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History of the Goodrich Castle

The Castle is believed to date back to pre-Norman conquest as the site may have been among a number of fortifications along the Welsh border. In Norman times, Goodrich formed part of the Welsh Marshes; territories granted to Norman nobles in and near Wales. Goodrich Castle appears to have been active by 1101, under the name of ‘Godric’s Castle’, probably named after Godric of Mappestone, a local Anglo-Saxon landowner. Initially, it was an earth and timber fortification, however in the middle of the 12th century, the original castle was replaced with a stone keep. At the time, the keep was relatively small and unadorned, easy to maintain and cheap to build.

During the 1130s England descended into anarchy and strife due to a civil war of succession between King Henry I’s daughter Empress Matilda, and his nephew Stephen of Blois. Baderon of Monmouth, who at the time was the Lord of Goodrich Castle, may have built the stone keep as a protection during these early years of conflict. Eventually, Stephen of Blois was victorious and appointed Baderon’s brother-in-law, Gilbert de Claire, who later purchased Goodrich Castle, as the Earl of Pembroke. Richard de Clare, Gilbert’s son, inherited the castle, yet he fell out of favour with King Henry II, and the Castle was then taken into royal hands. It was held by the Crown until 1203 when it was given to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who expanded Goodrich and built an additional towered curtain wall of stone around the existing keep. Later, Marshal’s son Richard took over the castle. Richard allied himself with the Welsh, resulting in King Henry III’s besieging of Goodrich Castle in 1233. Although the Castle reverted briefly to the Crown again, it was later given to William de Valance, King Henry’s half-brother, in 1247. The Castle suffered the threat of invasion continuously, due to the worsening Welsh border situation and the numerous raids. This was why William de Valence began to build a much larger castle around the original Keep from the 1280s onwards. Further additional outer fortifications were also added by De Valence’s heirs.

In 1325, Elizabeth de Comyn, the then current owner of the Castle, was forced to sign over its ownership to one of the Marcher Lords, Hugh le Despenser, after being kidnapped and threatened. After she was released, she married Baron Richard Talbot, who seized back the Castle a year later. The Talbots supported the Lancasters during the English Civil War of the Roses. The Castle was briefly given to the Yorkist William Herbert during this time, but the Talbots later made peace with the King, and regained control of it. Gilbert Talbot, the last heir, died in 1616 with no heirs, and so Goodrich passed into the hands of Henry Grey, the Earl of Kent, until 1740, when it was purchased by Admiral Thomas Griffin.

During the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Castle was held first by Parliament, and then by Royalist forces. The Castle was initially garrisoned for Parliament until the end of 1643, when it was then occupied by a Royalist garrison led by Sir Henry Lingen. In 1646, the Parliamentary Colonels John Birch and Robert Kyrle besieged the castle. They concentrated their efforts on the north-west tower, and using the enormous mortar known as ‘Roaring Meg’, finally succeeded in undermining its foundations. The Tower collapsed and the Royalists surrendered. A year later, the castle started to be ‘slighted’, that is, neglected and ignored until it fell into ruins. The new owner of the castle was the Countess of Kent, who, although given £1,000 for damages, chose not to rebuild the fortification.

By the end of the 18th century, Goodrich Castle had become nothing more than a picturesque ruin, and in fact it was the subject of many paintings and poems at the time. Visitors could even buy a small guidebook about the site in the 1820s, and Victorian tourists were charged a small amount to walk around the Castle. After passing through various owners, Mrs Edmund Bosanquet granted the Castle to the Commissioner of Works in 1920, after which this Office began a programme of repairs.