Richards Castle

Richards Castle barony, otherwise known as the honour of Burford, is not a normal barony in any respect. It is one of the few Norman baronies in England that can be postulated by implication and documentation as pre-Conquest creations. Richards Castle, like Burford/Tenbury motte and Ham [Homme] castle, is amongst those few castles that can tentatively be classified as having been built before the Norman Conquest of 1066. The pre-Conquest history of Richards Castle is similar to that already described at Burford.

After being crowned King of England at Christmas 1066, William the Conqueror, on 21 February 1067, returned to Normandy, leaving his brother Odo and his distant cousin William Fitz Osbern (d.1071) as governors of England with orders to build strong castles in suitable places. Soon after this Edric Silvaticus, known to later generations as Edric the Wild, the son of Elfric, was attacked and had his lands ravaged by the garrison of Hereford together with Richard Fitz Scrope and his retinue. The peculiar thing about this action is that Edric had recently submitted to the Conqueror. Either he had gone back on his word when reaching the Marches or Herefordshire was still loyal to the old order which had perished with King Harold and therefore attacked the traitor Edric! As Edric's lands lay mainly around Wigmore and Clun we can be sure that Richard used his castles along the Teme valley for bases during the campaign. However the Norman attacks did not prove successful and they suffered great losses. Around 15 August 1067 Edric summoned the Welsh kings Bleddyn [Gwynedd, d.1075] and Rhiwallon [Powys, d.1070] to him and attacked his Norman enemies. The allies laid waste Herefordshire to the bridge over the Lugg and unsuccessfully attacked Hereford castle, injuring many of the garrison. Whichever side Edric was fighting on in 1067 he certainly became a rebel to King William over the next two years. His position in the west was gradually contained until, soon after 24 June 1070, he surrendered to the victorious King William who then made use of his military prowess in his wars on the Continent. Edric may have finished his days in a royal prison after rebelling with 'his lord' Earl Roger of Hereford and defending Wigmore castle against Ralph Mortimer who was fighting for William I.  Richard Fitz Scrope was not mentioned again after 1067 and all that is known of his death is that it was before 1086 when he had been succeeded by his son Osbern in many of his lands.

In April 1088 Osbern Fitz Richard, with most of the other Marchers invaded Worcestershire in favour of Duke Robert of Normandy, slaying and robbing the inhabitants, the men of King William II. The rebels, however, were defeated by the sheriff of Worcester and his men at Worcester. Soon afterwards the Marchers made their peace with King William Rufus (d.1100). Osbern Fitz Richard then fades into comparative obscurity, although in the period 1120-21 a cell of Tiron abbey was founded on his lands at Titley. In the later part of 1137 King Stephen ordered a survey of the landholdings in Herefordshire that had been affected by the actions of the recently deceased Pain Fitz John. Here it was recorded that Osbern Fitz Richard held seven hides in Presteigne (Prestehemed). Obviously the land had recovered greatly since Domesday. Around the same time a charter of King Stephen confirmed that Pain Fitz John had (1100-35) taken control of Osbern's Domesday fee of Ashford Bowdler (Esseford) near Richards Castle during the reign of King Henry I.

Osbern Fitz Richard seems to have died soon after Pain Fitz John (d.1137) and was succeeded by his grandson Osbern Fitz Hugh by 1140. Whether Hugh Fitz Osbern ever held the barony is open to question, but he does seem to have married Eustache Say at least ten years before 1135 and by her had at least one surviving son. Eustache would seem to have been either a daughter of Robert alias Picot Say or his son Henry Say of Clun. This family alliance seems to have been of some importance during the subsequent war of Stephen's troubled reign.

