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Latest update: 9th January 2006


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Eardisley Castle, Herefordshire

Plan of castle site in 2005 - motte-and-bailey mark castle structures still evident; the red shaded areas are the buildings of Castle Farm or Castle House.
map by John Hawes, in Mason, frontispiece.

Click here for current aerial photograph of the castle site.
Eardisley Castle, or the castle proper

Domesday's Gaze: the snapshot of 1087

All writers on the history of either Eardisley Parish or Eardisley Castle seem to agree that the earliest mention of the site is contained in William the Conqueror's inventory of his new kingdom, the Domesday Book, compiled by survey in 1087. The entry for the site reads:

The same Roger [de Lacy] holds HERDESLEGE [Eardisley], and Robert [de Baskerville] of him. Edwi held it. This land pays no geld, neither does it give any customary dues, nor does it lie in any hundred. It is situated in the midst of a certain wood, and there is one fortified house there. On the demesne is 1 plough, and [there are] 2 serfs and a Welshman rendering 3 shillings.[in Page: 332]

William Page edited the Victoria County History volume on Herefordshire, and he chronicles the various references to the site throughout the volume. It is useful to consider Page's records, as they help to illuminate the sometimes cryptic references in Domesday.

Roger de Lacy or Laci was the son of Walter de Lacy. Page states that Walter de Lacy (from Lassy, in Calvados, Normandy) ...was the chief recipient of Herefordshire lands [after the conquest], those of his son and successor Roger filling more than five columns of Domesday Book. Walter, whom Earl William placed at what was afterwards Ewyas Lacy [now Longtown] ... is found with his Lord fighting the Welsh, but when Earl William's son Roger rose in revolt, Walter espoused the King's side, and thus made himself secure. He was a benefactor to St. Peter's Hereford and was accidently killed [there] shortly before the Survey while inspecting the work done for him at the religious house."

Edwi was an Anglo-Saxon earl who had held Eardisley before the conquest - one of seventeen such manors that he held, including Weobley which later became the seat of the de Lacy's. Unfortunately Domesday givers no indication of whether Edwi had already established a Saxon manor on the site, although this cannot be ruled out. Edwi's son Elwin or Alwyn was allowed to retain two of his father's manors, but only as a tenant of the de Lacy's. It is not clear what became of Edwi himself, although clearly his support for King Harold had cost him dearly.

The castle building: some descriptions

The Reverend Charles Robinson, in his History of the Castles of Herefordshire published in 1869 described the castle's strategic location:

Situated in the rich valley of the Wye and on the high road into England, Eardisley was exposed to frequent attacks from Welsh marauders...(52)
He also provides the oldest eye-witness description of the site I have found so far:
The Castle stood upon the western side of the Church on high ground insulated by a triple moat. The mound on which the donjon [citadel, or tower] stood and the wet ditches which encircle it are all the traces of the ancient fortress which now [1860s] exist. Not a fragment of the castle remains and even the few chiselled stones which are visible in the Farm house walls seem rather to have belonged to the Manor House which occupied the Castle site than to the older [Domesday] building. Spear heads and armour have been found from time to time in the inner moat and the labourers employed in cleansing it a few years ago, discovered a massive piece of masonry which had probably formed a part of the ancient draw-bridge or sluice-gate [Richardson: 56]

William Page, the Victoria County History editor, provided this sketch plan and description of the castle site about 40 years later in the early 20th century:

Plan of the castle site in the early 20th century - note the moated streams and ramparts defining the enclosures and guarding the mount, which may be the original site, now built over, of the fortified house of 1087.
[Page: 237]
The village and castle of Eardisley lie 4 miles (6.4kms) south-east of Kington, on land 240ft.[75 metres] above sea level. The stream extending on the northern side and the arm flowing from north-west to south-east afforded considerable natural protection to the site. The plan can only be regarded as approximately correct, as the remains are in somewhat chaotic condition. A small mount 20ft. to 30ft. [6 - 10 metres] high, with a level summit 42ft. [14 metres] in diameter, is the leading feature. On its north-east is a base-court, roughly horseshoe-shaped [marked 'B' on the plan above], defended by a water moat. The long inclosure on the west [right of mark 'A'] was once defended with a moat and rampart on all sides, and between it and the mount is a singularly-shaped court [marked 'E']. A farmhouse and buildings, erected in the base-court [marked 'B'], have added to the destruction of the traces of the old work, and no masonry is visible. The water from the streams filled the moats efficiently, and now turns two mills, one on the north, the other on the south.

We learn from Domesday ... [that] no castle is mentioned, but una domus defensabilis (a house capable of defence) is mentioned. No antiquary viewing the earthworks, especially the odd shape of the court west of the mount, can doubt that the whole castrametation has been altered, and that probably a mount stronghold with its attached horseshoe-shaped court has been dumped upon or within an earlier work. It is probable that the domus defensabilis occupied an earlier work, the mount and court structure being erected subsequently to the period of Domesday (1086). [Page 236-237]

Eardisley Camp and Lemore Mount: can they tell us something about the castle?

