The fortress stands majestically on its Old Red Sandstone footings commanding the passage of the River Wye into the picturesque wooded valley of Symonds Yat.  The site is today cared for by the state, an occurrence that often comes to pass with many castles at some time or other during their history.  This was because it was of military interest to the government to know who held which castle and whether the current owners were reliable or not.  If they were to be trusted they might be rewarded with aid to help them fortify their castle; if not other action might ensue.  Many times the state interfered with the running of Goodrich castle throughout its long history and on several occasions took over the maintenance of the fortress and perhaps shaped its development.  Now state involvement is more benign and has been used to change this once important defensive home into a safe tourist playground.

The site of Goodrich castle has been inhabited for well over a millennium, but for how long before that is open to debate - a debate which will be examined in the book available at the bottom of the page.  Surviving documentary evidence shows that the area around Goodrich was certainly inhabited in the post Roman era, and possibly earlier.  An early twelfth century copy of a charter dating to about 870AD mentions nearby Pencraig (SO.564208) as Penncreic in Ercig super Gui.  This translates as Pencraig in Ergyng above the Wye.  At the time of the charter this district belonged to King Hywel ap Rhys of Morgannwg (d.886).  Such a description of ‘in Ergyng above the Wye' is also fitting for Goodrich castle as it stands on the relatively high ground of a bluff overlooking the River Wye.  Goodrich and its district stands within the boundaries of the old sub-Roman kingdom of Ergyng or Archenfield as it was known in English.  Strategically the castle may have stood within eyesight of an old Roman road which ran westwards from Gloucester (Glevum) through Mitcheldean and then parallel to the River Wye until it joined up with the postulated road from Newnham to Monmouth and then on into South Wales.  The course of the road westwards beyond Longhope and Mitcheldean is uncertain, but it probably followed near to the route of the A4136. 

Within the courtyard of the fortress proper stands a beautifully proportioned rectangular tower keep.  This is generally stated to be the work of the anachronistically and wrongly named Earl Richard Strongbow (d.1176), mainly on the grounds of he was a well known aristocrat and that he held the castle for some 25 years.  To quote the 'received wisdom':

The keep was built in the mid 12th century, probably in the time of Richard 'Strongbow' de Clare, lord of Goodrich 1148-76, or slightly earlier.

Why Earl Richard, who is not actually recorded as having built anything, should have built such an archaic structure in such an out of the way place (in the years 1148-76 or slightly earlier) has never been examined or even considered.  Instead modern ‘histories', without the slightest shred of contemporary evidence, tend to assert this as a self obvious fact, which apparently needs no discussion and no supporting evidence.  The only ‘evidence' occasionally advanced is the traditional one that the keep is similar to another undated tower which, so the argument goes, must be of a similar age as the two look superficially similar.  Such towers, of course, are rarely if ever securely dated.  Hopefully the history and examination of the remains of the fortress will question this assertion thoroughly and offer up rather more plausible suggestions as to the tower's origins and construction dates.  The ornate square keep is still the heart of the current fortress and continues to dominate the inner ward.

The rest of the early castle it commanded appears to have been destroyed long ago, or was it?  Close examination of the ruins now shows that several parts of the fortress previously thought to have been late thirteenth century would appear to be older.

The early fortress played its part during the wars of Stephen and Matilda (1136-54) and two generations later witnessed a telling defeat of the rebel barons beneath its walls in 1216.  This was brought about by the man often claimed to be the best knight in Christendom, Earl William Marshall of Pembroke (d.1219).  Four of William's known sons were sequentially lords of the castle and one was overlord.  Each died in tragic circumstances.  Many subsequent lords of the castle also suffered a surprisingly high mortality rate to the extent that ownership of the castle really does appear to have been unlucky.

Lords or heirs of Goodrich who met an untimely death
Lords Date of Death Age at Death
William Marshall 5 April 1231 aged about 41
Richard Marshall 15 March 1234 aged over 31
Gilbert Marshall 27 June 1241 aged over 36
Walter Marshall 24 November 1245 aged over 38
Anselm Marshall 22 December 1245 aged over 35
John Montchesney June 1247 aged over 13
John Valence January 1278 aged over 27
William Valence 16 June 1282 aged over 16
Aymer Valence June 1324 aged over 53
Hugh Despenser 29 November 1326 aged over 36
Gilbert Talbot 24 April 1387 aged 55
Richard Talbot 9 September 1396 aged 35
Gilbert Talbot 19 October 1418 aged 35
Earl John Talbot 17 July 1453 aged 65
John L'Isle 17 July 1453 aged 27
Earl John Talbot 10 July 1460 aged 47
Earl John Talbot 28 June 1473 aged 24

By the 1260s Goodrich had passed to the king's half-brother, Earl William Valence (d.1295), and he rebuilt the castle in the most modern and lavish of styles.  Building work at Goodrich is attested to in 1261 before the Barons' War and then again in 1275, 1277, 1280 and 1282.  Presumably this accounted for the barbican and east and north ranges of the castle.  The ‘repair' of the castle in 1292 may well have referred to the rebuilding of the western enceinte of the fortress and the addition of the outer ward.  There
fore it is William's great red sandstone castle which still graces the scenery of Herefordshire today.  This fortress, with three halls - two more than any other noble would usually want - stood fast until the Civil War.  In 1646 Sir Henry Lingen fought a desperate battle to hold the castle for the king, but he and the fortress were eventually battered into submission.  The castle surrendered on 31 July 1646, effectively ending its military history.

