VCH Explore

Explore England's Past

Marlborough Castle

Marlborough castle coin

 The wooden castle was built by William the conqueror as his invasion force came to the West Country in 1086. It later became to be strengthened by Roger, bishop of Salisbury in 1100 and was later rebuilt in stone. The history of the structure of the castle is interesting and the details of its strengthening and rebuilding throughout the centuries show us that the castle was highly valued by both monarchs and their officials and powerful locals.

Important individuals feature in the castles history the first being Agelric who was the bishop of the South Saxons. He was held hostage in the castle in 1070 after William came to successfully conquer the West Country in 1068. The royal history of the castle does not finish here as the castle became a royal residence and the royal court often visited. Savernake forest and the neighbouring wood of Aldbourne chase were favourite royal hunting grounds. Notable figures linked to the castle are as follows. John of Gaunt, son of Edward III had a hunting lodge in the middle of the chase. Henry I spent Easter there in 1110. Henry III was married there and in 1245 his mother died there. On his death the castle became part of the dowry of his widow, Queen Eleanor and on her death was conferred by Edward I on his own Queen. Edward II bestowed it on his favourite Hugh Le Despencer in 1308; on his fall his wife Queen Isabel obtained it. In the reign of Edward III the castle was held by various wardens for the King’s sister. Richard II granted it to Sir William Scrope – on his execution in 1399 it reverted back to the crown.

The castle was allowed to fall into ruin after the Wars of the Roses. The wise policy of Henry VII strengthened the crown so great castles were no longer needed to keep the peace. Old feudal fortresses became valueless, as explosives were now in use and castles were defenceless against gunpowder. Edward VI, last royal owner of the castle, passed it on to the Seymour family as this was his mother’s line. Today the site of the castle belongs to Marlborough College.

Content derived from research undertaken as part of the Victoria County History project