Castle constructed circa 1378 on the site of a moated grange, altered in 1720 and the early 19th century. It is constructed of red brick which is partly rendered, dressed chalk and limestone, and is of three storeys, in a quandrangular plan with rounded corner towers. It was originally of Early Perpendicular style, remodelled in Georgian style and early 19th century Gothick style. (Pastscape)
The present owner of the castle is the Beechwood Estates Company, the Macclesfield family estate management company. Following a long-running and acrimonious court battle, the 9th Earl of Macclesfield, Richard Timothy George Mansfield Parker, was evicted from the family seat at the end of 2004 and the castle currently stands unoccupied. (Wikipedia)
Not open to the public.
These Chamberlains were a French family originally descended from the Tankervilles of Normandy, chamberlains to the Dukes of Normandy, who in England changed their name to that of their office, as did the Stewards and others; they resided at Shirburn. The last of his race, John Chamberlain, dying in 1654, left only daughters, the eldest of whom, Mary, was married to Sir Thomas Gage, of Firle, Sussex. Her fourth son, Joseph Gage, inherited Shirburn from his mother, and likewise his aunt’s shares of the property. His son, Thomas, created Viscount Gage in 1720, in 1716 sold Shirburn Castle and lands to Lord Thomas Parker, Lord Chief Justice, who in 1718 was made Lord Chancellor, and in 1721 was further created Earl of Macclesfield by George I. The castle and lands are still in the possession of the Earl of Macclesfield, his descendant, who continues to reside in this grand fourteenth century fortress.
During the civil war of Charles I. Shirburn was held by a lady of the Chamberlain family and her son, nominally for the King, and with a small garrison, but in so neutral a manner that no offensive measures were adopted against the Parliament forces, whose stronghold was at Henley, self-defence being mainly intended. To this policy may be ascribed the preservation of this fine medieval building amid the wreck and ruin that fell upon almost all similar structures in the kingdom. In June 1646 General Fairfax accepted the surrender of Shirburn Castle, which thereby escaped the disastrous attentions of the Committee in London.
The castle is rectangular in plan, having a central open courtyard, and at each of the four exterior angles a massive round tower rising straight out of the wide and deep moat, which, supplied with running water from springs, encircles the whole fabric. Access to the castle is gained by crossing three drawbridges, and the summit of the walls is battlemented throughout; the main entrance is guarded by a portcullis. The medieval effect of the ancient pile is somewhat impaired by the modern sash windows which have been inserted. In Skelton’s “Antiquities of Oxfordshire” a large drawing of the castle is given, showing round-headed windows throughout in the two upper storeys, the basement being lighted by a few oillets only; there is a view also of the principal entrance with its fine groined roof. So well built is this castle that the rooms below the level of the water in the moat are quite dry.
It is not easy to reconcile the above commonly-received history of the ownership of Shirburn Castle with what is said in the curious and ancient letter of Brunetto Latini, the tutor and friend of Dante, which is given in translation in the Monthly Magazine or British Register for June 1802. Latini of, Florence is said to have been the restorer of learning in Italy in the thirteenth century, a philosopher and a magistrate of great account. Being a staunch Guelphite he was driven out by the Ghibellines, and sought refuge in France, whence he may have come over to England with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the titular King of the Romans and brother to Henry III. He writes thus, in old romance French, in a letter (which has been preserved among several others) to his friend in Italy: “The Parliament being summoned to Oxford I had an opportunity of visiting that famous school. Our journey from London to Oxford was, with some difficulty and danger, made in two clays; for the roads are bad, and. we had to climb hills of hazardous ascent, and which to descend are equally perilous. We passed through many woods, considered here as dangerous places, as they are infested with robbers, which, indeed, is the case with most of the roads in England. This is a circumstance connived at by the neighbouring barons, from the consideration of sharing in the booty, and these robbers serving their protectors on all occasions, personally, and with the .whole strength of their band. However, as our company was numerous, we had nothing to fear. Accordingly we arrived the first night at Shirburn Castle, in the neighbourhood of Wallington, under the chain of hills over which we passed at Stocquinchurque (Stokenchurch). This castle was built by the Earl of Tanqueville, one of the followers of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy … It is now in the possession of a descendant of the said earl.”
By Camden’s account Henry de Tyeis was at that time holding Shirburn under the Earl of Cornwall (who probably brought Latini here in his suite), but he, too, may have been of the Tankerville race, as the Chamberlains, according to Camden, had their seat here for many generations. This may account for that family acquiring the place again (temp. Henry VIII.), or the Quartermain proprietorship may have referred to the manor only.
A doubt has been thrown on the authenticity of these letters of Brunetto Latini, but perhaps undeservedly, for the translator gives parts of them in their original French of the period in question. Much that Latini here writes of his visit to Friar Bacon, at Oxford, of his being told by him of the invention of gunpowder, and of the mariner’s compass, is curious and interesting—if true. The letter is quoted in the Bulletin of the Paris Societe de Geographic for 1858 in a paper by M. Davezac upon the subject of the magnetic needle.
Regarding castles Latini writes: “As the English barons are frequently embroiled with their kings and with each other they take the precaution to build towers and high houses of stone, and outside provided with ditches, and fences, and walls, and towers, and bridges, and portcullises (porter colleyces). Et sont garnies de mangonians et de feetes et de toutes choses qui besoignent à guerre por deffendre, et por gregier, et por la vie des homes eus et hors maintenir”. He says he writes to his Florentine friend in romance (le Patois de France), because it is equally familiar to his correspondent, ” and is constantly spoken here in the Court of London, and is also the most delectable tongue I know”. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)