Eardisley Camp, about 4 kilometres to the north-west of the Castle, is a circular mount about 1.5 metres in height with a platform of about 15 metres in diameter, surrounded by a shallow moat connected to a nearby stream. Page [250] describes it as a 'moated platform for a dwelling house', with the name referring to a local legend that this was the site of a Roman encampment, 'for which there is no foundation'. Watkins [34] identifies this as Ceasar's Camp or Caractacus's Camp. Page [200] notes that these 'camps' along the western Marches indicate the need for defensive strongholds to protect the inhabitants and form part of a defensive chain. The camp differs from Lemore Mount, about 2.5 kilometres directly north of the castle and which, although similar in its earthwork form of between 1.5 and 2 metres in height with a circular platform about 25 metres in diameter, and surrounded by a moat connected to a stream, is possibly of a later date. Page [226] notes that there appear to be traces of ramparts, and that despite a local legend that this was a castle it is likely to be moated homestead. Page [200] notes that there are a number of these homestead moats in Herefordshire of a moat or fosse dug in a circular plan with the earth dug from it thrown into a heap forming an island slightly raised above the surrounding land.

In October 2005 I put forward an argument that although defensive needs are evident, the Camp and the Mount seem to be a second-line of defence, beyond the initial line suggested by Eardisley Camp. Page makes no connection between these two sites and the castle proper, and although they may not have a manorial link to the castle, the three sites together paint a picture of the precarious and militaristic nature of Norman settlement on the Briton/Saxon frontier in the 11th and 12th centuries, which would have been familiar to the Baskerville lords of Eardisley. It can also be noted that Eardisley Camp is located much higher up the mountain escarpment that rises westwards of Eardisley Castle (at about 230 metres above sea level, compared to the castle's 75 metres), while Lemore Mount is also on a higher level to the castle (at about 140 metres), which suggests that their locations were guided by tactical considerations as presumably any attackers would have to get past these two 'fortlets' before reaching the castle.

Mal Mason, of Eardisley Local History Group (ELHG) has considered this argument and offers an alternative, drawing upon his knowledge of the local topography and history. In November 2005 he wrote briefly:

The most recent reassessment of Eardisley Camp site from recent aerial photographs suggests it is a henge, pre-Roman. See here. It has been suggested that Lemore was the site of the other domus, although I have some doubts about the view that the outliers were linked, my reading of the geography would not support this thesis.
In January 2006 Mal expanded on his argument as follows:
The evidence seems to present some contradictions. Looking at the sites I do not think they offered a strategic defence of the frontier: neither site dominates the landscape or would have offered extensive views in a wooded area - in fact the house at 'Ailey', if its location was indeed near the present Lemore, is hidden in a fold. I do not think that either of these sites could have been defended against a determined incursion without a very large garrison. One plausible theory about motte and bailey castles is that they relied on defence in depth and mutual support to discourage attack. So if our two houses were part of this system, why does Domesday refer to them specifically as defensabilis, implying they differed from a standard Mott and bailey?
When looking at Domesday I am struck by the fact that the surrounding villages seem to be relatively prosperous in 1086, and some are further west than Eardisley. This suggests to me that this was not a 'defended' frontier under threat, but was relatively stable. If we accept the argument that they are not strategic there seem to be two other explanations. The first is that they were indeed domus defensabilis - more a place of refuge - a tactical strongpoint rather than a strategic outpost. Alternatively, their purpose was political; they were placed there to intimidate the populace.
I find further support for this view in the position of the village. It's position does not make sense - it is on low lying ground that is prone to flooding, surrounded by indifferent farmland. Why is this village here? The sensible site would be on the rising ground to the north. One is drawn to the conclusion that the site was determined by political considerations, not geography. I'm sure the question of why these houses were here (or even exactly where they were) is one that is central to understanding the development of this village and possible has a wider relevance to the history of the western part of the county.
Mal's arguments are compelling, and suggest that Norman settlement patterns in the Marches were driven as much by political as military needs, and that frontiers are rarely as simple as lines on a map suggest.

Eardisley Camp
[Page: 250]
Lemore Mount
[Page: 226]

The Model Castle

The development by the Normans of their fortified houses into castles was a feature of many of the Marches manors in the troubled years after Domesday. The word "castle" (castel) was introduced into English by the Norman knights whom Edward the Confessor had sent for to defend Herefordshire against the inroads of the Welsh. The essential feature of this early castle was a circular mound of earth surrounded by a dry ditch and flattened at the top. Around the crest of its summit was placed a timber palisade. This moated mound was styled in French motte (in Latin, mota), and became generally known as a motte-and-bailey type of castle. The earth for the mound would be taken from a ditch dug around the motte or around the whole castle. The outer surface of the mound could be covered with clay or strengthened with wooden supports. In addition to the mound, the citadel of the fortress, there was usually appended to it a bailey or basecourt (and sometimes two, an inner and outer) of semilunar or horseshoe shape. The bailey is an enclosed courtyard, typically surrounded by a wooden fence and overlooked by the motte. Motte-and-bailey castles could be very quickly erected; according to records, William the Conqueror built one at Pevensey in eight days. The rapidity and ease with which it was possible to construct castles of this type made them characteristic of the Norman Conquest period in England and of the Anglo-Norman settlements in Wales, Ireland and the Scottish lowlands. In later days a stone wall replaced the timber palisade and produced what is known as the shell-keep. A contemporary description of the early motte-and-bailey castles reads:

The rich and the noble of that region being much given to feuds and bloodshed, fortify themselves ... and by these strongholds subdue their equals and oppress their inferiors. They heap up a mound as high as they are able, and dig round it as broad a ditch as they can ... Round the summit of the mound they construct a palisade of timber to act as a wall. Inside the palisade they erect a house, or rather a citadel, which looks down on the whole neighbourhood (Clark, in Wikipedia)
Secondary buildings were constructed in the bailey, and more structures were incorporated as castle complexes grew. In the 12th century the crusades offered opportunities to western engineers of studying the solid fortresses of the Byzantine empire, one lesson being that a second line of defences should be built within the main enceinte, or protective wall, and a third line or keep inside the second. For two centuries after the Norman Conquest castles were of critical importance in English political struggles, revolts and warfare. The demise of the castle's strategic role was due to the introduction of gunpowder as a propellant. In the 14th century the change begins, in the 15th it is fully developed, in the 16th the feudal fastness has become an anachronism. The general adoption of cannon placed in the hands of the king a force which ruined the baronial fortifications in a few days of firing.

The descriptions of the place in the early 20th century given Page indicate that Eardisley Castle was typical of the motte-and-bailey castles of the Norman conquest and early occupation of the Marches.

Feudalism and the Lord of the Manor

It is necessary to have some understanding of the feudal system, in which (very simply) the King owned all property, but 'leased' some if it to his chief supporters (generally known as barons), who in turn 'sub-leased' parts of those estates to their chief supporters (usually knights), and so on through several social levels. At the lower end of the system, peasants without land provided various services to those immediately above them in return for the use of the land, such as farming, orcharding, herding and so on. Roger de Lacy, therefore, held his many estates in the county directly from the king, and he in turn 'sub-let' these properties to several of his retainers, including Robert de Baskerville.

Other Marcher Barons in Herefordshire in the 1080s besides Roger de Lacy were William Fitz-Osbern (the 'Earl William' referred to by Page above), Ralf de Mortimer in the north of the county, based in Wigmore Castle; and Ralph de Tosni at Castle Clifford, which commanded the Wye Valley routes into Wales (Page 274-278).

Robert de Baskerville (from Basqueville, Normandy) may have arrived in the Marches with Walter de Lacy. He held five separate estates, or manors, from Roger de Lacy in 1087, strung along the northern side of the Wye Valley between Wales and Hereford city, and was one of de Lacy's larger tenants.

Herdeslege was already becoming a manor within 20 years of the Norman invasion, and the Baskervilles would be the lords of that manor for nearly six hundred years, even as the barons they paid homage to for their feifdom changed over that time.

Isolation in the forest

The isolation of Herdeslege/Eardisley in 1087 is clearly attested to by the description This land pays no geld, neither does it give any customary dues, nor does it lie in any hundred. It is situated in the midst of a certain wood. It was not returning any statutory taxation (geld), nor any payments derived from ancient customs. It did not lie in any hundred, which was a basic unit of administration in Anglo-Saxon and Norman England, a division of a county which would itself be subdivided into hides. It lay in the 'midst of a certain wood', indicating that although there was cultivation around the site, it was entirely enclosed by forest, making a formidable barrier to most people at that time.

Map showing places around Herdeslege (Eardisley) identified in the Domesday survey in 1087: Wales is the blank, left side of the map; the red-coloured place names are manors owned by the King, the black-underlined manors are Roger de Lacy's - the King's manors were in Wales, and Herdeslege's border position is highlighted
[Page, facing 309]

Isolation, however, did not mean worthless. The demesne was the working land from which resources and income could be directly drawn by the Lord of the Manor. Herdeslege had a demesne, and some idea of the extent of this land can be understood by the reference to '1 plough'. A plough, in this sense, is not so much implement as a measurement - a plough team consisted of eight oxen, and generally four oxen where under the control of a single serf - hence the '2 serfs' identified in the survey. These two men between them sowed and harvested a crop of some sort on as much of the demesne as could be worked by a 'plough', or two teams of oxen, in return for protection in times of trouble, illustrating the reciprocal nature of feudal obligations. Presumably the also had their families with them who also worked the land and in the house. The other person, 'a Welshman', is also identified by the nature of his feudal obligation - he pays 3 shillings per year in return, presumably, for protection and other guarantees. The Welsh living in Herefordshire were generally described by their rendering of either money or, more usually, sestiers (a measure of volume, equal to about 150 litres) of honey, which they presumably gathered from the heathlands adjoining the forests. The forest, or 'certain wood', was of great value: it would have been a source of fuel wood, fencing and building timbers, pannage (grazing for herds of pigs, especially on fallen acorns), and hunting for food, profit and pleasure.

The Historical Records and their Interpretations

Several historians have written about Eardisley Castle, usually as part of a wider survey of Norman or Civil War sites or as part of a local history. The histories of Robinson (1869), Watkins (1897), Page (1908) and Mason (2005) are being integrated and summarised below.