Since the ruination of the building by Parliament in the seventeenth century, Goodrich castle has become a mecca for tourists and artists alike.  As long ago as 1700 travellers were coming here to gaze in wonder at its ruined palatial walls set in the most spectacular of Herefordshire border scenery.  It is good to see that this pastime shows no signs of diminishing.

Goodrich Castle and the families of Godric Mapson, Monmouth, Clare, Marshall, Montchesney, Valence, Despenser and Talbot (ISBN 1-899376-82-8) looks in great detail at both the castle and the associated church sites.  Starting in the late Roman era the book examines all the known original documents concerned with the site up to 1324. The later history of the castle is covered briefly.  The castle description is buttressed by numerous photographs and plans of the earthworks and remains.  The book also contains the genealogical family tree of the lords of Goodrich and a discussion on Saxon towers.


Godric Mapson and the Foundation of Goodrich Castle, 1066 to 1095 
Hulla and Garth Benni 
Doomsday Book Goodrich 
Castle Goodrich and the Lords of Monmouth, 1095 to 1101
William Fitz Baderon and Goodrich Castle, 1102 to 1128
Baderon Monmouth and Goodrich Castle, 1128 to 1154
The Monmouth Charters and Castle Goodrich 
The Earls of Striguil and the False Nickname Strongbow
Earl Gilbert Clare of Pembroke, 1138 to 1154
The Clare Lordship of Goodrich Castle, 1155 to 1176
Royal Goodrich, 1176 to 1204 
Goodrich Castle and the Curse of the Marshalls
Earl William Marshall and Goodrich Castle, 1189 to 1216
The Battle of Goodrich, 29 October 1216 
The Last years of the Marshall, 1216 to 1219 
The Curse of Goodrich and William Marshall Junior, 1219 to 1231
The Curse of Goodrich and Richard Marshall, 1231 to 1234
Gilbert Marshall and Goodrich Castle, 1234 to 1241 
Lord Walter Marshall of Goodrich, Earl of Pembroke, 1241 to 1245  
The Royal Stewardship of Goodrich Castle, 1245 to 1247 
William Valence, The King's Favourite, 1247 to 1256
Goodrich Castle and the Great Welsh War, 1256 to 1258 
Goodrich Castle under Royal Control and the Return of Valence, 1258 to 1263 
William Valence and the Civil War, 1264 to 1266
William Valence and Goodrich at Peace, 1267 to 1276 
Earl William Valence and the Conquest of Gwynedd, 1276 to 1283
Earl William Valence and the Final Building Phase of Goodrich, 1284 to 1296
Joan Montchesney and Earl Aymer Valence at Goodrich, 1296 to 1324 
Later History of Goodrich Castle and its Unfortunate Lords, 1324 to 1538

The Castle Remains
The Castle Site and Approaches 
The Barbican (B) and Outer Gatehouse (g) 
The Great Gatehouse Causeway (A)  
The Great Gatehouse (G) Gate Passageway 
The Lower Portions of the Great Gatehouse (G) 
The Chapel (C)  
The Upper Floor of the Great Gatehouse (G) 
The Gatehouse (G) Battlements and Wallwalk 
The East Hall (H2) and Its Curtain Wall 
The Lower Eastern Wallwalk 
The Upper Eastern Wallwalk and later Hall 
The North Hall (H3) 
The North West Tower (N) 
The South East Tower (P) 
The South Curtain Wall 
The South-West Tower (K) 
The West Curtain Wall 
The Garderobe Turret (T) 
The Great Hall (H) 
The Lobby (L) 
The Well (W) and Pentices 
The MacMurrough (MacMac) Tower, or Keep (M) 
The Outer Ward (O) 
The Church of St Giles of Goodrich 

The Family Trees of the Lords of Castle Goodrich

Appendix A, Lords of Goodrich who met an untimely death  
Appendix B, The Fitz Baderon charter to Monmouth priory and St Florent abbey
Appendix C, The oaks donated by the king to William Valence 
Appendix D, St Leonard's Tower, West Malling, Kent  
Appendix E: Saxon rectangular towers  
Appendix F: The Surviving Holes for Iron Bars within the Windows of Goodrich Castle
Appendix G: Table of Events at Castle Goodrich



Available for £39.95.

Why not join me at Goodrich and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry