Motte and bailey castle, first mentioned in 1080. Motte surmounted by the remains of a shell keep probably of 11th century date. Gatehouse of circa 1300 and remains of the bailey wall of circa 1080 are also visible. The remains are incorporated into a Municipal Public Park.
There was a huge prehistoric mound at Tonbridge, 267 yards round at base, and the top 65 feet above river level, and upon this Richard Fitz Gilbert erected a low, stone, shell keep, with buttresses, encircling it with a moat, over which was a drawbridge, and enclosing other two acres beside it with a stockade. On the accession of the Red King, Fitz Gilbert took the side of Robert, the Conqueror’s eldest son, with Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and was besieged in his new fortress by Rufus, when he was wounded, and, after two clays, obliged to surrender the place; then he fled to Normandy, but was taken there, and died in captivity in 1091. His son, Gilbert, succeeded to most of his lands, and took part in two conspiracies against William. One of his sons was Gilbert de Clare, the “Strongbow” of the next generation, and his elder son, Richard, who seems to have been a man of excellent character, and in advance of his time, and who succeeded to Tonbridge and the rest of the immense estates, was killed in Wales in 1136. He married a sister of Ralph, Earl of Chester, and had two sons, Gilbert and Roger, the latter succeeding his father. In his days Becket demanded and obtained homage for the castle of Tonbridge, as an ancient right due to the See. Roger, Earl of Clare, died 1173, and his son Gilbert, who had married Isabella, daughter and co-heiress of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, joined the party of the barons against King John, who sent his henchman, Falk de Brent (sec BEDFORD), to besiege Tonbridge castle, which he succeeded in taking. Gilbert, however, recovered his castle from Henry III., and, as Earl of Gloucester and Hereford, accompanied that king with his army into France in 1230, and died there. His son Richard, a child, became a Royal ward, being placed under the care of Hubert de Burgh. he came of age in 1240, and was married to the daughter anti heiress of John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln.
This powerful noble greatly enlarged, at this time, his castle of Tonbridge, building a grand gatehouse near the mound and keep, whose moat was continued in front of this building. It had two large, semicircular, flanking towers and a drawbridge, with a barbican in advance. The side wall, to the left of the entrance, was continued up the slope of the mound to the wall of the keep, and on the other side was continued along a quadrangular enclosure, of 61 acres extent, defended at intervals by mural towers, and returned at last to the keep, which thus occupied one corner of the enceinte.
Richard, Earl of Gloucester, who had nearly been killed by poison in 1258 (see SCOTNEY, SUSSEX), died in 1262, and .was succeeded by his son Gilbert, called the Red Earl, and a grand inheritance it was : besides his three earldoms, he was owner of the castles of Tonbridge, Aberystwith, Morlais, Haverford, Cardigan, Pembroke, Caerphilly, and others ; he was married to Alice, daughter of Hugh d’Angouleme (Blaauw), whom he divorced. His father had been the jealous compeer of Simon de Montfort in the popular cause, and it behoved him, young as he was, to take part with the Barons at the opening of hostilities against Henry III. At the battle of Lewes he, a newly made knight, led the centre of the Barons’ Army, and it was to him that Henry yielded himself prisoner at the rout of the Royal troops. But de Clare quarrelled with de Montfort soon after, and, withdrawing from him, joined the Royal side. He it was who furnished the rare horse on which Prince Edward escaped from his imprisonment at Hereford Castle (q.v.), and he afterwards took a leading part in the battle of Evesham. But he was of a restless and changeable disposition, and was mistrusted on.all sides, so men were glad when he sailed with Prince Edward for the Crusade to the Holy. Land. But he came back, and after Edward’s accession, had the honour of welcoming him and his queen at Dover, and bringing them to Tonbridge, where he entertained them and their retinue for seven days. In 1290 he married the Princess Joan, daughter of his friend, King Edward. He died at his castle of Monmouth in 1295, aged fifty-five.
