With a commanding position over the Stort Valley, Mountfitchet Castle was at the centre of the Baronial Rebellion against King John that culminated in the sealing of Magna Carta. Besieged by John it was destroyed and wasn't rebuilt until the 1980s; it now stands as a historically accurate reconstruction.
The site of Mountfitchet Castle has been a fortification for thousands of years; a hill fort was established there in the mid-Iron Age and this was later used by the Romans to enclose a signalling station which was presumably part of a communications network linking the fort at Great Chesterfield with London. Later a fortified Viking settlement and then an Anglo-Saxon burh occupied the site.
The castle itself was built in the years immediately following the Norman Conquest by Robert Gernon, Duke of Boulogne. He was a companion (and perhaps relative) of William the Conqueror and was granted numerous manors across Essex and Hertfordshire including Stansted (Mountfitchet). To secure his estates he built an earth and timber ringwork at Stansted which evolved into his family seat. His descendants took the name Montfitchet and seemingly served in various regional appointments including Keeper of the Forests of Essex and custodian of Havering Castle.
In 1203 the then owner of Montfitchet Castle - Richard - died leaving an under-age heir (also called Richard). As was the custom when an under-age heir inherited, the property passed into Royal control for the duration of the minority. Richard became a Royal ward and the castle was placed in the care of Roger de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract. King John was notorious for his ruthless exploitation of his magnate's assets in his ever more desperate attempts to fund the military efforts to restore the great continental Angevin empire that had crumbled during his reign. It seems likely that Richard Montfitchet felt aggrieved by the King's treatment of his property for he joined the baronial opposition to King John prompting an attack on the castle circa-1212. Richard continued to oppose the King and was one of twenty-five Barons tasked with enforcement of Magna Carta. When that document failed to prevent war, Richard fought on the Baronial side but made peace with the new regime after the death of King John.
Richard died in 1258 leaving no heirs meaning the Montfitchet family died out with him. The castle itself was not rebuilt after the attack by King John and the site was left overgrown until the twentieth century. In the 1980s re-construction begin and, although criticised by some at the time for damaging the archaeological remains of the Norman castle, nevertheless provides a superb visual representation of the once very common type of fortification.
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A reconstructed earth and timber ringwork fort with associated buildings modelled around the early eleventh century. Some fragments of original castle remain. The site's main focus is for children but this doesn’t reduce the impact of the reconstructions. Nevertheless unaccompanied adults are best visiting during term time.
Original Castle. Fragments of the original Norman castle are still visible.
Reconstruction. The reconstruction is impressive and has used different types of palisade to represent how the original castle may have looked.