The 1080s to the 1270s: in the time of the Norman, Angevin and early Plantagenet dynasties - On the frontline of Norman occupation, Welsh resistance and the Baron's Wars

Robinson considered that the 'domus defensibilis' described in 1087 "probably partook more the character of a Saxon earth and timber work than of a Norman fortalice ... It seems probable that it was converted into a regular fortress as early as the twelfth century" [52]. By the 1190s is was recognised that the Lordship of Eardisley (the area under control of the Lord of the Manor of Eardisley) was geographically part of Herefordshire, but politically part of the Marcher Lordships [Page: 360-361]. The manor was of some importance by this time, and in 1225 Sir Walter de Baskerville was granted a right to hold a fair at the site on the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene [Watkins: 35]. In 1240 the manor of Eardisley passed to the de Bohuns [Page: 363]. In 1251 Humphrey de Bohun had granted the manor of 'Irdesle' to Sir Walter de Baskerville, although the family claimed at that time that they had held it since the marriage of Sir Ralph de Baskerville to Sybil, the heiress of Adam de Port and a grand-daughter through her mother of Milo Fitzwalter, Earl of Hereford [Richardson: 54]. Watkins states that Sybil le Port was the first wife of Robert de Baskerville, and that he obtained the manor through this marriage [34]. This would date their original occupation to the the early 1100s, but it must be remembered that these claims were being made some two centuries after the event. Sir Ralph is recorded holding lands under Adam de Port by inheritance from the time of Henry I (1100-1135); and that upon Sir Ralph's murder in Northamptonshire about 1194 one son, Roger, succeeded him at Eardisley and another, Thomas, at Pickthorn, their Shopshire manor [Richardson: 54].

During the ongoing conflict between Prince Llywelyn ap Ionwerth of Gwynedd and Henry III, the Welsh defeated Roger de Mortimer, the King's chief supporter, and drove him from Wigmore Castle, and just after Christmas 1262 plundered the manors of the kings supporters, including Eardisley and Weobley [Richardson: 52-53; Page: 364]. Prince Edward took charge of the Royal forces, and drove Llywelyn ap Ionwerth back into Wales, but then conflict broke out with some of the barons and one of Llywelyn ap Ionwerth's allies, the rebel Earl of Leicester, captured the Bishop of Hereford (one of Henry's allies) and held him in captivity in Eardisley Castle [Page: 365]. The Sheriff of Gloucester was also seized and held in Eardisley Castle with the bishop [Richardson: 53]. Watkins states that Sir Walter de Baskerville had followed his liege-lord Sir Humphrey de Bohun in his support for the rebel barons, and after their failure at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 he had fled to France with other rebels.

The collapse of the barons left the county in a lawless state, and raiders plundered the countryside [Page: 365]. It seems that the Baskerville's were not living in the castle when it fell to Llywelyn ap Ionwerth, although it remained the property of Humphrey de Bohun their leige-lord. De Bohun was one of the rebel barons, and when Edward I ascended the throne in 1272 he took it from the de Bohuns and gave it to Roger de Clifford, who had been a staunch supporter of the royal cause [Richardson: 53]. In 1274 Edward I pardoned Sir Walter Baskerville and other rebels [Watkins: 35], and the Baskervilles appear to have soon been back in the castle. Although the castle suffered some destruction by the Welsh, it had remained secure enough to imprison the Bishop and Sheriff for some time. However, when the Baskervilles returned they were probably engaged in some sort of rebuilding project for their new liege-lord, especially as the general lawlessness of the period required even stronger defences. A few years later the de Bohuns were again supporting the king, and regained the lordship of Eardisley [Richardson: 53]. Sir Walter died in 1284 and, having no sons, the manor was inherited by his brother Sir Richard.

During all the turmoil of establishing a presence on the frontier the Baskervilles had made several strategic marriages. Robert de Baskerville, lord of the manor in 1087, had married firstly the Norman Sybil, daughter of Adam le Port; then the Welsh Agnes, daughter of Galfred Rees [Watkins: 40], otherwise known as Agnes, the heiress of Nesta, the daughter of Rhys ap Gruffydd, Prince of South Wales [Erwin]; Robert's son Sir Ralph married the daughter of Drogo, Lord of Clifford Castle; his son Sir Robert married the daughter of Sir Rothes le Gros [the Fat], Lord of Orcop; and his son or grandson Sir Walter married the daughter of the Earl of Shropshire [Watkins: 40]. These marriages established a network of dynastic alliances of both Norman and Welsh families, and brought to the Baskervilles several new manors, such as Orcop.

A timber and earth fortified house was in existence by 1087 with a Baskerville mesne-lord. The original source of their lordship was is not clearly recorded, although it soon became a fief of the de Bohuns as Earls of Hereford. Sometime in the 1260s, during Llywelyn ap Ionwerth's Welsh invasions and then the Baron's Wars, the fortified house was attacked and plundered, then used as a jail, and the Baskervilles dispersed with the mesne-lord going into exile until pardoned by a new king, allowing the family to return and rebuild the castle. As they consolidated their physcial presence in the Marches by the rebuilding of the castle, they also consolidated their social presence through intermarriages with other Marcher families, Welsh and Norman. By the time the Plantagenets had consolidated their hold on the throne under Edward I the Baskervilles were permanently settled at Eardisley.

The 1280s to 1485: in the times of the Plantagenet dynasty - Consolidation as the chief residence of the Baskervilles

Sir Walter de Baskerville held a licence from the Bishop of Hereford in 1272 "to hold divine service in an oratory [a chapel] built within the walls of the Castle", by which time Eardisley had become the chief residence of the family. Sir Richard de Baskerville was summoned to Parliament in 1297 as Lord of Eardisley and Orcop, and of Stretton Sugwas. In 1317 the various Baskerville manors were divided amongst several heirs [Watkins: 37-38]. A later Sir Richard took the side of his de Bohun liege-lord again in a rebellion against the Crown, but was pardoned in 1321, and the following year he divided his 8 manors, including Eardisley, among his grandsons as his son had predeceased him [Watkins: 38]. In 1372 the Earldom of Hereford became extinct, and the lordship of Eardisley passed back to the Crown, with the king becoming the liege-lord. When Sir Richard de Baskerville died in 1375 a jury found that he held the castle from the de Bohuns. By this time the Baskerville's had been living at the castle site for nearly 200 years [Richardson: 53-54]. During the time the Baskervilles had married into other Norman families such as Touchet, Brugge, Poyntz and de Caux, or Welsh families such as Rhys/Rees and Montgomery.