Gilbert Rufus left an infant son by the Princess Joan, another Gilbert, and the last earl of his race. The mother married, as her second husband, Ralph de Montherner, and in their charge, at Tonbridge, King Edward left his son Prince Edward, when absent in Flanders, so that the Prince and young de Clare, being full cousins, were partly brought up together, having as a playfellow the handsome son of a worthy Gascon knight, afterwards known as Piers Gaveston. Young Gilbert became a very popular earl, toto regno dilectus, and young as he was, acted as moderator between the young King, Edward II., and his refractory nobles ; he even concurred with Edward in giving his sister Margaret, the King’s niece, to be married to Piers Gaveston. In 1314 the earl accompanied the King to the Scottish war, and fell at Bannockburn, “pierced with a score of Scots’ lances”, aged only twenty-three. Then his three sisters succeeded to the vast estates—Margaret, who after Gaveston’s untimely end had married Hugh de Audley, taking the manors in Kent and Tonbridge. In 1321 Audley took part with the Mortimers and the Earl of Lancaster against the King’s favourites, the Despencers; and when in this quarrel Edward had possessed himself of Leeds Castle (q.v.), and obtained the cession of Chilham also, he passed on to Tonbridge, which seems to have been left undefended, and seizing it, granted the fortress to Hugh Despencer, on whose death it fell again to the Crown.
In Dr. Fleming’s paper on Tonbridge an interesting inventory is given of the effects existing at this castle at the time of its forfeiture : the armour, arms, furnishings, farm stock and other details.
In the next reign Audley was restored to his lost earldom, which he held jure uxoris, and received back this castle. He died 1347, and his only daughter, Margaret, took Tonbridge Castle and Manor to her husband Ralph, Lord Stafford, one of Edward III’ s great leaders, a soldier of high administrative capacity, and a diplomatist who was much employed by Edward abroad. He commanded the van at Crecy, and to him, with Sir Reginald Cobham, is due the record of the slain at that great victory, as returned by the heralds who searched the field : being 11 great princes, 80 bannerets, 1200 knights, and over 30,000 men of all arms. (Dugdale.) He was created Earl of Stafford and Knight of the Garter, and died at Tonbridge in 1373, aged sixty-seven, leaving a son, Hugh, who succeeded him, aged twenty-eight. This Earl Hugh joined in an expedition to Northumberland, his son Ralph, a page of the Queen, being with him. The boy was barbarously murdered by John Holland, the King’s half-brother, whereon the earl, distracted, went to the Crusades, and died at Rhodes in 1387.
He had married Philippa, daughter of Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and was succeeded, first by his elder son Thomas, and at his death s.p. by William, a minor of fourteen, who also died s.p. at Tonbridge, and .was followed by the next brother Edmund, aged twenty, married to his eldest brother’s widow, Anne, daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward Ill., and co-heiress of Eleanor de Bohun, her mother. This Edmund, fifth Earl of Stafford and Lord of Tonbridge, received all his father’s lands and castles from Henry IV., and was killed, fighting on that kings side, at the battle of Shrewsbury, where he com¬manded the van : the first of the five chief members of this powerful family upon whom fell so strange a fatality. He left a son, Humphrey, a child of two, who when nineteen obtained all the property of his ancestors from Henry V1., and was by him created Duke of Buckingham, and constable of Dover and Queenborough Castles. He quarrelled with the great Earl of Warwick as to precedence, and an Act was passed giving each of these nobles a yearly precedency. Humphrey was killed at the battle of Northampton, and was succeeded by his grandson, Henry, whose father, Humphrey, had been slain at the battle of St. Albans. It was this Henry, second duke, who, enticed by Richard, Duke of Glo’ster, sent to him secretly to tell him he would support his usurpation of the Crown .with 1000 soldiers ; and he it was whom Richard sent to take out of sanctuary at Westminster, from their mother’s care, the two young princes to their destruction (Richard III., Act iii. Scene i.) ; who helped the Duke of Glo’ster in all his plots, and then, either disappointed of the Hereford possessions, or feared and threatened by Richard because he knew too much, quarrelled with the usurper and raised a force against him in self-defence. Marching from Wales against the King at Salisbury; he was stopped by the swollen waters of the Severn. His troops, disheartened, left him, and he fled to the house of one of his own retainers, Humphrey Banister, in Shropshire for shelter, but the man for the reward of £1000 delivered him up, and being brought to Salisbury, the duke was at once beheaded by Richard in the market-place there.