Civil war broke out in Herefordshire during May 1138 and Osbern Fitz Hugh, like most of the baronage, initially followed his king. When Earl Robert of Gloucester and Miles Gloucester declared for the Empress on her landing near Arundel on 30 September 1139, King Stephen lost much authority in the Marches of Wales. In Herefordshire, however, he retained the support of Osbern Fitz Hugh, Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore, William Braose of Radnor, Helias Say of Clun and initially Joyce Dinan of Ludlow, but latterly Gilbert Lacy of Weobley when Stephen finally recognized his right to his father's lands. In the early spring of 1140 King Stephen moved his host into Herefordshire and it was probably then that he granted the borough, castle and county of Hereford to Earl Robert Beaumont of Leicester. This grant was made, not of the county of Hereford as Earl William Fitz Osbern had held it in 1067, but as a normal shire. As such it did not include the fees of Hugh Mortimer, Osbern Fitz Hugh, William Braose and Joyce Dinan who held the lands of the rebellious Gilbert Lacy. However Stephen expressly stated that Earl Robert could have the fee of Joyce if he could take it. From this we can judge that one of the royalists had already gone over to the Empress in the Marches! Consequently Gilbert Lacy, who had started the civil war and was Joyce's personal enemy, might already have gone over to the king.

In the confused politics of the Anarchy something unusual seems to have occurred with Burford barony. It is well known that the major barons made private military and even civil agreements, but what the minor baronage got up to is less clear. It has been shown that Roger Port of Kington managed to acquire Presteigne from Osbern Fitz Hugh before 9 April 1145 when Thomas Fraxino granted the church there to St Guthlac's priory, Hereford. However this does not seem to fit well with the string of royalist victories that were then occurring in the Marches, as the loss of Presteigne would have seriously jeopardised Hugh Mortimer's successful actions in the Welsh Marches of Herefordshire between 1144 and 1148. During this time Osbern Fitz Hugh seems to have come over to the side of Earl Roger of Hereford. The idea that Roger Port of Kington supported the Angevins at this time is also suspect and the evidence may suggest that his relations with them were as a defeated enemy, rather than a loyal friend. The lord of Richards Castle seems to have continued in his loyalty to the family of the earl of Hereford and in the period 1159-65, together with Miles Hereford, Archdeacon Jordan (resigned 1175), Walter Clifford, Ralph Baskerville, Roger Burghill and many other French, Welsh and English, witnessed a grant of Earl Roger's brother and heir, Henry Hereford. From the above it can be suggested that Osbern came to some form of agreement with the Angevin's in the Marches. However, as will be argued below, he does not seem to have forgotten his old allies either and probably made an agreement with both parties, hedging his bets in the ongoing and apparently never-ending civil war of the Anarchy.

Osbern seems to have lost about ten knights' fees in the Anarchy of King Stephen's reign and in 1160-1 was only recorded as owing fifteen knights in Herefordshire. It seems likely that these ten missing fees included the lands of Presteigne [five fees] and Bleddfa. By 1211-1219 Robert Mortimer, the husband of the Say heiress of Richards Castle, was said to be holding 25 fees of the barony with the heiress of Hugh Say, who was the heir of Osbern Fitz Hugh. This suggests that either Robert or one of his predecessors had reclaimed the missing ten fees, or more likely he was just stating that they should be owed to Burford barony.

During the above period Osbern seems to have continued his families' association with the house of Clifford which had apparently begun with his adherence to the Angevin cause in the mid 1140's. Presumably around the same time Osbern married Walter Clifford's (d.1190) daughter, Amicia. In the period 1172-74 Walter Clifford with the assent of Margaret Tosny his wife together with Osbern Fitz Hugh, made a grant to St Mary's of Abbey Dore of the land which William Ford held in Cantref Selyf. The purpose of the grant was for the monks to build an abbey at Trawscoed, which they soon afterwards did. The grant was witnessed by Bishop David of St David’s, William Bray, Osbern Fitz Hugh, Margaret Clifford, Walter Clifford the Younger [d.1220], [Fair] Rosamund his sister, Ralph Baskerville, Helias Marun, Hugh Say [d.1190], William Burghill, Simon the monk, Richard the chaplain and many others. The grant was made for all the successors and predecessors of the three grantees as well as for Walter Clifford's soul and those of his wife and their sons and daughters. This suggests that already, before 1174, Osbern Fitz Hugh did not intend to pass his barony on to his children, but that Hugh Say was even at this early date his heir. The following evidence seems to confirm this.

The genealogy of the Say family is difficult, but charter evidence suggests that by 1155 the Say fee, as held by Helias Say, the grandson of the Domesday Picot, had disintegrated. So too had the barony of Burford and the two disintegrations seem inextricably linked. An answer seems to lie in what occurred next.

