Medieval motte and bailey castle, built circa 1067-71, slighted 1652. Limited excavations have revealed part of the castle ditch, South curtain wall, and a 12th century domestic cob building. Part of the 17th century defences were also located.
Wallingford Castle Meadows covers some 16.6 hectares on the banks of the River Thames in Wallingford. The meadows contain the site of Wallingford Castle which has a long and complex history. All that remains of the castle are two sections of wall which are Grade 1 listed and the bank and ditch earthworks which form part of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Castle Meadows has been awarded the coveted Green Flag Award on two occasions.
At the time of the Norman invasion a powerful Saxon chief, Wigod, had his fortified dwelling at Wallingford, to which he invited the victorious leader on his march after the battle of Hastings. This was good policy too, for he was one of the few of his class who managed to retain all his estates in his hands, owing, perhaps, to conciliatory treatment of the Conqueror, to whom, at such a time, a friendly house must have been welcome. It was here that Archbishop Stigand and the chief barons were received to tender their submission to the Conqueror before he marched to London, and here he caused the marriage of one of his body-guard officers, Robert D’Oyly (or Oilgi), .with one of Wigod’s two daughters to be celebrated. He at once grasped the importance of this position, which commanded the passage of the Thames where it was crossed by a main road to the W., and where a Celtic fort had been replaced by a Roman rectangular work, one side of which was gashed by the river. Here, the next year, D’Oyly, by his direction, reared a strong Norman castle, which was finished in 1071, when Oxford Castle also was built by him. Maud, the only daughter and heiress of Robert D’Oyly, brought the castle, town, and honour of Wallingford, in marriage to Milo Crispin, and then to a second husband, Brian Fitz Count, who took the side of the Empress Maud, and, fortifying his castle, declared for her immediately on her landing in England. Hither she came across the snow on escaping from Oxford Castle; dressed in white, she walked all the way to Abingdon, where her attendants procured a horse to bring her to Wallingford. Stephen made several attempts to take this castle by siege, but always unsuccessfully. He accordingly built a fort, a malvoisin, directly opposite, on the other side of the river, to watch and annoy the castle, proceeding himself to meet Prince Henry, then Duke of Normandy, who had landed (1153) at Wareham with an army to enforce his mother’s claims. Henry came to Wallingford to raise the siege which was being conducted by Stephen’s son Eustace, whereon the King himself followed, and the two armies faced one another, only a distance of three furlongs separating them. A battle etas imminent, but pacific counsels prevailed, and a peace was concluded before the walls of Wallingford, by which Stephen was to retain the crown during his lifetime, and to be succeeded by Henry. At this siege died Simon de St. Liz, Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon (see these castles), who was a zealous supporter of Stephen. Brian Fitz Count went to the Crusades, placing his wife in a Norman convent, and gave up his possessions to the Crown. The castle was then used as a State prison, the first person imprisoned in it being Aldred, Abbot of Abingdon. In 1218 Ranulph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, held it and built the hall, and from him it went to the King’s brother, Richard, King of the Romans and Earl of Cornwall, who dispensed great hospitality, and expended large sums on the fabric. He was followed by his son, Edmund, who built the church of St. Nicholas in the castle. It fell into the hands of the barons during the war with Henry III. and was occupied for some time by Simon de Montfort and his countess; then, after Henry’s defeat at Lewes, the two princes, Edward and his cousin Henry, were confined as hostages al Wallingford, but were so carelessly guarded that their friends, Warren de Basingburne and Robert Waleran, with 300 horse, made an attempt to release them. Making a rapid march, they surprised the garrison at dawn by a sudden attack, and gained the outer works, but were then obstinately resisted, and to a demand for the release of the Prince Edward, were told that he would be dispatched to them on a mangonel (A military engine for throwing large stones. and even horses and men.), whereon his friends retired. Prince Edward being afterwards sent to Hereford, effected his escape thence (sec HEREFORD).
After Evesham the Earl of Cornwall recovered his castle, and at his death in 1272 his son and successor was married there to the sister of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, with great rejoicings. In 1276 Edward I. paid a visit to this scene of his imprisonment. In 1300 Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, dying s.p., the castle and honour of Wallingford reverted to the Crown, and were bestowed, in 1308, by Edward II. on his Gascon favourite, Piers Gaveston, who gave a memorable tournament here, at which he fatally offended some of the great nobles, his guests, so that they never forgave the insults, and four years after, having got him into their power, made an end of him at Warwick: the King then placed the Despencers here, but in 1317 settled Wallingford upon Queen Isabella. During the civil war between Edward and his barons, Mortimer surprised and took the castle, but it was recovered from him, and, in 1323, the Lords Berkeley and Audley were imprisoned in it. An unsuccessful attempt was made to release them by Sir James Goldington, who entered the fortress by a water-gate from the Thames. Then the place once more fell into the hands of the rebel nobles, and Sir Roger Amory was sent to besiege it, when it underwent an attack lasting thirty-five days.
