The castle mound stands in public gardens. A motte and bailey castle erected c. 1100-1130; the castle sustained sieges in 1132, 1137, 1145 and 1153 prior to its demolition in 1224; this was thoroughly carried out and only a portion of the motte remains with a slight section of its surrounding ditch, together with a second mound to the north – now covered with buildings. (Pastscape)
Richard Of Cirencester affirms that a castle stood here in early Saxon times, A.D. 510, to defend the ford of the river, and it is probable that the mound thus originated carried the usual timber fortalice and stockade, which, as in many other places, would protect the position. The town built near it became of considerable importance, increasing also under Norman rule, when, in the time of the Red King, the third Baron of Bedford, Paganus de Beauchamp, second son of Hugh de Beauchamp, a companion of Duke William, erected a strong stone castle here some year between 1087 and 1132, which castle, Camden says, being built, there was no form of civil war that did not burst upon it. The first siege it sustained was from King Stephen, in 1137, when the grandsons of the founder, Milo de Beauchamp and his brothers, opposed this King because he had given their sister in marriage to Hugh, the brother of the Earl of Leicester, together with the barony of Bedford, which had belonged to their father, Simon de Beauchamp. The fortress was of great strength and withstood a vigorous assault, surrendering only after a long and difficult siege of five weeks, costing much bloodshed on both sides, when Milo obtained good terms. Dugdale, in his “Baronage;’ gives an account of this siege.
Holinshed tells of another siege by the same King, during the war between him and David, King of Scotland, when the castle was held by Prince Henry, the son of David, as belonging to the Earldom of Huntingdon, which was then vested in the Scottish crown. This siege lasted thirty days, when the place was yielded to Stephen for the second time.
In the reign of John, William de Beauchamp, as one of the disaffected barons, placed his castle in the hands of his party at the commencement of hostilities, and two years after, in 1216, the King sent against it Falco, or Falk de Brent a Norman of low extraction. He reduced the castle in seven days, and obtained a grant of it for his services, when he settled there, and at once repaired and greatly strengthened the fortress. Then he proceeded, after the manner of many other robber barons, to accumulate wealth by harassing and despoiling the neighbour-hood, acquiring by rapine and violence a fortune which he augmented by a marriage with an heiress, Margaret de Ripariis, whose consent the King had enforced. His misdeeds culminated in the year 1224, in the capture and imprisonment of one of King Henry’s judges itinerant, Henry de Braybroke, who in the course of justice had allowed thirty verdicts against this marauder to pass on him for injurious conduct, and whom he treated with great barbarity. The young King, indignant at such conduct, ordered a levy, and accompanied by Hubert de Burgh, the justiciary, proceeded to Bedford and laid siege to Falk’s Castle, with much preparation and provision of all necessary military machines. Falk himself, however, stole away into Wales, to excite a diversion there, leaving the defence to his brother William, as castellan, who, with the garrison, made a strenuous resistance, so that the assailants were forced to undermine the castle towers.
A curious circumstance now occurred. The King’s forces were unable to procure the necessary pickaxes and other tools required for mining, or even strong ropes to work their battering engines, and although requisitions for the various articles needed were sent to London and to the sheriffs of counties as far off as Dorsetshire, as well as of the neighbouring counties, still, mainly through the delay thus caused, it was sixty days before the place fell. Then, when his castle was taken, Falk de Brent came and threw himself at the feet of the king, who forfeited his property and sentenced him to perpetual banishment; so, after delivering up all his money and gold and silver vessels, together with the castles of Plumpton and Stoke Courcy (Somerset), the landless baron left the country, intending to go to Rome, but died soon after at Ciriac. His wife refused to share his exile, on the plea that she had been made to marry him against her will.
The demolition of the castle after its capture must have been tolerably complete, for by order August 20, five days after the surrender, the sheriff is directed to fill in the ditch and level the surface of the outer ward, to reduce the mound, and take off one-half the height of the inner walls, and three-quarters from the “old tower” in the N.W.; all this seems to have been implicitly carried out, for no trace of a ditch or of masonry is left. Then William de Beauchamp was allowed to build himself a mansion on the site, but not to crenellate it ; and later, John de Mowbray, who inherited and obtained Bedford by marriage with an heiress of the Beauchamps, came to Bedford, and is said to have died seised of the “ruinous Castle of Bedford”. In Camden’s time nothing remained but the ruins overhanging the river on the E. side of the town.
The account given by Camden of the final siege is as follows, and is worth transcribing, as giving an insight into the art of war as practised against fortified places in the thirteenth century:
On the E. side were one petrary and two mangonels battering the old tower; as also one upon the S. and another on the N. part, which beat down two passages through the walls that were next them. Besides these there were two machines, contrived of wood, so as to be higher than the castle and tower, erected on purpose for the gunners and watchmen; they had also several machines, wherein the gunners (artillerists) and slingers lay in ambush. There was also another machine, called cattus, under which the diggers, who were employed to undermine the walls of the tower and castle, came in and out. The castle was taken by four separate assaults: in the first was taken the barbican; in the second the outer ballium; at the third attack the wall of the old tower was thrown down by the miners, where, with great danger, they possessed themselves of the inner ward through a chink; at the fourth assault the miners set fire to the tower, so that the smoke burst out, and the lower tower itself was cloven to that degree as to show visibly some broad chinks, whereupon the enemy surrendered.
Hubert de Burgh at once hanged eighty of the garrison from the walls. The sheriff then proceeded to demolish the outer ballium and the keep, and to fill in the moat, after which the inner ballimn was granted to William de Beauchamp for a residence. The stones were granted to the church of St. Paul, which had been despoiled by Falk, and the “ould ruines”, of small extent, that overhung the river on the E. side, as shown in Speed’s map of 1610, have long disappeared, and have given place to the beautiful garden of the Swan Hotel. The ancient mound is 150 feet in diameter and 15 feet in height, its sides being now planted with
From this point the old river frontage of the castle extended 600 feet, and in the midst was once a stone weir, 10 feet wide, erected across the river to maintain the water in the moat; its foundations may still be seen. The length of the E. and W. moat was 675 feet. The last remains of the barbican wall were taken away in 1850, during some rebuilding in Castle Lane. In a paper by Mr. Cary Elwes the opinion is expressed that the entrance to the castle was from the S., over the weir or causeway across the Ouse, and that the mound was in the outer ward, and never probably possessed a keep, having been raised originally to command a ford over the river at this point. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)
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