The Domesday Book states that Berkeley castle was begun by William Fitz Osbern (d.20 Feb 1071), who had also built castles at Chepstow, Clifford, Ewias Harold and Wigmore.  The castle is unusual in having a shell keep built around the base of a motte and not upon it.  The keep has pilaster buttresses and one of the added small towers contains a cell said to have been site of the murder of King Edward II in 1327.  The keep wall was breached to the north-west in 1645 as a result of a siege by parliamentarian troops.  The gloriette at Leeds totally lacks a motte while more normal shell keeps on the motte top exist at
Arundel, Cardiff, Carisbrooke, Clare, Kilpeck, Launceston, Lewes, Lincoln, Marlborough, Oxford, Restormal, Tamworth, Tonbridge, Totnes, Tremarton, Tretower, Warwick, Windsor and Wiston.  There are also Dungarvan and Shanid in Ireland and Chateau Sur Epte and Gisors in France.

The stone bailey lies to the south-east of the motte, although it is possible that the original motte lay within a larger early bailey that surrounded the keep.  The curtain wall to east and south is probably twelfth century and includes the walls of the great hall.  This is said to have a mid fourteenth century ceiling of 8 bays and tiered windbracing, as well as a wooden fifteenth century screen brought from Wales in the 1920s and retaining its original painted decoration.  The fifteenth century stone fireplace is said to have come from Wanswell Court.  The screens passage at the east end has 3 ‘Berkeley arches' and leads to the service area which retains an hexagonal kitchen with 3 fireplaces and an original medieval star timber roof.  The bakehouse is spanned by 2 large flat stone arches, while upstairs is the Morning Room.  This was the chapel of St. Mary until 1923.  The room has cusped arcades and retains a painted ceiling decoration of John Trevisa's 1387 translation of the Book of Revelation.  There is a fifteenth century Long Drawing Room, containing a wooden gallery originally from the chapel.  This has a projecting bay carved with the arms of Henry VII.  The Little Drawing Room was originally accessible from the Long Drawing Room only via a projecting octagonal lobby on the inner wall.  The private apartments of the Berkeley family lie beyond this and go round to the gatehouse adjoining the keep on the W side.  The curtain wall was altered here in the fourteenth century. 

The whole castle is in a good state of preservation and retains most original features down to doors and even windows with their iron catches.  The interior is said to have been completely remodelled 1340-50 by Thomas Berkeley.  This work remained largely unaltered until the 1920s when the eighth earl of Berkeley modernised and altered the interior and installed many artefacts from elsewhere, viz fireplaces and stained glass.  Excavations in 1938 have located much of the castle's layout including walls and buildings.

For more detailed descriptions of the castle see the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucs Arch Soc:

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


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry