Burford Barony


The Burford Stop Line

When marking out the lands of the early lords of Richards Castle on the map it rapidly becomes apparent that these were divided into two separate areas. The first lay around Presteigne (SO.310 645) in the Marches of Wales, whilst the other lay on the River Teme from Richards Castle in the west to Clifton on Teme only eight miles from Worcester in the east. This solid line of vills is anchored on three castles, Richards in the west, Homme (SO.735 618) in the east and centrally on that of Tenbury Wells (SO.594 686), which would better be known as Burford castle as it lies on the opposite side of the River Teme to the current town of Tenbury. Burford was the often used name of the barony of Richards Castle.

To strengthen this interpretation of the Teme as a military boundary are the remains of these three castles, all of which show a similarity of design that may suggest a simultaneous foundation. It is also to be noted that Burford and Homme castles rapidly fell into dereliction and indeed were never mentioned in history. This may well suggest an early abandonment. If this is a medieval fortified boundary it is to be suggested that it was constructed by Richard Fitz Scrope under the auspices of Earl Ralph Mantes of Hereford in the period 1053-57. Certainly it seems to have been used for its initial purpose during the rebellion of Edric the Wild, 1067-70.


The early history of Burford Barony

The history of Burford/Tenbury castle possibly began as early as the late 1040's when King Edward the Confessor brought over to England some of his Norman friends. One of these was Ralph Mantes, his nephew by his sister Godgifu and Count Drogo of Vexin in the Norman March. King Edward made him an earl before 1050 at the latest, though whether he was earl of Hereford, a province of Earl Godwin's son Swein (d.29 Sep 1052 in Constantinople), is unlikely. Ralph installed Norman favourites under his command and they seem to have begun constructing castles. In September 1051 Earl Ralph with the men of his earldom joined the royal army at Gloucester, ready, but unwilling to do battle with Earl Godwine who had moved a rebellion against the Crown. The men of Herefordshire, however, were said to have marched under the command of Godwine's son, Swein. After Earl Godwine's bloodless fall from power Earl Ralph certainly obtained Hereford for himself and built a castle there if he had not held any position in the land earlier. Richards Castle may have been founded at the same time, possibly as the third castle in the county. The circumstantial evidence below also suggests that Richard Fitz Scrope built two other fortresses simultaneously, Homme and Burford.

In 1052 the new customs of the foreigners provoked an anti-Norman backlash by the English and Earl Godwine returned from exile with an army to re-establish himself against his Norman and court enemies. However a battle was again avoided and peace and concord was established between the opposing parties soon after 14 September 1052. The king promised all the people that he would keep the good laws and 'banished all the Normans who had instituted unjust ones, and had pronounced unjust judgments'. With this some of the Normans, namely Earl Ralph Mantes of Hereford, Robert Fitz Wymarch the Deacon [Thruxton], his son-in-law Richard Fitz Scrope [Burford], Alfred the king's master of horse, Aufrid, surnamed Ceokesfot, and some others 'whom the king loved more than the rest', were allowed to remain in England. It is interesting to note that during this crisis some Normans fled west to Pentecost's castle, and some north to Robert's castle. Pentecost's castle is credibly associated with Ewias Harold, but the identification of Robert [Fitz Wymarch]'s castle with Clavering in Essex is not certain. No defence of these castles was made however, and soon afterwards Osbern Pentecost and his otherwise unknown companion Hugh [Howton] surrendered their castles and went to join King Macbeth in Scotland. At this time Godwine may well have received Hereford back, but he died on 15 April 1053 and Earl Ralph was given Herefordshire with Oxfordshire and possibly Gloucestershire. 

Before Ralph died in 1057 King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of the Welsh laid waste a great part of Herefordshire. As a consequence the men of Herefordshire and many Normans ‘from the castle’, went against the rebels on horseback, not as the national militia or fyrd, but as mounted Norman knights. The experiment proved disastrous and the Anglo-Norman force was routed in battle two miles from Hereford by Gruffydd who then proceeded to destroy Hereford and its castle at the end of October 1055. It would seem likely that Richard Fitz Scrope was one of those Normans supporting Ralph and Burford castle, we can be reasonably sure, remained one of his bases at this time.

With these desperate acts the history of Richard Fitz Scrope's castles fade into obscurity for the next few years, but it is to be presumed that Richard remained based at his Herefordshire fortresses where he was recorded immediately after the Norman Conquest of England. Indeed it is possible that Richard may have been present at the battle of Hastings on King Harold’s side, for before the battle commenced Richard's father-in-law, the Breton Richard Fitz Wymarch of Raleigh and Thruxton, met Duke William and advised him to flee England rather than meet King Harold in the open field and be overwhelmed by the vast English host! As such he would appear to be an ambassador for Harold, rather than a deserter of the English king who was also earl of Hereford.


Burford Castle (SO.594686)

The motte of Burford aka Tenbury Wells castle consists of a much mutilated mound a little under fifteen feet high. A bailey obviously lay to the north. Its riverside position would suggest that it once occupied flooded ground and used the river to maintain water defences, though any ditches around the earthworks have long since silt up.

The castle is some distance away from Burford parish church and village which, like the castle, is actually in Shropshire. Tenbury Wells on the other hand is in Worcestershire. Today the castle is within an industrial suburb of Tenbury, separated from the later Medieval burgh by the River Teme.

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Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry