Originally a Norman ringwork fortification, Basing House (formerly Basing Castle) was extensively rebuilt by Sir William Paulet into an elaborate Tudor mansion. During the Civil War it was hastily re-fortified and became a key outpost surrounding the Royalist capital at Oxford. In September 1645 it was stormed by Oliver Cromwell where his troops massacred the garrison.
The first military connection with Basing originates from Saxon times when the Battle of Basing was fought nearby on 22 January 871. Here King Aethelred was defeated by a Danish army as part of their campaign to conquer Wessex. However it was in 1066, following the Battle of Hastings, when the first castle was established here; an earth and timber motte-and-bailey was built to control the point where the London road to the South West forded the River Loddon.
William I granted Basing to Hugh de Port, a magnate from Port-en-Bessin in Normandy, as reward for his services during the conquest. The existing motte-and-bailey was quickly deemed unsatisfactory due to its marshy surroundings and was replaced by a ringwork fort located on the dryer elevated ground no later than 1150. The fortification seems to have had a relatively peaceful history throughout the medieval period.
In 1525 the castle was inherited by Sir William Paulet who had risen to prominence in the employment of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Treasurer to Henry VIII. He was granted a licence to crenellate and made significant changes to the fortification including substantial rebuilding in brick to convert the site into a state-of-the-art, luxurious Tudor mansion. The ringwork earthwork of the earlier Norman castle was converted into the 'Old House' with a tall red brick tower dominating the entrance. The ‘New House’ was built immediately to the east offering accommodation unconstrained by earlier earthworks. The Great Barn, as well as the curtain wall and towers, were also built at this time. The result was a luxurious, modern estate that attracted visits by Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Such Royal guests were financially crippling however and his son, William Paulet, was forced to sell some of his estates and demolish parts of Basing to make the house less attractive to such visitors.
By the time the Civil War erupted in England in 1642, Basing house was owned by John Paulet. The structure itself was in a poor state of repair but, following the King’s failed attempts to take London, the wartime Royal capital was established at Oxford. This made Basing House an important outpost and the site was hastily re-fortified. In July 1643 Parliament made the first attempt to dislodge the Royalist garrison with an attack by Colonel Richard Norton. His force was repulsed but in November a 5,000 strong army under the Parliamentary commander Sir William Waller moved to besiege the stronghold. Awful weather and a determined defence saved Basing from falling.
The following year saw a major Royalist defeat at the Battle of Cheriton. Thereafter Sir William Waller detached Colonel Richard Norton to resume his siege of Basing House which started in June 1644 and lasted throughout the Summer. By the end of July three of the key Royalist strongholds around Oxford were under siege - Banbury, Donnington and Basing House itself - and King Charles resolved to relieve them all.
The relief of Basing House was the King's primary concern as by late Summer the shortage of supplies there were critical. To counter Parliament decided to merge its three field armies - those under the Earl of Manchester, Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller - into one huge force. The three armies rendezvoused in proximity of Basing House which made its relief impossible for the King - instead he turned his attention towards Donnington prompting the second Battle of Newbury during which the castle was successfully resupplied. Nevertheless the vast Parliamentary force remained in the field and lifting the siege of Basing House was not a viable proposition. Instead in both September and November 1644 a small Royalist force under Colonel Henry Gage managed to break through the siege line and replenish the garrison. This action, coupled with the fact disease was rampant within his army, prompted Norton to once again lift his siege and withdraw to Winter Quarters.
On 14 July 1645 the final Royalist army in England was annihilated at the Battle of Naseby by the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax. This ended all realistic prospect of a Royalist victory and for Basing House meant no further relief could be expected. For Parliament the war now shifted to reducing Royalist garrisons and on 20 August 1645 a force under Colonel John Dalbier placed Basing House under siege. Artillery fire severely damaged the structure but the garrison held out. Parliamentary reinforcements arrived on 8 October 1645 with 4,500 men under Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell. At 6am on 14 October they stormed Basing House with the force of their assault aimed at the New House. A parley was attempted when the Parliamentarians had reached the gates of the Old House but was refused; within one hour the site had been taken and over 100 Royalists killed. John Paulet survived due to Colonel Hammond recognising him but his estates were confiscated and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Basing house itself was ruined in the Parliamentary assault, not least by a fire that was started during the fighting, and later locals were invited to plunder the remains. Although the site was restored to the Paulet family in 1662, rebuilding the structure was unaffordable and it was left a ruin.
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Basing House consists of two separate sites - the Great Barn and the remains of the castle itself. The former, which formed part of the Royalist perimeter as they defended the site, is complete and intact. The earthworks of the castle, once a ringwork fortification and later extensively rebuilt as part of the ‘Old House’, are visible as are basements and foundations of the Tudor building. The ‘New House’ no longer exists having been destroyed and buried under modern housing.
Earthworks of the Norman ringwork castle.
The ringwork of the earlier Norman castle was used to define the perimeter of the ‘Old House’.
Great Barn. The Great Barn, built during Sir William Paulet’s rebuilding of the site, was part of the Royalist perimeter.
Foundations. Both ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Houses were extensively damaged during the storming of the site. Today only basements and vaults of the ‘Old House’ survive from what was once a great mansion.
Basing House is located to the east of Basingstoke in Old Basing. Visitors should use the car park detailed below which can be found off Barton's Lane. It is then a short walk from there to the Great Barn (where tickets are purchased) and then onto the earthworks of the castle.
Great Barn (and Tickets)