In 1186 Osbern Fitz Hugh of Richards Castle died and was succeeded in the remnants of his barony of Burford by Hugh Say who only survived him by 4 years. Hugh is ususally stated to be the full brother of Osbern Fitz Hugh and to have taken his surname from his mother, Eustacia Say.  However, they were both married to Clifford sisters and in church terms they were therefore brothers.

One of Hugh's first acts as the new lord of Burford seems to have been to confirm the gifts of Osbern "his brother", namely Wychbold mill and a virgate of land at Whitebrook (Witebroc), to Haughmond abbey. This charter was witnessed by Walter Clifford (d.1190) and Richard his brother, Gilbert Giffard, Roger Solars, William Carbonel, Achilles and Roger his brother, Richard chaplain, Thomas chaplain, Walter the cleric and Hugh Katiford and has caused much confusion in the Say and Fitz Richard genealogies. This is because Hugh described Osbern as his brother, as, by the parlance of the day, he indeed was. However Osbern was not Hugh's uterine brother, but his brother-in-law, both men having married a daughter of the Walter Clifford who was so prominent in the Anarchy and died at a ripe old age around 1190. Hugh Say had married Lucy Clifford and Osbern Fitz Hugh, Amicia Clifford. Yet this does not explain why Osbern granted Richards Castle to Hugh Say, probably to the exclusion of his own apparent son, William. It would seem possible that Osbern was merely fulfilling part of an agreement struck in the Anarchy of Stephen's reign. What exactly that agreement was is difficult to say, but the known facts do seem to suggest an answer.

Fact, Helias Say the royalist lord of Clun passed possession of Clun castle to a daughter who was married to an Angevin.

Fact, Osbern Fitz Hugh lost possession of Presteigne castle before 1148 to Roger Port who may have been a Angevin (his relations with Earl Roger of Hereford do not seem to have been good).

Fact, Osbern Fitz Hugh, Burford passed to Hugh, Say the 'brother' of Osbern, who, according to two independent chronicles, battled against Earl Roger of Hereford (d.1155) before making a peace with him.

Fact, Hugh Fitz Hugh Say's daughter, Margaret, inherited Richards Castle and not any of his relations who, like Richard Say, certainly held rights in the barony.

Taken together this may suggest that there was a pact, or political agreement, drawn up between these 3 families in the maelstrom of changing allegiances which shook the reign of King Stephen.

Hugh Say of Richards Castle, whatever his parentage, died in the 1190 financial year and his son, another Hugh Say, was made responsible for the £11 10s which Osbern Fitz Hugh had owed for scutage due on his 23 knights' fees in Herefordshire. The second Hugh Say seems to have been a much more warlike character than his predecessors and this in the end may have been his undoing. In 1191 the Welsh seem to have been putting pressure on the lands around the Teme and Lugg valleys. As a consequence the loyal barons of King Richard I seem to have been ordered by the Chancellor to seize two Chandos castles, while the Chancellor himself, between 18 May and 8 July, forced Roger Mortimer of Wigmore to surrender Wigmore castle as Roger had been 'intriguing with the Welsh'. Towards the end of his life Hugh decided to try to regain his position in Wales and joined the Marchers in the great royally backed campaign against the prince of Deheubarth and his adherents in 1195. At Michaelmas that year it was recorded that Hugh Say had been granted 100 shillings in aid of repairing Bleddfa (Bledwach) castle, the vill of which had been held by Osbern Fitz Richard at Domesday.

In 1196 Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth attacked Radnor castle and destroyed it and the town. No sooner was the castle destroyed than Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d.1214) and Hugh Say of Burford, drew up their forces 'in the valley near that town'. A great battle ensued and the Marchers were utterly defeated, with the alleged loss of some forty knights and an innumerable number of foot. However a study of the royal records at this time shows no losses at all amongst the known knightly followers of Mortimer, and the only death that can be suggested with any certainty in the Say lordship appears to be that of Hugh Say himself! By early 1197 it would seem that Hugh Fitz Hugh Say of Burford was dead and it seems possible that he either died at the battle or, as his death was not mentioned in the Welsh Chronicles, soon afterwards of his wounds. Around the same time it became obvious that another Helias Say had succeeded his father Hugh at Stokesay.

