Castle, established in 1088, fortified in the late 14th century but described as `ruinous’ by 1441, slighted in 1648. A mock medieval gateway was built on the site in 1777. Inner bailey earthworks and traces of the moat can be seen.
The site is now a public park and the low mound used as a children’s playground is thought to conceal the foundations of an outer gatehouse or barbican.
At the N. of the town, behind the principal street, is the site of this castle, said to have occupied the position of an ancient Saxon earthwork. Nothing appears to be known of the founder, but it became one of the chief seats of the Earls of Warren and Surrey. At the distracted period of the Great Charter, William, sixth Earl of Surrey, after acting on the side of King John, joined the barons, and when Louis the Dauphin was invited to the throne of England, this castle was thrown open to the French.
After the conclusion of the Barons’ War, in 1270, John, the seventh earl, having lost a lawsuit against Alan, Baron de la Zouche, meeting his adversary in the Palace of Westminster, proceeded, in contempt of the laws, to assault him, inflicting wounds which caused his death ; he then fled by boat across the Thames, and sought the shelter of Reigate Castle. King Henry summoned him to answer for his double crime, and, on his refusal, Prince Edward and the Archbishop of York soon appeared before the castle. Before, however, the attack could commence. the earl surrendered, placing himself at the King’s mercy, and the end of the matter was that he had to pay 10,000 marks into the Treasury, and 2000 to de la Zouche’s son. Besides this he had to walk in solemn procession, with fifty knights as “compurgators,” from the Temple to Westminster Hall, and there declare on oath “that the assault was the prompting of hasty rage and not of malice aforethought.” The fines he paid would, according to Hallam, amount to about £2000,000 of our money.
Seven years after this the earl entertained Edward I. with great splendour in his castle at Reigate, and this was the culminating point of its grandeur.
The same Earl John founded a chantry there for the celebration of a daily Mass for his own soul and the souls of his family.
In 1317 the Earl of Surrey sent a party to Canford in Dorset to capture Alice de Lacy, the wife of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and with her consent, as was said, carried her off in triumph to the earl at his castle of Reigate. On their way among the hedges and woods between Haulton and Farnham, her escort, seeing some men and banners moving in the distance, fled and left the lady, but returned and finished their duties of escort on finding the party consisted only of some priests going in procession. The Earl of Lancaster obtained a divorce from his wife, and then, going to Sandal, in revenge, burned Surrey’s castle there, and laid waste his manors N. of the Trent. The tenth Earl, Richard FitzAlan was besieged here by the friends of Richard II., headed by De Vere, Duke of Ireland, but they were repulsed from the walls.
Little is known regarding the causes of the neglect and disrepair into which this castle must subsequently have fallen. Lambarde, who made a perambulation (temp. Elizabeth), says that even then “only the ruyns and rubbishe of an old castle, which some call Holmesdale, were to be seen here”; and Camden, speaking of Reigate, says : “On the E. side standeth a castle, mounted aloft, now forlorne, and for age ready to fall.”
Connected .with Reigate is the following episode in the Civil War, quoted from the “Diary of Public Events,” in Carlyle’s “Cromwell.”
July 5, 1648.—Young Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, with his brother Francis, Lord Peterboro, the Earl of Holland, and others, who will pay dear for it, started up about Kingston-on-Thames with another insurrectionary armament. Fairfax and the army being all about Colchester in busy siege, there seemed a good opportunity here.
They ride to Reigate, several hundreds strong, and before they can be interfered with, take possession of the town and its old castle. A detachment of Parliamentary cavalry is sent against them, and attacks and drives in the guards which they had stationed upon Red Hill. Next morning the cavaliers leave Reigate, their assailants following close, and they come into action between Nonsuch Park and Kingston. After as gallant a defence and as sharp a charge as was ever seen in these unhappy wars, says Major Audeley, the Parliamentary commander, the Royalists are driven off the field, leaving poor Lord Francis Villiers standing with his back against a tree, defending himself till he sinks under his wounds. Being pursued across the river, they fell into the lion’s jaws ; for Fairfax sent a party from Colchester who overtook them at St. Neots, and captured, killed, and entirely dispersed them. The Earl of Holland stood his trial afterwards, and lost his head ; the Duke of Buckingham got off ; Lord Peterborough got off, too, and wandered in foreign parts in a totally ruined condition (see BLETCHINGLEY, SURREY).
Salmon says that Lord William Monson had this demolished castle and manor after the Commons War. It .was forfeited at the Restoration, and was enjoyed by the Duke of York (i.e. James II), until the Revolution of 1688, when Lord Somers had a grant of it.
At the end of the last century, some portions of the outer walls remained, but at the present day no masonry at all is visible. On the top of the hill is a broad ditch, now dry, surrounding an area of nearly two acres, and in the centre of this is the opening to a flight of stairs, .with an incline and passage 235 feet long, leading down into a cave cut out of the sandstone rock, 123 feet long, 13 wide, and 11 high ; in one part is a sort of crypt 50 yards long, hawing a seat of stone in it. The whole was perhaps a storehouse, and also a prison ; bud a tradition exists that in this cave the barons held a council before meeting King John at Runimede, a very unlikely proceeding, since the castle then belonged to the Royalist Earl de Warenne. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)