STAFFORD CASTLE, ST16 1DJ
Postcode: ST16 1DJ
Lat/Long: 52.7979N 2.1475W
Notes: Located off Newport Road/Castle Bank in the western suburbs of Stafford. The castle is clearly visible around the surrounding area (including from the M6). Ample parking is available at the site.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The extensive earthworks of a large eleventh century motte-and-bailey castle. Also visible is a nineteenth century Gothic style building that was built directly over the foundations of the medieval Keep. The site is accessible at any reasonable time but the Gothic Keep interior is only open at times promulgated by the visitor centre.
Stafford Castle Layout. The castle was built along a north-west to south-east axis and consisted of two baileys and the motte. A rectangular Keep with octagonal towers replaced a timber tower on top of the mound in the fourteenth century and the proportions of this structure were kept when the 1813 Gothic house was built.
Gothic Style Keep. In 1813 the medieval Keep was replaced with this - a Gothic style folly. It was originally two storeys tall but was partially demolished in the 1950s to stabilise the remaining structure. The proportions of the building matched the earlier medieval building.
Built shortly after the Norman Conquest, Stafford Castle still dominates the skyline. It saw action during the Civil War, when it withstood a siege by Parliamentary forces, but later fell when the attackers brought in heavy artillery. The castle was abandoned in the seventeenth century but later rebuilt as a Gothic style residence.
HISTORY OF STAFFORD CASTLE
There has been a castle at Stafford since at least the 1070s and possibly before; the extent of the earthworks at the site could be indicative of an earlier fortification/settlement. The castle of the 1070s was raised as the result of a rebellion of Eadric the Wild whose defeat nearby at the Battle of Stafford (1069) led to a greater military presence in the area. Accordingly Stafford Castle was raised by Robert de Tosny (Robert de Stafford) in the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey structure. Positioned on the north west corner of an elevated ridge, the castle had twin baileys which collectively enclosed nearly 10 acres. The mound itself was built on top of the highest point of the ridge with a natural hill enlarging it beyond the norm. The fortress was protected by a dry ditch upto 22 metres wide in areas whilst the north, west and south sides had additional protection from a counterscarp bank – excavated earth shaped into a steep mound and positioned in front of the ditch to act as a substantial obstacle in its own right.
Ralph de Stafford rebuilt the castle in stone in 1347 starting with the Keep. The work was undertaken by John of Bicester, Master Mason who constructed a rectangular stronghold with octagonal towers in each corner. The new work reflected Ralph's increasing status - he had enthusiastically supported Edward III's campaigns in France and Scotland - and in 1350 would become a founding member of the Order of the Garter and also be elevated to Earl of Stafford.
The castle's owners became embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. In 1444 the then owner - Humphrey Stafford – was created Duke of Buckingham by Henry VI. He died trying to protect the King at the Battle of Northampton (1460) and his young son, Henry, was subsequently raised as a ward of the Yorkist Queen Elizabeth Woodville (wife of Edward IV).This led Henry into the Yorkist camp where he supported Edward IV and then Richard III. However, in 1483 he rebelled in favour of Henry Tudor but was killed leaving his son, Edward Stafford, to inherit after Henry's later victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). Gratitude for his support did not endure long in the Tudor dynasty - Henry VIII, who saw Edward as a potential rival to the throne, had him executed in May 1521. An attainder, confiscating his title and property, was approved by Parliament in 1523 at which point Stafford Castle was taken into Crown ownership. The castle was restored to Edward’s son, Henry Stafford, by Edward VI but the wider titles (and thus income) previously held by the family were not. As a result they lacked the financial resources to maintain the structure and by 1603 it was described as the "rotten castle of Stafford".
Stafford Castle was hastily made defensible once more with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Parliamentary forces attacked Stafford in May 1643 with the town quickly falling. However the Royalist garrison of the castle, under Lady Isobel Stafford, refused to surrender. A three week siege ensued but in early June the Parliamentarians withdrew as a Royalist army approached under Lord Hastings. By December 1643 Parliamentary forces had returned with siege artillery and the castle was abandoned. It was later slighted to prevent further military use.
The castle was left as an abandoned ruin after the Civil War until 1813 when the then owner, Edward Jerningham, commissioned a Gothic style rebuilding upon the medieval foundations. The work was never finished although the structure was used as a residence until 1949 after which it was abandoned when it was deemed structural unsound. The remains of this structure, along with the earthworks of the earlier Norman castle, have been stabilised and are visible today.
The Inner Bailey