In 1403 Eardisley was one of several castles order to be placed in a state of defence against the uprising of Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr (1400-1406) - that is, they should be repaired and ready in case of an emergency - and Nicholas Montgomery was appointed to take charge of the preparations at Eardisley [Page: 369], although there does not seem to be any evidence of an attack happening. In 1421 Sir John Baskerville of Eardisley Castle was one of several local lords to fight at Agincourt [Page, 372]. In 1448 the Bishop of Hereford brought charges of adultery against Sir John Baskerville, who was living with Joanna Brayn at the castle despite them both being otherwise married! [Watkins: 38]. He was succeeded by Sir James, who married Sybil Devereaux, daughter of the Lord of Weobley, and became a strong supporter of the House of York. Sir James divided the income of 'Irdesley', valued at 343 per year, between his five sons. In 1459 he was directed to answer for robberies and other acts of violence committed by him.

The castle under the Plantagenets had, despite several interruptions, become the chief residence of the Baskervilles. They continued to support their liege-lords the de Bohuns, Earls of Hereford, in their various conflicts with the Crown until the earldom was extinguished. They then transferred their loyalties to the Crown, preparing to defend the kingdom against Owain Glyndwr's Welsh armies, and supporting Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt. However, as the Plantangenets declined under Henry VI they transferred their loyalties to the Yorkists under Edward IV, and despite several setbacks, this eventually lead them to support Henry Tudor when he contested the throne. After the victory over Glendower, the Castle itself was not threatened by military action, although it was probably substantially repaired and upgraded. The Baskerville lords took no Welsh wives after Glendower, but as the mesne-lords they raised several generations of Welsh-Norman sons there, dividing their various estates among them in each generation.

From 1485 to 1603: in the times of the Tudor dynasty - The Knightly Squires of Eardisley:

Sir James Baskerville had been an MP for Herefordshire since 1476, and served three times as Sheriff of the County [Watkins: 39]. In 1486 he was created a Knight Banneret by the victorious Henry VII on the battlefield at Stoke [Page, 377], and a Knight of the Bath at Henry's coronation. This initiated a closer relationship with the Royal Court. Several of the Baskerville lords were sheriffs of the county; Sir James' son Walter was made a Knight of the Bath on the marriage of Henry VII's heir, Prince Arthur in 1501; and Sir Humphrey Baskerville was made a ward in 1594 of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex and close companion of Queen Elizabeth.

This was also a period when the succession to the Baskerville manors passed several times to brothers or nephews due to a lack of sons, while the marriages of the Baskerville lords show a pattern of dynastic alliances. Devereaux, Vaughan, Breynton and Scudamore were all other old Norman-Welsh families now becoming 'English'. Only Sir Walter, knighted at Prince Arthur's wedding in 1501, had married a Welsh wife, Anne, daughter of Morgan ap Jenkin ap Philip de Pencoyd [Watkins: 39-40].

Henry VIII brought about the political union of England and Wales in 1536. One of the consequences was the creation of the Hundred of Huntington, which included Eardisley. Many of the marcher privileges and liberties were abolished, as the Hundred became subject to English rather than Welsh or Marcher law. However, the feudal obligation to raise men for the king's armies remained in operation. A Catholic uprising in northern England in 1536 resulted in the leading knights of the shire being summoned to support the King. Sir James Baskerville of Eardisley Castle was one of four who had to provide 100 men each, which was the obligation of a knight banneret, which he raised by exercising feudal obligations. A few years later in 1544 Sir James was again called upon to provide men for the army, this time to fight in France.[Page: 378]

Eardisley Castle during the Tudor period was an important centre in western Herefordshire as the seat of several leaders in the county administration. Regular attendance at court was costly, and the manor estates must have returned good incomes to support the Baskerville lords, as well as supported a fairly large population from which several generations of soldiery were recruited. Strategic marriages between the county's leading families overcame old animosities between them, while good relations with the Court prevented regional rivalries with the Crown. The Castle must have been the scene of much pageantry as well as the centre of local administration, and was presumably well maintained and fully inhabited by the large families of the Baskerville lords.

From 1603 to 1684: in the times of the Stewart dynasty - Decline, destruction and dispersal of the mesne-lords of Eardisley

The importance of the family began to decline in the early 17th century. The income of Eardisley Manor declined from 3000 per year to 300 per year, and much of the estate was sold off by Sir Humphrey Baskerville during the reign of James I (1603-1625). When the Civil War broke out between the King and Parliament in 1642, Sir Humphrey took the side of the King, although was not actively engaged in the struggle. The Castle was burnt to the ground during the War, except for one of the gatehouses [Richardson: 55]. As lord of the manor Sir Humphrey and his predecessors would have been subject to frequent and heavy fines (i.e. ad hoc taxes) on their estates, and to providing 'reliefs' to minors when they became of an adult age. This meant that manorial families often ran up large debts that could often only be paid off by the rents and tithes they received from their tenants or by advantageous marriages [Mason: 4]. As the size of the Baskerville families seemed to increase during the Tudor period these factors may help explain the family's financial situation of the early 1600s.

