History – over 3000 years of occupation
Whilst there is evidence of this site being inhabited in prehistoric times, the story of Whittington Castle begins soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was likely built soon after the conquest as part of the marcher lord’s effort to secure the border between England and Wales. Acting as a deterrent to the Prince’s of Wales and serving as a staging post for raids into the Welsh lands. During this period, it was almost certainly a simple motte and bailey made primarily of wood, featuring a main keep or tower surrounded by an outer wall, and with a bailey below containing stables, storehouses, and a barracks for the castles garrison.
The first official mention of Whittington Castle in the historical record comes in 1138, when it was fortified by William Peverel against King Stephen during the events known as The Anarchy, a civil war between two claimants to the throne of England named Stephen and Matilda. During this period the main keep had likely been reconstructed in stone, standing as a more permanent display of English power on the border.
In 1173, King Henry II granted aid to Roger of Powys for repairs to be made to the castle. This may be in response to the Revolt of 1173-74 when King Henry’s sons, encouraged by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, took up arms against their father the king in order to cede power for themselves.
In 1195, Fulk Fitzwarine II made a claim on Whittington castle by right of the Honour of Peverel, a large area of land that Fulk II claimed belonged to him. The judgment of this claim landed in Fulk II’s favour, however he died before he was able to take the matter further and Whittington remained out of the Fitzwarine’s hands.
In 1200, the castle was granted by King John to Maurice, son of Roger of Powys, this may have been done to spite the young Fulk III who had become head of the family following his father Fulk II’s death. Legend has it that Fulk III and King John had come to blows over a chess match, an incident that John did not take lightly.
In 1201, following King John’s decision, Fulk III rose in open revolt against the king becoming an outlaw. He was a persistent thorn in John’s side, this led John to charge Hubert deBurgh with putting an end to Fulk’s activities, to do this he granted deBurgh a force of 100 knights. Fulk would eventually be forced into hiding in the court of the French king Phillip II Augustus.
In 1204, after years spent as an outlaw, Fulk III’s claim to Whittington was restored after being pardoned by King John, he was forced to pay a large fine of 200 marks for the trouble he had caused.
In 1223, the castle was captured and destroyed by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth during one of the countless conflicts with the Welsh in this period. It was later returned as part of a peace treaty. After it’s return the castle was rebuilt fully in stone, the layout of the castle has not changed since this time with the exception of the main keep, which would be replaced by a more luxurious manor house.
The castle had remained in the Fitzwarines hands until in 1267, nearly 40 years since it’s destruction and subsequent rebuilding, it found itself back in Welsh hands as a result of The Treaty of Montgomery with Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales.
After the defeat of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 the castle once again came into the possession of the Fitzwarine family. It is likely at this time that the keep was replaced with a more comfortable manor house, the Welsh border was far more secure than it had ever been since before the Norman invasion of 1066, and the English lords of the March could afford to live in more luxury.
The castle would see over a century of relative peace, with only some minor repairs needing to be made in 1402.
In 1404 the town of Whittington was brutally raided as part of Owain Glyndwr’s wars of independence. Though the castle was not taken, the surrounding town was burnt to the ground, the land was now deemed to be of such little worth that the Lordship itself was considered to have no value.
Following the ascension of King Henry V to the throne in 1413, he undertook a campaign of reconciliation with the Welsh, granting pardons to many of the most powerful Welsh leaders. This effectively ended the ongoing Welsh revolts under Glyndwr. This act made the border as safe as it had ever been. Henry V even offered a pardon to Glyndwr himself, but the Welsh Prince refused. All of this ensured that Whittington would no longer be needed to serve it’s role as a bulwark against Welsh raiding or as a staging post for English invasion.
In 1420 the last male heir of the Fitzwarine line died, the castle and it’s associated estates would pass into the hands of Fulk XI’s sister, Elizebeth, who then married Richard Hankeford.
In 1422 the castle was captured as the forces of William Fitzwarine, a cousin of the main Fitzwarine branch looking to claim the castle as a male heir. They stormed the walls with ladders in a daring assault. This would eventually prove fruitless as the castle soon came into the possession of Lord Clinton, the step father of the deceased Fulk XI.
The Daughter of Elizebeth Fitzwarrine and Richard Hankeford, Thomasia, would go on to marry William Bouchier. The castle then fell into the possession of the Bouchier family until in 1545 when John Bouchier exchanged lordship of Whittington with King Henry VIII, in return for some old monastic estates closer to his home in Devon. A survey conducted at the time of this exchange described the building as ‘in decay’, thus it is likely the castle had been uninhabited for some time, and it would remain that way for centuries to come.
Over the following centuries the castle would fall into many different hands. Eventually it became the property of William Albany, whose descendants would later become the Lloyd family. Pieces of the castle would fall down or be removed in order to build new structures around the area including a forge at Fernhill. There is no evidence that the castle played a part in the English Civil War, as it was likely in a state of complete disrepair at that time.
In 1673 the gatehouse was let as a romantic dwelling to one Thomas Lloyd, a merchant from London.
Around 1760 one of the towers collapsed and fell into the moat, this, as well as other parts of the castle, was used to make roads in the area.
In 1808, William Lloyd undertook a restoration of the castle, the gatehouse being let out as a farmhouse, which would remain inhabited until the 1990’s
In 2002, the Whittingon Castle Preservation Trust signed a 99 year lease on the castle. They are currently charged with it’s upkeep and restoration, turning it into a local landmark and preserving it for future generations to enjoy.