In 1197 Margaret Say married Hugh Ferrers and took the barony of Burford to him in marriage. Hugh was the son of Walkelin Ferrers of Oakham in Rutland and his sister Isabella (d.1253) was married to Margaret Say's neighbour, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d.1214). However his career as lord of Burford proved short-lived and he died probably in 1204, leaving Margaret as the widowed baroness of Richards Castle and Burford. Any such independence she did have was soon removed when King John granted her lands to the custody of Earl Thomas Galway of Athol, a commission he held until 30 June 1207 when John ordered Thomas to surrender the castles of Stapleton and Richards Castle back to the hands of royal bailiffs. Thomas was later disgraced and in June 1211 Robert Mortimer of Essex married the widowed Margaret Say and consequently held Richards Castle for the rest of his life in right of his wife, although he only seems to have managed to acquire 5½ fees of the barony initially.

Robert Mortimer died in the summer of 1219, around the same time as he was presented by Margaret Say with a son and heir, Hugh Mortimer (d.1275). Then on 23 November 1219 Margaret married her third and final husband, William Stuteville who was to hold Richards Castle and Burford till his death in 1259, much to the eventual chagrin of Margaret's son and heir, Hugh Mortimer.

William Stuteville's career as lord of Burford does not seem to have been very eventful, and we can expect that little capital was expended on the borough or castle as it was to be held only for William's lifetime and was repeatedly claimed by William's son-in-law, Hugh Mortimer. By holding the castles of Richards Castle, Stapleton and maybe Bleddfa, William Stuteville was a Marcher baron and as such it is no surprise to find Robert Bund receiving 6d from the king on 1 October 1226 for going to visit Hugh Mortimer [of Wigmore] and William Stuteville. At Easter 1242, Hugh the son of Robert Mortimer, launched a determined attempt to gain his mother's lands, probably on the occasion of her death. The attempt failed, but in 1243 Hugh was granted his mother's hereditary lands of Homme (Hamme) and Clifton on Teme in Worcestershire and Cascob (Cascope) in Radnorshire as a settlement by his father-in-law. It is interesting that no castle was mentioned at Homme and it may be presumed that the old motte of Richard Fitz Scrope set in the now peaceful Worcestershire had long been derelict. The same is probably also true of Tenbury or Burford motte. The town of Tenbury Wells offering far better accommodation to the lord of Burford than an ancient and obsolete castle.

William Stuteville died before 20 May 1259 when Sir Hugh Mortimer, aged 40, inherited Richards Castle and Burford Barony. Hugh may or may not have campaigned with the other Marchers in the lead up to the battle of Lewes in May 1264, but he did support them in the subsequent struggles against Simon Montfort. In June or July 1264 the lands of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore were fired by the victorious earl of Leicester and at the same time Hereford and Hay on Wye castles were captured by the allied barons before Simon moved north, forcing Hugh Mortimer to surrender his person and Richards Castle. Earl Simon then proceeded to capture Ludlow castle and make Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and his remaining allies surrender at Montgomery on 25 August. Richards Castle and Burford barony were then granted to John Fitz John, whose father had held Longtown castle in right of his wife and whose grandfather Geoffrey Fitz Peter had won the great battle of Painscastle back in August 1198. John held Burford for only one year, he being captured with so many of his friends and companions at the battle of Evesham on 4 August 1265. With John's defeat Hugh Mortimer regained Burford and was granted by a grateful king the privilege of hunting hare, fox, weasel and cat in the royal forests of Shropshire. Hugh finished his career by becoming sheriff of Hereford in 1272, an office he held until his death.

Hugh Mortimer was dead, aged only 56, by 28 November 1275 when an Inquest Post Mortem was held upon the lands he had held before they were passed to his 22 year old son and heir, Robert. In Herefordshire these were found to have been Richards Castle, held of the barony of Burford, and Rochford (Rachesford) which was held of the fee of Clifford by service of ¼ knight.

