Elmley Castle was a ringwork and bailey fortification built shortly after the Norman Conquest. It was acquired by the Beauchamp family in the early twelfth century and they rebuilt it in stone soon after. Later it became their Worcestershire caput but, when William de Beauchamp inherited the Earldom of Warwick in 1268, Elmley Castle was neglected and fell into ruin.
Elmley Castle occupies Bredon Hill, a dominant position 12 miles south-east of Worcester and was also in close proximity to Evesham and Tewkesbury which were both strategically important crossing points over the River Avon (and in the latter's case the River Severn). The first fortification on the site was a hillfort almost certainly dating from the Iron Age and seemingly having several distinct phases of development. The fort occupied a plateau on the northern side of the hill with the line of its ramparts dictated by the contours. There were entrances on the east and west sides.
Around 1069 the site was re-used by the Normans when an earth and timber ringwork-and-bailey castle was super-imposed upon the former hillfort. It was raised by Robert d'Abitot (also known as Robert le Despenser) who was the brother of Urse d'Abitot, Sheriff of Worcester. The ringwork was located in the centre of the existing earthworks and consisted of a substantial rampart that would have been topped by a timber palisade. The bailey was to the south-west of the ringwork and re-used the southern and western ramparts of the hillfort. A fishpond, an important source of food in the medieval household, was created to the south of the bailey.
Robert d'Abitot died without leaving an heir and Elmley Castle passed to his brother, Urse. Around 1114 his son, Robert, was disinherited for murdering a Royal messenger and the castle then passed to Emmeline d'Abitot. She married Walter Beauchamp and he also assumed the hereditary role of Sheriff of Worcestershire. When Walter died in 1130 Elmley Castle passed to his son, William Beauchamp.
William Beauchamp's tenure coincided with the Anarchy, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda over the English succession. Like most magnates, the Beauchamps initially supported the claim of Stephen but a dispute over ownership of Bedford Castle alienated them from his faction. In 1152 Stephen himself had to besiege Worcester Castle which was held by William Beauchamp. These turbulent times prompted significant upgrades to the castle most notably with construction of a stone keep within the ringwork. The defences of the bailey were also enhanced at this time.
By the thirteenth century Elmley Castle had become the primary residence of the Beauchamp family. During the First Barons War (1215-17), Walter de Beauchamp declared his support for Prince Louis prompting his estates, including Elmley Castle, to be seized by the Marcher Lords loyal to King John. Following that King's death, Walter made peace with the new administration led by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. In 1234 Henry III gifted Walter livestock to populate a park created around Elmley Castle.
In 1268 the then owner of Elmley Castle, William de Beauchamp, became Earl of Warwick. He had inherited the title through his mother, Isabel Maudit, who was the sister of the former Earl. This brought William vast estates and significant wealth but also shifted his attention away from Worcestershire. He moved his main residence to Warwick Castle leaving Elmley to become something of a backwater. A survey made in 1298 following William's death found the castle in need of significant repair. His successor - Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick - founded a chantry within the castle in 1308 but the castle's wider fabric was not maintained. In 1315 it was described as worthless.
Guy de Beauchamp died in 1315 leaving his two year old son, Thomas, as his heir. Edward II made him a ward of the court and entrusted Elmley Castle to Hugh le Despenser the Elder. He was one of the King's unpopular favourites and was bitterly resented by many of the country's senior magnates leading to a rebellion in May 1321 led by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. By June 1321 this had forced
Edward II into exiling the hated Despensers and, in their absence, the King ordered the Sheriff of Worcester to take control of Elmley Castle. The rebellion continued and one of its supporters - Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford - attacked the fortification. It suffered considerable damage in this assault including destruction of the gatehouse and the death of several of its garrison. The Lancaster rebellion came to an end the following year with the Duke's defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge.
Minor repairs were made to Elmley Castle during the fifteenth century and a custodian continued to be appointed through to 1538. However, by this time the castle was ruinous. The antiquarian John Leland watched as stone was robbed from the site to rebuild the bridge at Pershore and a survey of circa-1540 described the castle as "completely uncovered" although its defensive ditch and curtain wall were still intact at this time. These were robbed over the subsequent centuries and today only fragments of masonry and substantial earthworks remain.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Armitage, E.S (1904). Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. English Historical Review Vol 14 (Reprinted by Amazon).
Carruthers, B and Ingram, J. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Illustrated and Annotated. Pen and Sword, Barnsley.
Creighton, O.H (2002). Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox, Bristol.
Douglas, D.C and Rothwell, H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 3 (1189-1327). Routledge, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Liddiard, R (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape 1066-1500. Macclesfield.
Morris, M (2003). Castle: A History of the Buildings that Shaped Medieval Britain. Windmill Books, London.
Prior, S (2006). A Few Well-Positioned Castles: The Norman Art of War. Tempus, London.
Purton, P.F (2009). A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220. Boydell Press, Woodbridge
Remfry, P.M (1999). Nine castles of Burford Barony, 1048 to 1308. SCS Publishing.
Sewell, R.C (1846). Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum.
Williams, A and Martin, G.H (2003). Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. Viking, London.
Elmley Castle consists of the remains of an eleventh century ringwork fortification super-imposed upon the site of a former Iron Age hillfort. Small portions of masonry survive but the majority of the remains are earthworks. St Mary's church has fabric dating from eleventh century and a medieval Village Cross can be found nearby.
Elmley Castle. The castle re-used the earthworks of an earlier hillfort.
Ringwork. The ringwork was later the site of a stone built Keep.
Ringwork. The ringwork was protected by a substantial ditch and rampart.
Bailey Ditches. The bailey re-used the earthwork defences from an Iron Age fort.
St Mary's Church. The church was built in the eleventh century and has subsequently been extensively modified. Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick founded a chantry within the castle in 1308 and provided sufficient funds to support eight chaplains and four clerks. When the castle was neglected they relocated to the parish church. The commissioners of Henry VIII suppressed the chantry in 1545.
Elmley Castle is located to the south of the village of the same name. On-road car parking is possible on Netherton Lane. The right of way that leads towards the castle is accessed through the grounds of St Mary's church.
Car Parking Option
St Mary's Church