Page describes the Civil War events in Herefordshire [393-401]. In the winter of 1644 the Royalist forces had lost northern England at the Battle of Marston Moor, and were falling back towards Bristol. In February 1645, however, Shopshire, the county north of Herefordshire, fell to the parliamentary forces, and northern Herefordshire was suddenly exposed, with only Ludlow Castle near the border preventing outright invasion. The royalist commander Colonel Scudamore was having difficulties feeding, housing and arming his men, and the local people began organising to resist these continual demands. In the spring of 1645 they marched on Hereford, complaining of the depredations of the soldiery, and threatening, among other things, to burn the houses of anyone who provided already scarce supplies to the army. In April Prince Rupert (the King's brother) marched through northern Herefordshire, but by June the tide was running against the royalists. On 22nd June the Scottish army took Canon Frome, on the county's northern-eastern border; while other parliamentary forces began to succeed in Wales, gradually isolating the county. Hereford was beseiged by the Scots at the end of July until September, who caused considerable damage in the county in their searching for food, recruits and quarters. The King was becoming trapped, and in September tried to flee westwards but was cut-off at Dorstone, only 8 kilometres south of Eardisley; and in December Hereford was again beseiged, this time soon falling to the parliamentary forces. Only Goodrich Castle, on the southern border, held out until the King was captured. Goodrich Castle, containing representatives of almost all the leading families of Herefordshire, finally surrendered on 31st July 1646, thus ending the last stand in the county for the King.

A search of the International Genealogical Index shows that Sir Humphrey's eldest son Thomas married Frances Pember in 1640 at Eardisley, and had eleven children between 1642 and 1656. Most of them were baptised at Eardisley, but three were baptised at Almeley, about 4 kilometres north east of Eardisley, in 1643, 1644 and 1647, with another baptism at Eardisley in 1646, finally returning to Eardisley by 1648. The Pembers had some associations with Almeley, while the old castle farm in the village was owned by the Milbournes, who were related to the Baskervilles [Richardson: 3 and Watkins: 41], and the baptism records indicate that the family moved between the two villages during the war, perhaps to the Pembers for the birth of three children. It is possible that the destruction of the castle occurred when the family was, if not living out the way in Almeley, then taking refuge there away from the fighting, and that they had returned to live in the gatehouse by 1648.

Immediately after the fall of Hereford the county's Royalists had their estates sequestered. About 270 people found themselves in this situation, and between them they were fined some 43,700, as well as loosing their annual rents and tithes from their tenants. In 1647 the sequestrations in Huntington Hundred (including Eardisley) were suspended on account of corruption amongst the Sequestration Commissioners, and this remained a problem until the end of the sequestrations, presumably pointing to a wave of puritan carpetbagging. In 1646 a tax of 600 per week was levied on the county for the maintenance of the occupying armies, and the next year a further levy of 168 per month was added for the same purpose [Page: 397]. The payment of these fines was essentially a function of the county's 'old families', which broke many who had already committed significant financial resources to the Royalist cause.

Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Thomas Baskerville of Eardisley was accused of being the first to sign a petition for trying Charles I, of causing Charles II to be proclaimed a traitor, and of taking the names of all who lit bonfires to welcome Charles II back to England and threatening them with punishment [Page: 400]. The bitterness and civil war is here evident: did Thomas seek to ameliorate the sequestrations of his already ruined estate by changing sides?, or did he and his father always differ on the matter of king or parliament?; or was he scared away from the royalist cause by the burning of the castle by the locals because of his father's support?; or did the threats of punishing the bonfire lighters indicate some sort of denial of the return of the old order now that he had cast his lot in with the puritans?

Sir Humphrey died in 1647, just after the end of the Civil War. During his life he had seen the manor shrink, and then seen the Castle burnt down in the last days of the war. He had married Elizabeth Coningsby, daughter of one of the wealthier men in the county, but this had not saved the manor [Watkins: 39-41].

Upon his death he was succeeded by his son Thomas, but of Thomas' five sons only one seems to have survived him. Either Sir Humphrey or Thomas moved the family into the gatehouse where they were living in 1670 'in comparative poverty' [Richardson: 55]. When Thomas died in 1683 an inventory of his possessions suggests that their 'poverty' was relative to the other county gentry. As well as foods and cider, the three most valuable items were three old feather beds, all the linen in 'great trunks', and 'His Library of Books of all sorts', with a total value of some 40. A notable feature is that almost all of the furniture is described as 'old' or 'very old', and that the library was still intact, all suggesting that some significant contents of the castle had survived the fire, including 7 beds and 5 cupboards, but hadn't been replaced or upgraded since. Perhaps the most poignant item is 'One little old broken Silver Spoon, value 1s 6d'. The inventory also gives some indication, through it's list of rooms with tables in them, of the architecture of the Gatehouse: '...the Great Chamber ... ye Hall ... ye Kitchen ..ye Diary House ...Ye Great Lodge'. The itemsiation of the various beds indicates about five bedrooms. This suggests that the Dairy and possibly the Kitchen and the Great Lodge are separate buildings, while the main building has two principle rooms and some five bedrooms. [Mason: 5]. It is interesting to note that the present building on the site has a separate building housing the kitchen, dairy and bakehouse, while the main building had no such service rooms [Mason: 4].

