There is no evidence as to when Benington castle was begun, but as it belonged to the Valognes family it was presumably founded by Sheriff Peter Valognes who died sometime after 1109.  He was certainly lord of the manor of manor of Benington in 1086 and 1095.  Presumably the castle was built as the caput of his barony. 

In September 1141 the honour was in the hands of Peter's son, Roger, when he witnessed a charter for the Empress Matilda.  He died sometime after, Benington passing to his son, Peter who was dead by September 1160 when his brother Robert Valognes offered King Henry II (1154-89) 200m (£133 6s 8d) for his lands.  No doubt this included Benington castle. 

The castle was first actually mentioned when it was destroyed after the Young King's Rebellion of 1173-74, King Henry II
having to purchase 100 picks for pulling down Benington keep (prosternendam turrim de Beninton) at a cost of 12s as recorded in September 1177.  The next entry to this was for wages to Richard Fot and Roger Walensis for 3s 6d for 21 days work.  Presumably this is the time it took to demolish the tower.  The same year the vill of Benington was fined and paid 10m (£6 13s 4d) for its misdeeds.  No doubt this was another sign of their rebellion.

On Robert Valognes' death in 1184 the presumably still derelict castle passed to his only daughter's first husband, Durrand d'Outille.  The castle may have remained defensible for after King Richard's capture in Germany the government in 1193 garrisoned both Hertford and Benington castles with 10 knights for 50 days at a cost of £25.  These were supported by 20 sergeants with 2 horse each at £25 and 20 foot sergeants at a cost of £8 6s 8d.  This garrisoning suggests that it is possible that although the keep was demolished in 1177 the rest of the enceinte was left intact.  Certainly this is an intriguing possibility, that Henry II deliberately slighted the keep, the sign of lordship, but not the rest of the castle.  For other castles that Henry slighted see Bungay, Duffield, Framlingham and Walton.  It should be noted that some £50 was spent on demolishing these Bigod castles, against a mere 16s for buying picks to deal with Benington keep in 1177.  Apparently the cost of the labour was not counted.

Robert Fitz Walter (d.1235) acquired the castle by marriage to the heiress Gunnor Valognes before 1200, but after the death of her first husband, Durrand d'Outille, in 1194.  With Robert's failed conspiracy of 1212 the fortress was destroyed by King John.  Although Robert was pardoned in 1213 the castle was never mentioned again. 

The main earthworks of Benington castle are situated just north of the parish church.  The inner ward consists of not a motte, as is often claimed, but a large, much mutilated ringwork about 150' across.   This now occupies a squarish space, although the surviving north-east corner which still has some elements of curtain wall upon it would suggest that the original shape was roughly circular.  This well preserved portion of the ringwork has a ditch about 20' deep protected by a counterscarp bank tp the north-east.  The western and southern portions of the site have been much landscaped and destroyed. 

To the south was a semi-circular bailey that included the church.  To the west of the castle is a valley with 2 modern ponds and traces of a dam.  Quite possibly this once marked a lake water defence on this side of the fortress.

Despite the destruction of 1177 there are still to be seen various fragments of a great rectangular tower keep standing towards the east side of the ringwork.  This building made of flint was some 45' by 41' externally with walls 7' thick.  The south wall is reduced to its foundations, but other parts stand some 9' high.  The tower had 3 pilaster buttresses of limestone ashlar to each face, the corner ones being grooved or nicked.  Most of the tower facing is gone, but on some lower sections of the north wall the flint has been lain in herringbone fashion

To the north-east of the tower are the foundations of what appear to be a small forebuilding to covered just over half of the north face of the keep.  The ruins of this have been much disfigured by fallen masonry and the insertion of an imitation Norman doorway around 1832.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry