A 13th century castle with the remains of an octagonal keep, inner and outer moat, and traces of an extramural settlement, situated on the site of an earlier, moated, castle. Used as a hunting lodge by the 15th century. Flint walls with stone dressings. Excavations during 1981-85 located an inner moat, and uncovered remains of buildings beneath the castle keep. The earliest buildings were dated to 1207-14. The keep was assigned to the early 13th century. (Pastscape)
Owned by Hampshire County Council. Open to the public.
At Odiham the Kings of Wessex had a palace, of which there can be no remains, and on its site, in all probability, a castle was built soon after the Conquest, which frequently figures in the history of the three succeeding centuries. For some time it appears to have belonged to the See of Winchester, like Farnham Castle, which, with it, quite commanded the direct route between London and Winchester. King John found himself stranded in this castle with a following of only seven knights immediately before his submission to the confederate barons at Runymede, in 1215, and from hence he set out to hold the great meeting; hither, too, he returned from it in great ill-humour. In the next year Matthew Paris tells us of the siege it sustained at the hands of Louis the Dauphin and a large French army, furnished with all the warlike machines and appliances suitable for such operations in those days, and of the very gallant and extraordinary defence made by the garrison, which consisted of three officers and ten soldiers only. Such was the bravery of this little band that on the third day, when the French began to batter the walls furiously, the three officers with three private men sallied out, and seizing on a like number of the besiegers, officers and men, dragged them back into the castle with them. At last after the siege had gone on for a fortnight they surrendered to the Dauphin, on condition of retaining their freedom, and marched out with their horses and arms and the full honours of war, without having lost a man—to the great astonishment and admiration of the French. Odiham Castle was given by the next king, Henry III., to his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, whose .wife and family made it their principal abode after leaving Kenilworth. This Simon, afterwards one of the great men of English history, a Frenchman, descended from a king of France, came over to England in 1232, to do homage to Henry for lands inherited from his English granchnother, Petronilla, Countess of Leicester. Being “a gentleman of choice blood, education, and feature”, he won the affections of the Princess Eleanor, Henry’s sister, widow of the Earl of Pembroke, and married her in 1238, when the King settled on her for life his royal castle of Kenilworth. But Henry, though he invested Simon as Earl of Leicester in 1239, treated him capriciously and with disfavour, and the next year we find the earl a Crusader in the Holy Land, whence he returned in 1242. He was for several years following employed by Henry in quelling the disaffection and war in Gascony. At this time the position of de Montfort had grown into such eminence in England, that he is said to have been “esteemed above all persons native and foreign”, and therefore when he espoused the popular side, on the breaking out of troubles which arose through the King’s abuse of power and bad faith, he was trusted and followed in his leading, foreigner as he was, by the bulk of the English people. When the Oxford Statutes were passed, the provisions of which form the very origin of our English representative system, de Montfort was at the head of this supreme council, to which the legislative power was in reality transferred, and all their measures were taken by his secret influence and direction. (Hume.) It is difficult to understand, if Hume’s character of him be true as a bold conspirator, with boundless ambition, avarice, and treachery, how he could ever have acquired the love and devotion of the people, who, calling him “the poor man’s friend,” believed in him living and worshipped him dead.
After the battle of Lewes, when the country was at rest, the Princess Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, carne early in 1265 to her husband’s castle of Odiham, and kept great state there. A curious detail of the life and habits of the Princess and her family has lately been brought to light, in the roll of household expenses kept by her steward at Odiham, which was recovered from the wreck of a French nunnery during the Revolution (B. Mus. Add. MSS. 8877), and is the earliest account known of the private expenditure of a household. In those days, when roads were few and bad, all travelling was performed on horseback, and the number of horses necessary for a large establishment was very great, entailing large stabling accommodation, such as we see at Kenilworth. During their stay at Odiham her nephews, Prince Edward (afterwards Edward I.) and his brother Henry, who were hostages to the confederate Barons, were allowed to visit their aunt here, and came with their huntsmen, sporting dogs, and 128 horses; there came at the same time the earl himself with 162 more horses, so that with the forty-four belonging to the countess, her stables had to provide for 334 horses. (Blaauw.) In April, de Montfort’s power began to be threatened, and he quitted Odiham, and his wife, who never saw him again. Then, in May, Prince Edward’s escape from Hereford (see HEREFORD and WIGMORE) rekindled the embers of civil war, and for greater security the Princess left Odiham for Porchester Castle, where her son was governor.
In 1298 the castle with its park and hundred were settled on King Edward’s second Queen, Margaret of France, and (temp. Edward III.) the whole was leased to Sir Robert Brocas for £5 a year. Again they were granted by Henry IV. to Lord Beaumont for his life, and 22 Henry VI. were given to Queen Margaret for life, together with many other castles and manors.
Odiham is also memorable as the place of confinement where David Bruce, King of Scotland, passed the greater part of the eleven dreary years of his captivity; he was taken prisoner at the battle of Neville’s Cross, near Durham, by Sir John Copeland, fighting so valiantly that he caused the loss of most of his captor’s teeth after being himself severely wounded by arrows in the head and leg. The battle was fought in October 1346, the same year as Crecy, during the absence of Edward III. in France. King David was at last released from Odiham on payment of a ransom of 100,000 marks (£66,666 13s. 4d.) Queen Elizabeth visited this castle more than once during some of her royal progresses; afterwards, James I. presented it to Lord Zouche, from whose family the place passed by purchase to the Mildmays, being now (1896) the property of Sir H. St. John Mildmay, Bart.
The situation of the castle, about a mile N.W. of the town, on the left bank of the Whitewater stream, is low and wet, being little raised above the marsh level. It cannot now be known what was its extent, since there are no remains whatever existing except those of the great octagonal tower: other buildings, however, must have stood in its vicinity.
This tower, whose faces are about 22½ feet long, has an internal diameter of 38 feet, and its height may have been 68 feet (Clark); it is built of flint rubble, and had a casing of stone which has disappeared. There was a basement 12 feet high, with six openings for light, the first floor being a grand one, 30 feet in height, with a large fireplace and round-headed windows. The upper storey was 18 feet high. All the floors were of timber and must have been supported by a central pillar, either of stone or of timber, as in the Wakefield Tower at London. Mr. Clark is of opinion that the style is of the English transition from Norman, but that the buttresses, which cap each angle, point rather to the time of Richard I.
A large portion of the W. side has fallen, perhaps weakened by the staircase, which was carried up in the wall to the summit. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)