Thomas, the first lord of the manor not to be a knight, was succeeded by his only living son Benhail who, after only one year, died in 1684, his entry in the parish burial register being annotated Dominus Maneri de Erdisley (Lord of Eardisley Manor). Benhail had no sons, and the remaining estate, including the gatehouse and the castle site, was sold to William Barnesley, a London solicitor [Richardson: 55].

The resources of Eardisley manor had been dissipated during the early 17th century for reasons as yet not clear, and the outbreak of the Civil War seemed to expose these problems. Matching the sequence of Civil War events to Eardisley is not clear-cut. In the spring of 1645 a state of semi-lawlessness existed as local people resisted the demands for supplies and men - threats to burn the houses of anyone who did so suggest one cause of the destruction of Eardisley Castle. The Scottish army may have passed through the village in the summer, although this seems unlikely, but they may have come through later in the summer taking supplies while they beseiged Hereford (only 20 kilometres away), and by Autumn parliamentary forces coming through Wales were only a few kilometres from Eardisley. There were several opportunities for the castle to be torched during this turmoil. The Baskervilles had moved between Eardisley and Almeley, perhaps because Almeley, not being on a main route, seemed safer at a time of threat which seemed to be coming from the north rather than the more familiar west.

Mason summarises the families fortunes in this way:

The position of the bulk of their lands right on the border with Wales must, in any case, have bred violence and insecurity. But the Baskervilles were essentially opportunists and survivors, and despite 'backing the wrong horse' on several occasions, endured circumstances that would have seen the ruin of other families, to become a stock of respected yeomanry and petty gentry in the 16th and 17th centuries. [Mason: 4]
After the war, the family seems to have been unable to recover, perhaps drowning beneath the financial demands made by the winners upon the losers, and within 20 years and three lords the whole manor had to be sold off. The Baskervilles seemed to have then simply vanished from Eardisley. It seems an ignominious end to six centuries of lordship.

After 1684: from gatehouse to farmhouse?

The manor was purchased by William Barnsley, a London lawyer, but soon afterwards became the subject of a long-running legal dispute between Barnsley and his son before being sold to several different owners [Richardson: 55-56]. Barnsley only lived in the Castle House for a short while, and is better known for building a new mansion known as Eardisley Park, some distance away. He leased the house and farmland to tenant farmers [Mason: 5].

A brick farm house, with an adjacent 'L' shaped building of the same age and style, and a 19th century building of brick and stone, now occupy the site in the castle bailey, with the castle motte behind or west of the house. The main and 'L' shaped buildings date from c1670-80. Mason states [5] that "Castle House was renovated at about [the time] the estates passed into the hands of William Barnsley". The house plan described above in 1683 seems similar to this building, which would mean that Thomas Baskerville had built a new house and/or rebuilt the old Gatehouse after the Restoration, which implies that he overcame the political charges of 1660 and apparently prospered enough to rebuild the manor house, but he may have then experienced financial problems (there was no new furniture) of a nature that eventually forced his heirs to sell their legacy. Perhaps Barnsley's renovations were actually completing or finishing the new building?

Mason [4] states that this was not built as a farm house [but as a replacement manor house?], and that there is a second building from the same period that seems to have housed all the domestic functions, such as kitchens, dairy and bake house. Although the bricks seem to date from the time of construction, the 'L' shaped plan and the extensive use of recycled timbers in the roof structures and wall partitions could suggest some sort of reconstruction of the gatehouse that survived the castle fire. A later brick and stone addition from the 19th century may incorporate materials from the castle ruins as well. Richardson [56] noted in 1869 that "the few chiselled stones which are visible in the Farm house walls seem rather to have belonged to the Manor House which occupied the Castle site than to the older [Domesday] building", and although it is not certain which of these buildings he is referring to, it would seem to be the 'L'-shaped building. There are also three ranges of old timber barns near the castle/farm entrance, one of which has been dated by tree-ring sampling to show that it was built of oak felled in 1530/31 [Mason: 8]- this is when the castle/manor was prosperous and the established seat of the Baskervilles during the time of the Tudors, and indicates that these buildings also survived the castle fire - perhaps they were holding the foodstuffs and other stores that Sir Humphrey was promising the royalist soldiers, and which either the local people wanted to keep or the parliamentary soldiers were confiscating?

The building remained the site for many of the old castle functions, notably the Court Leet and the Court Baron, which were the ancient local courts conducted by a Lord of the Manor or his steward, a role taken after the 1684 by the owners of Castle House. The Court Leet dealt with criminal matters, the Court Baron with civil matters, and there was also a Court Customary which dealt with manorial business such as registering land titles, until 1922 when manorial courts were abolished. The surviving manor lands also continued to provide an income through rents and tithes - in 1783 these were stated to be 578 per year, which it was claimed at the time had "not been altered in the memory of man" (which of course would only mean back to about c1700) [Mason: 5]. The Perry-Herrick family owned what became known as Castle Farm or Castle House during the 19th century, and increased its land holdings, especially in the village, before it was sold to the Davies family in the early 20th century who retained ownership until the 1990s [Mason: 6]. The detailed inventory of local buildings edited by Mason clearly indicates the possibilities for much more of the built fabric of the castle complex to have survived the fire than was visible to or acknowledged by earlier historians such as Richardson and Watkins.

