Monday, June 20, 2011

On this day - the siege of Bedford Castle

On the 20th June 1224 the siege of Bedford Castle began. Most people in Bedford are familiar with Castle mound and the story of the siege. However - dig a little deeper into the story and our knowledge usually becomes a little sketchy...

Who built the Castle? How long was it there for? Who beseiged it? Why?

Even after a little digging, I've found out lots about the Castle that I didn't already know.

Who Built the Castle? When? Why?
The earliest Castle was built by Ralf de Tallebosc soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066. A large part of the existing Saxon town was flattened to make way for the castle, which in its earliest days would have been made of wood. The Castle was built because the incoming Normans needed a place to overlook the newly conquered town, to defend themselves from the town (if need be), to defend themselves and the town from other attackers and they needed a stronghold from where they could retreat into the coutryside.

Gradually the castle was rebuilt in stone, so that by 1130 it had a “strong and unshakeable keep”. By this time it was in the hands of the de Beauchamp family, who held the Barony of Bedford.

Under siege

The castle actually suffered several attacks before the great siege of 1224. The first of these was around 1137, when it was captured by King Stephen. During a siege in 1153 Prince Henry, soon to be King Henry II arrived in Bedford, delivered heavy plundering and left the castle in flames. St Paul's Church suffered some damage although we don't know how extensive this was. There was another siege in 1215, when King John sent Faukes de Breaute to capture it, following a minor rebellion that arose when the King refused to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta.

The Villian - Faukes de Breaute
King John gave Faukes de Breaute the castle and barony to thank him for his efforts. Faukes set about fortifying the castle and it is said that he pulled down St Paul’s Church to use the stone. Through the early 1220s, from his impregnable base, Faukes gained a reputation as an oppressive landlord and was eventually fined £3,000 by the King’s justices based at Dunstable.

Angry at the fine, Faukes sent his brother William to capture the three justices (although two escaped) and take them to the castle. The King (Henry III by this time) was furious and ordered Faukes to release the captured judge – when he refused the King ordered an attack on the castle.

Faukes had left the defence of the castle to his brother William so was safely out of the way when the attack came.

The final siege

Matthew Paris, a monk at St Albans Abbey, chronicled the Siege of Bedford some years later. The chronicles say that the siege lasted for 8 weeks, during which time the walls of the castle were bombarded daily with large lumps of stone flung from siege engines. Miners were used to dig underneath the castle walls and it was this that eventually led its destruction: on the 14th August the final walls collapsed when the tunnels were lit on fire, and the Keep was taken.

There my have been over 2500 men involved in the siege, coming from as far away as Cumberland in the north and Dorset in the south. Around 200 of them were killed. Most of the men inside the castle were hanged, although it is said that 3 were spared to serve as Knights Templar in the Holy Land.

The fall of the castle would have been a severe loss to the town as it would have been the town's biggest employer and the focus of town life. In the years since the siege the castle mound has had several uses. From the late 14th Century the ruins were used as a rubbish dump and in the 18th Century the top of the mound was used as a bowling green.

If you fancy finding out more about the siege why not go along to The Siege ,

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