Goodrich Castle, standing near the border of England and Wales, is one of the finest and best preserved Norman Medieval Castles in England and also a fine example of English military architecture. Its position overlooking the River Rye and guarding the line of the former Roman Road from Gloucester to Caerleon is an indication of the strategic importance of this castle throughout its history. Goodrich Castle appears to have been in existence since 1101, when it was known as Godric’s Castle, more than likely named after Godric of Mappestone, a local Anglo-Saxon landowner who is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). The original earth and timber fortification had to be replaced by a small keep made of stone in the mid-12th century, which still stands at the centre of Goodrich today. Increased protection was needed due to Henry II’s more aggressive policies within the region, which in turn led to more attacks by the native welsh across the border.
During the 1130s England descended into anarchy as rival factions vied for the crown, over the next twenty years ownership of the castle changed several times until 1154 when it was taken under royal control. The early 13th century proved no less volatile, King John had lost a lot of his lands – and therefore his noble’s lands – in France, this led him to try and compensate one of his strongest Knights William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, to whom he handed over the castle and surrounding manor lands in 1203. Marshal expanded Goodrich by building a curtain wall in stone around the existing keep, this was much needed as there were always renewed threats and attacks from the Welsh. The castle stayed in the hands of the Marshal’s for nearly fifty years before being passed by marriage to William de Valence, a noted French soldier and half brother to Henry III.
William de Valence began to build a much larger castle around the keep, demolishing Marshal’s work, this was necessary due to the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s numerous raids into English territories. The castle passed to Valence’s son Aymer de Valence, and upon his death to his niece Elizabeth de Comyn. Unfortunately for Elizabeth these were the days of the ‘Marcher Lords’, Hugh le Despenser the older and his son Hugh Despenser the younger, close allies of Kind Edward II. The Dispensers seized lands belonging to men who had fallen out of favour of the King or the lands of widows or unmarried women, Hugh le Despenser the younger kidnapped Elizabeth in London and brought her to be imprisoned in her own castle at Goodrich. Faced with the threat of death Elizabeth was forced to sign over her lands and the castle, however a year later Elizabeth married Richard Talbot, the 2nd Baron Talbot who seized back the castle. That year, 1326, also saw the landing of Queen Isabella of France in England who deposed both the Dispensers and her husband Edward II, Talbot and Elizabeth regained their legal title to Goodrich.
The Talbot’s greatly expanded Goodrich during the 15th century after sustaining repeated attacks from the Welsh forces of Owain Glyndwr, in 1402, 1404 and 1405. The Talbots became the Earls of Shrewsbury in 1442 and fought on the Lancastrian side during the War of the Roses, John Talbot died at the Lancastrian defeat at Northampton and Goodrich was forfeited to the Yorkist William Herbert, however John Talbot senior’s son, also named John, made his peace with the King and regained control of his family lands during the 1460s.
By the 16th century Goodrich had become less fashionable and less useful as a base due to its distance from London, the castle was all but abandoned and used to hold prisoners for the local courts. In 1616 Gilbert Talbot died with no male heir and Goodrich passed into the hands of Henry Grey, Earl of Kent, the Greys did not live at the castle, instead choosing to rent it out. By the 1630s Richard Tyler, a local lawyer, became tenant and constable of the castle and set about renovations. Shortly before the outbreak of the English Civil War, the Earl of Stamford, with the support of Tyler garrisoned the castle for Parliament. Royalist pressure in the area increased and the Earl of Stamford withdrew to Gloucester. The castle was occupied by Royalists under Sir Henry Lingen and Tyler was imprisoned. After many battles between Royalists and Parliament forces in the area Colonel John Birch besieged the castle in June 1646 on behalf of Parliament and set about digging trenches to install artillery to attack Goodrich. The castle was badly damaged in the siege, mainly due to the use of an enormous mortar called ‘Roaring Meg’, able to fire massive gunpowder shells weighing 90kg, the Royalists were forced to surrender. Tyler was freed and allowed to become tenant of the castle again, however the castle fell into further disrepair after another attack a couple of years later, Tyler moved out and the Countess of Kent, by then the owner, decided not to rebuild the castle as it was uninhabitable.
The castle and its lands remained with the Earl of Kent until 1740, when it was sold to Admiral Thomas Griffin. Griffin undertook some restoration of the castle but retained it as a ruin. In the late 18th century the concept of the ‘picturesque ruin’ became popular, with William Wordsworth describing Goodrich as the, ‘noblest ruin in Herefordshire’. The ruin was already a tourist attraction by the 1820s when visitors could even purchase a guide book! Goodrich Castle is now under the care of English Heritage.
GPS: 51.87679, -2.61582