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Article written by Hugh Wood
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Photo: Hugh Wood

The Early Days

Ludlow Castle is one of a long line of castles built along the western border of England as a defence against incursions by the Welsh. Following the Norman Conquest, William FitzOsbern (d1071) was made Earl of Hereford. As his second in command, Walter de Lacy (d1085) held the manor of Stanton and it is believed that he may have been responsible for starting the construction of the castle about 2 miles south of Stanton Lacy. The position he chose was at the end of a long ridge, high above the river Teme, with steep cliffs to the north and west making it a formidable place to attack. In the Domesday Book of 1086 there is no evidence of previous castle, nor of a settlement of any size in Ludlow and the new castle was within the parish of Stanton Lacy. Though Ludlow subsequently grew into a town of major importance, right alongside the castle, with its own superb church, the castle itself remained in the parish of Stanton Lacy until the late 19th century.

The exact time when building began is unknown, but there are arches with early Norman carved capitals in the Great Entrance Tower. After Walter’s death his son Roger de Lacy (d>1106) continued the work. Initially the masonry castle was much smaller in extent just comprising what is now the inner bailey. It was protected to north and west by the cliffs and on the south and east sides a deep ditch was constructed. Entrance to the castle was by way of a bridge over this ditch leading to the Great Entrance Tower. In those days the main approach to the castle appears to have been from the south over Dinham bridge.

In 1088 Roger de Lacy joined with other local barons, including Ralph Mortimer (dc1104) of Wigmore, in rebellion against King William II. Defeated, but apparently not punished, Roger subsequently joined Hugh de Montgomery (d1098) 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury in a further revolt and this time defeat led to banishment in 1096. King William awarded Roger's lands to his brother Hugh de Lacy (d<1115) who had remained loyal, but when Hugh died childless ownership of the castle escheated to the crown. Twenty years later there followed a period of great instability for the castle with the Lacys attempting to regain control of the barony. This coincided with the period of anarchy when King Stephen was contending against his cousin Matilda for the throne. Frustrated by what they saw as Stephen’s weak response to Welsh incursions, most of the Marcher Lords sided with Matilda and held the border castles against him. In 1139 Stephen successfully laid siege to Ludlow castle and then awarded it to one of his supporters, Josce de Dinan (d1166). Josce seems to have suffered much aggravation at the hands of hostile neighbours and The Wigmore Genealogy states that during the war he resorted to kidnapping Hugh de Mortimer (d1181/5) of Wigmore and imprisoning him in the castle until a ransom of £2,000 was paid.

Plan drawn by Brian Byron and published in "Ludlow Castle: its History and Buildings" by Shoesmith & Johnson: Logaston Press 2000

The Castle Expands

During the 12th century, significant changes were made to the castle. During this time the beautiful round Norman chapel was built and at some point the castle was greatly extended to include an outer bailey surrounded by a curtain wall. Perhaps reflecting the rapid growth of the town of Ludlow, the main gatehouse was built on the east side of the outer bailey. A smaller gatehouse called Mortimer’s tower was erected in the western curtain wall. Tradition has it that this is where Hugh de Mortimer was imprisoned but all the evidence suggests that this is fanciful. Also around this time the original entrance to the castle through the Great Entrance Tower was blocked, turning it into a more typical Norman keep, and the present entrance was created just to the east, with a new bridge over the ditch.

The de Lacys subsequently recovered control of the castle and held it intermittently till 1241. Over this period there was a resurgence of Welsh power and Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, organised a meeting in 1224 between King Henry III and the Welsh Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d1240) at Ludlow Castle in an inconclusive attempt to establish a modus vivendi between the two sides. When Walter de Lacy died in 1241 with no surviving male heir his estates were divided between his two young granddaughters Maud (d1304) and Margaret (dc1256) with Maud inheriting Ludlow Castle and the lordship of Trim in Ireland. Maud was to marry as her second husband Geoffrey de Geneville or Joinville (d1314) a native of Champagne. It was during Geoffrey’s long life that the Great Hall and solar block were built against the north wall of the castle. Following their success at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 Simon de Montfort’s forces captured the castle, but it was back in Geoffrey’s hands within a few months. Always a loyal subject, Geoffrey was made Justiciar of Ireland in 1273.

From Castle to Palace

In 1283 Geoffrey de Geneville granted Ludlow to his son Peter who unfortunately then predeceased him. In 1308, at the age of about 80, he granted Ludlow and all his estates in Ireland to his granddaughter Joan de Geneville (d1356) and her husband Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d1330) and then retired into a friary at Trim, where he died in 1314. It was Roger and Joan who changed Ludlow from a castle into a palace. They built a second solar range and a sophisticated toilet block to the east of the Great Hall. When Roger’s relationship with King Edward II reached crisis point in 1322 he was sentenced to be imprisoned in the Tower of London for life, but on the feast of St Peter ad Vincula in 1323 he escaped and fled to France. To commemorate his escape, he subsequently built a chapel dedicated to St Peter in the outer bailey of the castle, the remains of which can still be seen.

Photo: Hugh Wood

Ludlow and the Wars of the Roses

The Mortimers continued to occupy the castle until the male line ended with the death in 1425 of Edmund, 5th Earl of March. It then passed to his nephew Richard Plantagenet (d1460) Duke of York who made Ludlow one of his principal residences. Richard’s involvement in national politics and his position as Lord Protector during the temporary insanity of King Henry VI meant that he was away most of the time, but his sons Edward and Edmund remained and were educated in Ludlow.

The recovery of the king signalled the start of serious hostilities between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions. Ludlow featured several times in the early story of the Wars or the Roses. In 1459 King Henry VI advanced on Ludlow where Richard of York was waiting for him. Following the defection of a significant part of his forces to the enemy, Richard fled overnight, leaving Ludlow at the mercy of the Lancastrian forces who punished the Yorkists and the town for their disloyalty. This was the ignominious and almost bloodless ‘battle’ of Ludford Bridge. Richard fled to Ireland with his younger son Edmund. His eldest son Edward escaped to France with his uncle Richard Neville (d1460) Earl of Salisbury and his cousin Richard Neville (d1471) Earl of Warwick (The Kingmaker).

Following the death of Richard of York and his son Edmund at the battle of Wakefield in 1460 the 18-year-old Edward raised an army from the area around Ludlow and defeated a Welsh Lancastrian force under Owen Tudor (d1461) and his son Jasper Earl of Pembroke (d1495) at nearby Mortimers Cross. Entering London without opposition he was proclaimed king as Edward IV in March 1461. The new king’s two sons, Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard Duke of York, were brought up at Ludlow before meeting their untimely ends as the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

Ludlow as a Royal Residence

Ludlow castle continued to be an important royal residence. In the early 16th century it was the home of Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, and his young bride Katherine of Aragon. Arthur’s early death at Ludlow in 1502 at the age of fifteen was to have major implications for the future of England as his younger brother became heir to the throne and succeeded as Henry VIII. Arthur’s ‘heart’ was buried in St Laurence’s church and a huge procession took his body for burial in Worcester Cathedral.

Back in 1473, Edward IV formerly established his elder son in Ludlow castle as Prince of Wales with responsibility for Wales and Chester and set up a Council to act on his behalf. This practice was revived for Prince Arthur in 1493 and the Council continued meeting at Ludlow after the death of Arthur, reaching its apogee during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Council of Wales and the Marches met in the Great Hall of the castle and dealt with a wide range of administrative and legal matters affecting the area of its jurisdiction. Sir Henry Sidney KG (d1586) was Lord President of the Council from 1560 to 1586 and many improvements were made to the castle around his time. These included the development the area to the east of the Great Hall, to improve the available accommodation, and of a new house by the entrance to the inner bailey to act as Judges’ Lodgings. A bridge was also built at first floor level between the council chamber and the round chapel.

Photo: Hugh Wood

The Final Years

During the Civil War Ludlow castle was garrisoned for the king. A Parliamentary force laid siege to the town in April 1646, the garrison surrendering a month later without a fight and without damage to the castle. In 1669 the headquarters of the Council of the Marches was moved to London and was eventually abolished in 1689. Ludlow castle had been a place of importance locally, regionally and nationally over a period of nearly 600 years but its significant role in the history of Britain now came to an end.


Cole H. The Wars of the Roses 1973
Fraser A. Kings and Queens of England 1975
Hopkinson C. & Speight M. The Mortimers, Lords of the March 2002
Lloyd D. Arthur, Prince of Wales 2002
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Powicke M. The Thirteenth Century – Oxford History of England 1962
Remfry P.
Ross C. Edward IV 1974
Shoesmith R. & Johnson A. Ludlow Castle, Its History & Buildings 2000
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