Wolvesey has been an important residence of the wealthy and powerful Bishops of Winchester since Anglo-Saxon times. Standing next to Winchester Cathedral, the extensive surviving ruins of the palace date largely from the 12th-century work of Bishop Henry of Blois. The last great occasion her was on 25 July 1554, when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain held their wedding breakfast in the East Hall.
On the E. of the cathedral of Winchester are the ruins of the noble episcopal palace of this name, which was built as a strong castle by the warlike Bishop, Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen, in 1138. It extended to the limits of the city in that quarter, close to the branch of the river which skirted it, and the thickness of the outer walls seems to show that they formed also the city’s protection here, before the erection of the later boundary walls. The walls of the keep and a great portion of those of the enceinte are still nearly perfect, and are of .good Norman work. The interior is a ruin, but a considerable part of the partition walls and part of the refectory remain, and contain a fine Norman arch and window. Little can be made out of the Perpendicular chapel, built by Bishop Langton; the E. and S. side remain, and the W. end joins the modern palace. The greater part of the present buildings were erected by Bishop Morley. The name is derived perhaps from that of some Saxon lord of the “ey”, or island, formed once by the river, though the common origin is alleged to be the tribute of wolves’ heads exacted here by Edgar.
As a castle it was besieged by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in the cause of his half-sister the Empress Maud, but, with his ally David, King of Scotland, he was forced to retire from its walls. When Henry II. set about the destruction of all the castles he could put an end to in the kingdom, he dismantled Wolvesey, but still it remained “a castelle well tourid” until the days of Cromwell; for although these princely prelates possessed many other grand houses, the revenues of the See sufficed to keep up their fabrics, which did not always happen with the ordinary proprietors of such costly buildings. It was here that Queen Mary first welcomed her husband, Philip of Spain, and here the marriage festivities and dances took place after that grim bridal.
When Sir William Waller took Winchester in 1644, all but the chapel was dismantled: twenty years later Bishop Morley erected a new palace on the site, which was pulled down by Bishop North at the end of the 18th century, its materials being sold to a builder. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)