Castle House: the principle, or east, elevation.
drawing: John Howes, in Mason: cover.
Castle House (upper right), drawn at the same scale as several nearby houses in Eardisley village, showing its comparatively large size.
drawing: John Howes, in Mason: 12-13.
Castle House: view towards front, showing courtyard and outbuildings, c1940.
photo in Mason: 6.
Early 16th century timber barns near entrance to castle site.
photos in Mason: 7.

Patterns in the ruination and disappearance of Marcher castles

Although the Marcher castles had been attacked several times by the Welsh, and by the Marcher Barons themselves, they were usually repaired and transformed when peace returned. The Civil War of 1642-1646, however, introduced the often vindictive destruction of castles, which associated with the demise of feudalism, made reconstruction rare and lead to castle sites becoming the quarries and follies of the early modern age. Richardson notes the destruction of 13 castles during this brief period, none of which was rebuilt. This accounted for 31% of all the castles he identified, and resulted in permanent changes in Hereford's social structures and landscapes. Richardson identified the following royalist castles destroyed by parliamentary forces: Branshill (fire), Croft (dismantled to prevent capture), Eardisley (fire), Goodrich (demolished), Hereford (bombardment, fire), Kilpeck (demolished), Lingen, Pembridge (bombardment), Snodhill (bombardment), Stapleton (demolished) and Whitney; and the parliamentary castles Brampton Brian (fire, bombardment) and Richards (bombardment). Bombardment is clearly suffered during battle; fire may be, or may be used in the aftermath of actual battle; while the demolitions (usually referred to as being 'slighted' or 'defaced') were carried out by order of parliamentary commissioners after the battles had finished in 1645, and usually accompanied by large fines. Those destroyed by bombardment or fire are in the north-west of the county, seemly along the route taken by the parliamentary armies as they invaded the county from the north, following the foothills of the Welsh mountains into southern Wales during the late summer and autumn of 1645.

Richardson, in his study of Herefordshire's castles, casually notes the means by which one castle or another fell into ruin and disappeared from the landscape of the Marches.

Although he provides no overview of the process, it seems to begin with an initial degree of destruction from siege or battle, after which the castle is no longer inhabited. The site then becomes a quarry, providing a source of readily available stone for use in other buildings or for breaking up and using for road works. This process may take place over a long time, with the site of Ellingham Castle, for example, becoming locally known as Quarry Wood to local builders [Richardson: 65]. The stone could be used for important works: Richardson [134] states that stone from the ruins of Mortimer's Castle was used to build the church tower in Much Marcle; the foundations of Moccas Castle provided a quarry for road metal [132], as did those of Cusop Castle [48]. They could also be used in replacement manor houses, such as Snodhill Court, constructed in part from materials from the ruins of Snodhill Castle [155] and Stapleton Castle [159]; or 're-built' as a castle-folly by the new post-Civil War gentry such as Bredwardine Castle [38] and Brampton Brian Castle [16]; and used to build and repair farm houses such as at Cusop Castle [48]. Richardson also mentions the stealing of lead from castle roofs and of glazing from windows, such as at Clifford Castle [36] as a cause of their ruin.

The comparative isolation of some castles, however, favoured natural decay over human busyness, and they remained as romantic ruins, as Richardson noted of Longtown Castle [122]:

The grey tower of the keep stands out in bold relief against the dark background of the Black Mountains and the air of lonely wildness which pervades the scene makes it a fitting retreat for the 'genius loci' [spirit of place] who has elsewhere been banished by the advancing tide of civilization

From these brief references it is likely that the Eardisley Castle was destroyed because of either of at least two reasons: to gain control of supplies being stored there, or overcoming resistance mounted there to the invading parliamentary forces; either during battle or in the uncertain period of looting and revenge that follows an invading army. The fate of the burnt-out ruins of the castle was to be plundered for building the present farm house in the old bailey, known as Castle Farm, or for extending the old gatehouse to form Castle Farm; and for use in other local buildings, possibly the church, and for roadworks.

Some reflections and conclusions

This brief chronology indicates that a motte-and-bailey castle at the site grew into a place of some importance after the 1080s. It was greatly damaged by the Welsh in the 1260s, and was rebuilt with stone, which may be when the current form of the relic earthworks was created. In 1403 it was in a state of disrepair, and was substantially renovated ready for conflict. From the 1480s to the 1540s the Lord of Eardisley was several times required to provide large numbers of men for the army, indicating that the Castle was a centre of some political and economic significance in the Marches. By the 1640s, however, the manor had lost much of its demesne, and during the civil war it was destroyed by fire. Materials from the ruins may have been used to built the farmhouse now in the old courtyard, or to extend the castle gatehouse.

References and reading

  • Mason, M., (Ed), Eardisley: its houses and their residents, Eardisley History Group, Eardisley July 2005
  • Page, W., The Victoria History of the Counties of England: a history of Herefordshire, Vol. I., Achibald Constable & Co Ltd., London 1908
  • Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth 1963/1977
  • Robinson, Rev Charles J., A History of the Castles of Herefordshire and Their Lords, 1869; facsimile edition Logaston Press, Almeley 2002.
  • Watkins, Rev Morgan G., Collections Towards The History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford, in Continuation of Duncumb's History: Hundred of Huntington, Jakeman & Carver, High Town Hereford 1897