Queen Isabella returned to England with Mortimer and her foreign troops in September 1326, and hawing imprisoned her husband, gave this castle to her paramour, and kept a regal Christmas there with him. Edward III., on assuming the kingly power, gave Wallingford to his brother, John of Eltham, creating him Earl of Cornwall, and when this title was exchanged for that of Duke, in 1334, an Act of Parliament provided that the castle and honour of Wallingford should become an appanage of this duchy, and be settled on the Prince of Wales, which Act continued in force until the reign of Henry VIII. The Black Prince held it, and his widow Joan, “the Fair Maid of Kent,” died here in 1385, after nine years of widowhood, and was buried in the chapel. Her son, Richard II., on departing for Ireland in 1399, shortly before his deposition, sent his child-queen, Isabella of Valois, from Windsor to Wallingford for safety, as being the stronger of the two fortresses, by which we may judge of the importance of this stronghold. The tender parting of Richard from the little Isabella at the old Deanery at Windsor is touchingly described by Froissart (see WINDSOR). Very soon after, the King was a prisoner in the hands of Bolingbroke, and Isabella, raising what forces she could, tried to rescue her husband; in the face, however, of the popular movement against him her efforts were of no avail, and she herself was taken and kept a close prisoner. Henry IV. appointed as custodian of this castle Thomas, son of Geoffry Chaucer, the poet (see DONNINGTON, BERKS), who was high sheriff of Oxon and Berks; he represented Wallingford town in four Parliaments, and in 1414 was Speaker of the House of Commons. Henry V. settled the lands and castle on his Queen, Katherine of Valois, and it was ordained that the education of his son Henry should be conducted at ‘Wallingford and Hertford in the summer, and at Windsor and Berkhamstead in winter.
William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was afterwards custodian, and at his death his widow, Anne, daughter of the above Thomas Chaucer, remained chatelaine by judiciously changing sides several times during the Wars of the Roses. She entertained here after ‘Tewkesbury the poor Queen:Margaret, a prisoner—the forlorn widow and mother—who was allowed for sustenance five marks a week, or about £55 of our money. The son of the Duchess Anne, John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, who married the sister of Edward IV., succeeded her, and was kept in favour by Henry VII. His eldest son, John, Earl of Lincoln, had been declared by Richard III. heir to the throne, and received many manors in Berks from him, fighting for him at Bosworth Field, and being pardoned by Henry. He, however, together with Francis Viscount Lovel, who had obtained the governorship of Wallingford, supported the insurrection of Lambert Simnel at the instigation of his aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and was killed at the battle of Stoke in 1487, when Lord Lovel disappeared. His brother, Suffolk’s second son, Edmund, then succeeded to this castle, and after him Henry Norris, grandson of Sir William Norris, who had a command at Stoke, and was a favourite of Henry VIII., became custodian. It was to this knight that Queen Anne Boleyn, at the tournament at Greenwich on May Day, 1536, dropped her handkerchief, which he, taking it up, pressed to his lips and returned to the Queen upon his lance; whereon Henry, whose suspicions had been aroused already concerning Anne, had Norris arrested for high treason and put him to death. King Henry tried to make him incriminate the Queen to save his life, but this he refused to do, and died on Tower Hill, declaring his belief in her innocence. After him Sir F. Knollys was constable; but by this time Wallingford Castle had become much dilapidated: royalty had taken to live at Windsor, and this fortress fell into decay. In 1540 Leland visiting it wrote: “The castle joins to the N. gate of the town, and has three ditches, large, deep and well watered. About each of the two first dikes as upon the crest of the ground cast out of them runneth an embattled waulle now sore yn ruine, and for the most part defaced; all the goodly buildings with the towres and dungeon (keep) be within the third dike”. The collegiate chapel was still among these, founded by Edmund, son of Richard, King of the Romans. Camden, writing in 1593, says: “In the middle stands a tower raised upon a very high mount, in the steep ascent whereof, which you climb by stairs, I saw a well of an exceeding great depth”; and adds, that the size and magnificence of the place were still such as to amaze him, a lad coming there from Oxford. By the Inquisition of 1555 the collegiate church of St. Nicholas with its tower was standing, though only a shell, and the keep was entire, though much lead had been stolen from it for making water-pipes for Windsor, and the .ashlar facing removed for building the dwellings of the poor knights in the lower ward. Sir W. Knollys was constable early in the seventeenth century, being created Viscount Wallingford, and then Earl of Banbury, and he held the appointment till 1632; then the Earl of Berkshire was elected high steward of the borough of Wallingford, and the title of constable was dropped.
There was enough left of the fortress to put it into an efficient state of defence for the King in the Parliamentary War, and it was placed under the charge of Colonel Blagge, who gallantly kept his colours flying until the very end of the war; Wallingford, after sustaining a siege of 65 days, being the last fortress to yield, with the exception of Pendennis and Raglan. Then, after the fall of Oxford, Fairfax’s regiment was sent to assist Lilburn’s besieging force, and a new summons being sent in, Blagge felt unable to continue the defence, and a treaty, which was most honourable to him, being arranged, Wallingford was surrendered on July 27, 1646. For a time it was used as a prison, till in 1652 the order came for the place “to be demolished and the works effectually slighted”. Accordingly, the whole castle was pulled down and its materials sold for repayment of expenses, any surplus being.handed over for the benefit of any poor who had been sufferers at the hands of the garrison. Little, indeed, remains to show the former magnitude and importance of this fortress. ‘There is now no trace whatever of any masonry on the mounds: nothing, indeed, but a few ruins and remains of earthworks to give an idea of its extent. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)