In 1278 under Staffordshire it was recorded that Robert Mortimer owed £100 relief for his barony. Presumably this had been owing since he acquired Burford. No deeds have been uncovered so far of Robert's part in the first Welsh War of King Edward I in 1276-7, but in December 1282 he was part of the Marcher army that moved to meet and destroy Prince Llywelyn's invasion of Central Wales. The statement that Robert Mortimer was the nephew of the Mortimer's of Wigmore has led some authorities into making a direct link between the two families. However this is far more likely to simply echo the Ferrers connection, which in fact was not a blood-relationship at all. In the aftermath of their victory over the prince of Wales, Robert confirmed the charter whereby Edmund Mortimer of Wigmore granted to Walter Hackelutel all the land late of Gruffydd ab Owain in Elfael Uwch Mynydd [Aberedw], on 25 June 1285.

Robert Mortimer of Burford died, aged only 34, before 22 July 1287 when an inquisition was held into his lands. As war was then being waged in South Wales against Rhys ap Maredudd of Dryslwyn it is possible that Robert fell in action, certainly royal records repeatedly mention the good military service he had given his king.

Robert was succeeded by his underage son and heir another Hugh Mortimer, who held Burford Barony until his untimely death by poison in 1304. Hugh's uncle William Mortimer, in a 1289 deed seen by Blount, called himself Sir William Mortimer, Knight, filius Domini Hugonis Mortimer de Castro Ricardi and had a seal with the arms of the Say family. This obviously shows that the Mortimers of Burford saw themselves as heirs of Helias Say of Clun and his children, but again the reasoning behind this, without the alleged original agreement between the families, is difficult to ascertain.

In 1301 Hugh Mortimer made a grant at Richards Castle to all his burgesses of Richards Castle together with his tenants of Moore, Batchcott, Whitbrook and Overton of various rights in consideration of the good service they had done Hugh in the last Welsh war [1294-5]. The grant was witnessed by Roger Marshall, lord of Yarpole, Roger Cayne, Philip Crete, Reuall Ludlow, Henry Myle and many others. The connection between the Ludlows, the Mortimers of Burford and the Says of Stokesay should be noted. When the last Hugh Mortimer of Burford was poisoned, apparently by his wife, in 1304 it was recorded that he had 103 burgages in Richards Castle, held land in Pilleth or Wapley (Wapelith) of the Mortimer's of Wigmore and had thirty free tenants in Cascob who paid a rental of 30s 2d and that part of this land was treated as an appurtenance of Wigmore. Presumably this was his little barony of Bleddfa, now held of the Mortimer's land of Maelienydd. These family lands at Bleddfa were tenanted by a solidly Welsh population in 1293.

Hugh's death may have been brought about by his wife, Matilda, who was repeatedly accused of poisoning him and other knights of the barony. However she found royal protection from the Queen. With Edward I's death in 1307 Matilda too suddenly died and the suspicion must remain that without royal protection those hounding her through the courts for murder took their revenge!

Hugh Mortimer was eventually succeeded by two co-heiresses, one of whom was Joan Mortimer. She married for her second husband Sir Richard Talbot who lived at Richards Castle until his death before 29 June 1376. Joan's younger sister married into the Cornwall family who were descendants on the female side of the last Brian Brampton of Brampton Bryan (d.1294). She took to her husband Burford Barony and Stapleton castle. As has been noted above the castles in this barony at Tenbury/Burford and Homme were probably by this time only distant memories, little more in the mind of locals than their denuded remains are today.


The castle consists of a powerful rock that was at least partially made of solid rock as can be seen in the rock cut ditch around it.  On the summit of this an octagonal keep 44' in diameter with walls 12' thick was built.  This had a D shaped forebuilding pointing east into the bailey.  The bailey was kidney shaped and powerfully ditched, although the motte ditch within the bailey was filled in during the twelfth century.  The bailey was entered from a large outer ward that included the church, via an internal gatetower to the SE.  The early curtain wall that flanked this appears to have had no original flanking.  Subsequently a curtain was added to N&S which contained small D shaped towers.  The final addition to the site was a rectangular keep like structure, possibly built when the keep had collapsed or become unsafe. This was some 45' by 33' and had an internal spiral vice in its SW corner as well as attached garderobes.  In size it would hae been similar to the keeps at Criccieth (43'x32') and Dolwydellan II (44'x31') in Gwynedd, Hopton (45'x40') in England and Adare (43'x35') in Limerick, Ireland.  

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Copyright©1994-2004 Paul Martin Remfry