Glos GL13 9PJ
Berkeley Castle is a typical medieval castle which amazingly is still lived in by the Berkeley Family. Apart from the private apartments, the castle and gardens are open to the public on four days of the week, leaving the site available for weddings and private events on the other three days.
Berkeley’s location made it an ideal defensive site. The castle was built to defend the Bristol to Gloucester road, the River Severn estuary, and the Welsh border. Originally, it was a motte-and-bailey built in the 11th century by William FitzOsbern, and it was held by the first three generations of the Roger de Berkeley family.
It was this line of the family that rebuilt the castle in the 12th century but they were dispossessed in 1152 when Roger sided with King Stephen and refused to swear allegiance to the Plantagenet House.
The Plantagenets came to power and the feudal barony of Berkeley was then granted to their supporter, Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy burgess of Bristol. He was the founder of the Berkeley family which still holds the castle today.
A Unique Family Tree
This remarkable feat was achieved through a dual marriage contract dated 1153. Duke Henry of Aquitaine (the future King Henry II
) clearly regretted his decision to dispossess Roger de Berkeley
of his lands, and decided to facilitate the junction of the two families by encouraging dual intermarriages.
Robert's first son, and heir, was Maurice FitzRobert fitzHarding, also known as Maurice de Berkeley, born c. 1120. In 1153–54 Maurice married Alice, the first daughter of the dispossessed Roger de Berkeley, who was now feudal baron of nearby Dursley. At the same time Robert's first daughter Helen married Roger's heir, also called Roger. This double marriage contract, binding the son and heir of each man to marry a daughter of the other, was signed at the house of Robert FitzHarding in Bristol in the presence of Duke Henry and 16 witnesses.
The marriage charter is held at Berkeley Castle and is one of the treasures on display.
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Murder in the castle
Berkeley has long been believed to be the castle where King Edward II was ostensibly murdered on September 21, 1327 with a red hot poker. This grim story has added to the mystique of Berkeley Castle and it is said that on the anniversary of his death, Edward’s screams can be heard coming from his prison dungeon.
There is no doubt that Edward died at Berkeley Castle while in the joint custody of Thomas de Berkeley and his brother-in-law John Maltravers. In 1327, King Edward II was deposed by his wife Queen Isabella and her ally Roger Mortimer. He was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle for five months between April and September. He escaped once but was quickly recaptured and unaccountably died.
The account given to Parliament at the time was simply that Edward had met with a fatal accident. The body was embalmed and remained lying in state at Berkeley for a month, in the Chapel of St John within the castle keep, before Thomas de Berkeley escorted it to Gloucester Abbey for burial.
Edward’s burial in Gloucester Cathedral
made it a place of pilgrimage and did much to Increase its subsequent wealth.
Thomas de Berkeley was present in the castle at the time and he was later charged with being an accessory. He blamed it all on Roger Mortimer and somehow managed to be cleared of all charges.
The building is the oldest continuously occupied castle in England after the royal fortresses of the Tower of London
and Windsor Castle
. It is also the oldest to be continuously owned and occupied by the same family. The Berkeley
family divide their time between the Castle and their other home, Spetchley Park, just outside Worcester.
Only 15% of the castle is occupied by the family leaving the rest of this mainly 14th century building and historic gardens open to the public.
In 1153–54, FitzHarding received a royal charter from King Henry II
giving him permission to rebuild the earlier structure as a defensive castle. He built the circular shell keep during 1153–56. The building of the curtain wall followed, probably during 1160–90 by Robert and then by his son Maurice.
Most of the 14th century castle built for Thomas de Berkeley included Thorpe's Tower to the north of the keep, the inner gatehouse to its southwest, and other buildings of the inner bailey.
Visitors can see the covered walkway and entrance to the ‘murder cell’, and the extraordinary medieval Great Hall
where in 1728 the last court jester in England, Dickie Pearce, fell to his death from the Minstrels’ Gallery. Was it an accident or was he pushed? Dickie’s tomb is in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church adjacent to the castle. This church also has a number of Berkeley
family tombs with effigies of Thomas de Berkeley
and other relatives.
Adjoining the Great Hall
is one of two of the original chapels, that includes painted wooden vaulted ceilings and a biblical passage (from the Book of Revelation), written in Norman French. This room also contains an illustrated vellum book of plainsong that was used in Catholic rites, before the family converted to Protestantism in the 16th century.
The next big change to the castle was during the English Civil War when it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces. Cannon was fired at point blank range from the church roof of St Mary’s next door. The Royalist garrison surrendered in 1645.
As was usual, the walls were left breached after this siege but the Berkeley family was allowed to retain ownership on condition that they never repaired the damage to the Keep and Outer Bailey. This condition is still enforced today by the original Act of Parliament drawn up at the time.
The only concession has been to build a low garden wall to stop people falling 28 feet (8.5 metres) from the Keep Garden, the original Castle's "motte".
Plan Your Visit
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Berkeley Castle Quick Tour
Berkeley Castles Gardens
The castle is surrounded by terraced gardens and an extra attraction is The Butterfly House.
Opening Dates & Times
- Castle & Gardens:
April to October Sunday-Wednesday inclusive: 11:00 - 17:00
Last guided tour at 15:30 & last entry 16:00
Closed: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
No dogs allowed except Assistance Dogs.
No photography within the Castle rooms
To check current information on dates and times
May to September, Sunday to Wednesday inclusive
Berkeley Castle & Butterfy House
- Overseas Visitors
Berkeley is one of the properties covered by the The Great British Heritage Pass available to overseas visitors.
Due to the age of the building access is very limited. No wheelchair access.
Steps and uneven floors throughout the Castle and gardens.
Children’s Pushchairs & Buggies
No access tro the Castle or Butterfly House
For further information Tel: +44(0)1453 810332
Free Guided Tours throughout the day leaving from the Keep Steps
Free Car Park, Picnic Lawn, The Yurt Restaurant, Gift Shop & Plant Sales.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1453 810 303 or +44 (0)1453 810 332
- By Car
From Bristol/ London:
Take the M4 motorway and exit at Junction 20. Take the M5 motorway north to Junction 14. Head north on the A38 following signs to Berkeley
and then brown tourist signs to Berkeley Castle
From the North:
From M5 North motorway, exit at Junction 13. Follow signs to Berkeley
, then brown tourist signs to Berkeley Castle
(about 1/2 mile or 805 metres beyond the Prince of Wales pub).
- By Train:
Paddington, take the train to Bristol
Temple Meads (one train per hour) or Bristol
Parkway (two trains per hour), change for Cam & Dursley and then take a 15 minute taxi ride to Berkeley Castle
Google Maps - Berkeley Castle