Throughout its history Berkhamsted Castle was a royal castle, a favoured residence of English monarchs and their families. Princes and princesses were born here, queens and earls died here, and many others of national importance resided here. Records tell us that Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine kept Court here in 1163 and that Henry visited on other occasions too. Thomas à Becket, as Chancellor, had transformed the castle for Henry into one of his more comfortable households.
Geoffrey fitz Piers built two hospitals and had a hand in the layout of later medieval Berkhamsted, including building St Peter’s church.
King John spent some time here in 1216 shortly before his death, improving the defences against threatened revolts of the barons; his widowed queen, Isabel, was here when the castle surrendered to Louis of France in December 1216 after two weeks’ siege.
In 1226 Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was granted the Honour and Manor of Berkhamsted and made the castle the administrative centre of the entire earldom. His son, Edmund, founder of the College of Bonhommes at Ashridge, was born here.
Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France, was betrothed in 1303 at the age of seven to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward I – they were married in France in January 1308. She had many associations with Berkhamsted.
Isabella’s grandson, the Black Prince hunted regularly in the deer park and he and his wife, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, honeymooned at the castle. Later, after the battle of Poitiers in 1356 King John of France was imprisoned at the castle.
In 1389 Geoffrey Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the Works at Berkhamsted Castle and other royal properties, with dubious results while he pursued his career as writer and poet.
Eighty years later, Edward IV granted the castle to his mother Cicely, Duchess of York. After her death in 1495 it was no longer inhabited. It passed in turn to three of Henry VIII’s queens, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, until Edward VI granted it to his sister, Elizabeth. In 1580 she leased the Manor to Sir Edward Carey, Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels, who built himself Berkhamsted Place on the hill above the castle.