By Katherine, daughter of Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, he had three sons, the eldest of whom, Edward, being restored by Henry VII. in 1486 to all his father’s estates and titles, is mentioned as supporting that king in the disturbances about Perkin Warbeck, and became Lord High Constable of England in 1509, being the richest and most powerful noble of the day. He was the constant companion of Henry VIII., and awhile preparing to accompany Henry and Wolsey to France in 1520, he visited his property here ; where finding a clamour raised against his steward, one Knevett, he discharged the man, who revenged himself by divulging certain conversations he had overheard of his master the duke. This was reported to Wolsey, the duke’s enemy, who working upon the King, caused Buckingham to be brought up from Thornbury, arrested, and sent to the Tower on an absurd charge of high treason. After the depositions were read over, the subservient peers, headed by the old Duke of Norfolk, unanimously declared him guilty, and he was beheaded four days later. It was in regard to him, and in allusion to Wolsey’s low birth, that the Emperor Charles V. remarked : “A butcher’s dog hath slain the finest buck in England.” (King Henry VIII., Act i. Scene ii.) (Sec THORNBURY, GLOUCESTERSHIRE.) The high constableship, being then forfeited (with his other honours), became merged in the Crown, and has not been regranted since.
At Duke Edward’s death his lands remained in the hands of the Crown, and in a Survey held at the time the castle of Tonbridge is thus spoken of : “In the Lordship of Tonbridge in Kent is a castle which bath been and yet is a strong fortress, for the three parts thereof ; and the fourth part on the S. side being fortified with a deep running water, was intended to have been made for lodgings, and so resteth on 26 feet height, builded with ashlar, and no more done thereunto. The other three parts of the castle being continued with a great gatehouse, on the first entrys, a dungeon and two towers are substantially builded, with the walls and embattling with good stone, having substantial roofs of timber, and lately well covered with lead. And as unto the said gatehouse, it is as strong a fortress as few be in England, standing on the N. side, and having a conveyance (passage) to a fair square tower, called Stafford Tower, and from thence to another fine fair tower, standing upon the water, nigh to the Town Bridge, being builded eight square, and called the Water Tower. This castle was the strongest fortress, and most like unto a castle of any other that the duke had in England or Wales.”
The place was then granted to, and held by, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland ; and was next given by Queen Mary to Cardinal Pole. Elizabeth bestowed the lordship, manor and castle on her Boleyn cousin, William Carey, creating him Baron Hunsdon ; from whose family they descended by an heiress to the Berkeleys. They were soon after alienated, and the estate was broken up. During the Parliamentary Wars, one Thomas Weller, a staunch Roundhead, leased the castle and put it into a state of defence. In the reign of George I. the castle and manor were purchased from a spendthrift heir by John Hooker, of Peckham, whose son Thomas dismantled the old fabric in 1793, and ” built there the present mock Gothic residence.” (Murray.) Nowadays there is a boys’ school in it, and the owner of the place is Emma, Lady Stafford.
The remains of this great fortress are now chiefly confined to its gatehouse, standing near the Medway, of Early Decorated style—1280 to 1300; the entrance gateway being flanked by two huge semicircular fronted towers, while two smaller circular towers support the angles in rear. It is tolerably perfect : the entrance vault is perforated in a curious way for defence. Below the ground floor of the guard-rooms in the front towers were vaults and a dungeon, entered only from the rooms above by traps, unlighted, and ventilated only by sloping air flues. On the first floor are two chambers and the portcullis room, and above these is the hall, a state apartment, the whole sire of the gatehouse. The curtain wall of the N. front, extending on the W. to the keep, hacl a low Watergate, by which supplies could be brought in from the river on the S. The curtain wall enclosing the enceinte has already been described ; it was generally 10 feet in thickness. At the corner of the wall nearest to the town bridge existed another tower, from which led a wall, built across the mouth of the moat flowing to the gatehouse, to keep the water at a proper level. Between this and the keep .was another small tower, containing two rooms. Along the waterside is seen a sallyport, and W. of this are foundations of buildings added after the time of Edward I.
The old Norman shell-keep was oval, measuring 86 feet and 76 feet in its two diameters, its thick walls being stayed .with strong buttresses ; it stood 100 feet above the river and 70 above the court, and the great mound of it covers an acre. Inside, beyond the modern house, are some fragments of Norman architecture.
Along the river front on the S., where the domestic buildings stood, are some remains of a stone staircase, and culverts front the garderobes, still existing ; and on the S.E. is the bastion tower, rebuilt by the Staffords, commanding the town approaches and bridge ; half-way between this and the port was a chapel, in another bastion facing E., but there are no remains of this. At the end of the last century the piers of the drawbridge existed, and a water tower on the S.W. commanding the sluices. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)