sister, Maud, married to Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, and Lord High Constable, who died in 1220, and was followed by his son Humphrey, called “the good Earl;’ being likewise Earl of Essex. The honour and estate descended to his grandson, who obtained leave from Edward I I., in 1320, to enclose a park of 150 acres at Pleshy. His son, Humphrey, married Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward, widow of John, Earl Holland, by whom he had six sons and two daughters, all of whom were ennobled. One of these sons dying s.p. was succeeded by his nephew Humphrey as Earl of Essex, Hereford, Northampton and Brecknock, and as Lord High Constable, and he married Joan, daughter of Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, leaving, at his decease in 1372, two daughters, Eleanor and Mary, co-heiresses to his immense estate. The elder, Eleanor, married (3 Richard II.), Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III., created in 1383 Duke of Gloucester, and brought him, with many other estates, the manor and castle of Pleshy, which became their chief residence. Her sister, Mary, became the wife of Henry of Bolingbroke (afterwards King Henry IV.), and, in 1399, Queen of England. This Duke of Gloucester, being uncle to Richard II., and a man greatly esteemed for his probity, valour and honour, opposed the pernicious measures pursued by his nephew’s evil counsellors, and endeavoured to govern the young King himself ; this was resented, and with Richard’s connivance his destruction was determined on. There are many versions of the fatal transaction, the commonly received one, as given by Froissart, being that, in 1397, the King, after hunting in Essex at Havering-atte-Bower, and making all the arrangements, rode off to Pleshy, where he arrived at five in the afternoon, and having supped with the Duchess Eleanor, his aunt, and her family, persuaded the Duke to accompany him back to London to assist him at a reception next clay. Gloucester, suspecting nothing, consented, and they rode together at speed talking, till they came to Stamford, where an ambush had been prepared. Here Richard spurred away from his uncle, and there appeared the Earl Marshal, Mowbray, with a band of horsemen, who arrested the Duke in the King’s name. Gloucester called loudly on his nephew, who rode off all the faster, when the Duke was taken to Tilbury, and thence, embarking in a small vessel, was carried to Calais the second day. In the castle here, as the account says, “At dinner time and when the cloth was laid, just as he was washing his hands, four men, appointed on purpose, rushed out of a room, and casting a towel round his neck, drew it so violently, two on each side, that they threw him down and strangled him.” Froissart gives drawings of the arrest and the murder. In this way did King Richard relieve himself of his uncle’s interference. The body was brought over and buried at Pleshy, but was afterwarcls removed to Westminster Abbey. The estates were forfeited to the Crown, but the Duchess was allowed to enjoy them till her death, which occurred two years after.
“What shall he at Plashy see
But empty lodgings and unfurnish’d walls,
Unpeopled offices, untrodden stones?
And what cheer there for welcome, but my groans ?
Desolate, desolate, will I hence, and die
RICHARD II., act i. sc. 2. .
In 1400, three years later, John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was beheaded here by a mob, in revenge for his share in the abduction and murder of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. After his death the castle fell into neglect anti decay, and in 1547 Edward VI. alienated the manor for a time, and the park was purchased at the end of the century by Sir Robert Clarke, a Baron of the Exchequer. He was followed in 1629 by his grandson Robert, who built a large house called “The Lodge,” pulling down the ancient castle for this purpose, and using its materials. In 1720 it was sold to Sir Willian Jolyffe, Knight, who devised it to Samuel Tufnell, of Langleys, ancestor of the present proprietor. The lodge was taken down in 1767.
The earthworks have an area of about two acres, enclosed by a high embankment with a deep foss outside, and the mound is also surrounded by its own very deep ditch. The walls of the fortress appear to have been partly built upon the embankment, and Leland says, “One tolde me that muche of the walls of Plaschey Castle in Estsex, is made of erthe.” The lofty bridge sloping upwards to the mound alone remains, and forms a most picturesque object. On it, till of later years, stood a brick gateway mantled with ivy, and in a tottering condition. The site of the home of those great nobles and dames is now a rabbit warren. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)
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