End of an Era

Cicely died at the Castle in 1495, and that must have been a very black year in local history. The town’s long, intimate link with the Royal Family was snapped. Berkhamsted was without a great house and a great lord or lady. The large domestic staff was disbanded and many a faithful servant must have been unemployed. Of course, work in the fields and in the park continued. In 1502 the underkeeper at Berkhamsted sent a buck to Windsor for Cicely’s granddaughter, Henry VII’s queen, to whom the Honour and Manor of Berkhamsted was granted. But the first Tudor queen probably never came to Berkhamsted. Neither did Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, three of Henry VIII’s wives, to whom the Honour was also granted.

A Heap of Stones

After the death of Cicely, nearly a century elapsed before Berkhamsted Place was built, and by that time the Castle was in an advanced state of ruin. Camden, early in the 17th century, saw the damage wrought by Carey’s masons and said the Castle was a heap of stones and ruined walls. A survey of the same period tells us that Carey “hath builded certaine howses fir his necessary use, within the p’cincte of the said Castle.” As we know from the plan [printed in June 1967], a brewhouse, a stable and what seems to have been a lodge had been built in the arena.

In 1728 Salmon described the Castle as “a building with most of the outer walls and chimneys remaining, and all the windows opening to the inside.” Stukeley (1776) agreed that the windows looked inwards and said that the chapel seemed to have stood near the west wall, where there were signs of a staircase. Even those traces had gone by 1855, when our local historian Cobb wrote: “Windows, chimneys and staircases there are none. Walls there certainly are, but so hopelessly ruinous that the remains do little more than mark their original site.”

Berkhamsted Castle

Orchard and Pasture 

An orchard in the arena, shown in the plan of 1607, survived until the 19th century. In 1811 Dugdale wrote: ‘The inner court is now an orchard; the outer court is cultivated as a farm; and a small cottage with a few outbuildings, now occupies a portion of the ground once occupied by princes and sovereigns.’

From ‘Why the Castle was Abandoned’, P.C. Birtchnell, writing as Beorcham in Berkhamsted Review, Jul 1967…