Dukes of Cornwall
Berkhamsted Castle has a long association with the Dukes of Cornwall, a connection stretching back to the 14th century, when the title was first created. Indeed today, most of the Berkhamsted Castle site (including the inner and outer baileys and the moats) is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.
By tradition, the Duchy is in the possession of the eldest son of the reigning monarch, who inherits the title Duke of Cornwall. The current Duke of Cornwall is HRH William, Prince of Wales, who became the 25th Duke of Cornwall on The accession of King Charles III to the throne in 2022. Before William, his father Charles had been the longest serving Duke.
Unlike some titles, the Duchy is not limited to the geographic area of Cornwall. For centuries, a large part of the estate has consisted of landholdings outside the county. Historically, the manor of Berkhamsted was owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, and from 1722 until 1851, the rectors of St Peter’s Parish Church were presented by the Dukes of Cornwall.
Earls of Cornwall
In 1227, Richard (1209–1272), brother of King Henry III, was created Earl of Cornwall. He acquired the Berkhamsted estate in 1231. Richard of Cornwall’s coat of arms consisted a lion rampant surrounded by gold balls. The title was held by several people, including Richard’s son, Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (1249–1300) and Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (5th creation) (1284–1312).
Dukes of Cornwall
In 1337, the Earl of Cornwall title was superseded by a new title: Duke of Cornwall. This was awarded to the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock (1330–1376), the eldest son of King Edward III. A tradition was thereby established that the title would be granted to the monarch’s eldest living son (like the title Prince of Wales). Although the Black Prince was next in line to the throne, he predeceased the King, and the duchy was recreated for his next son, Richard of Bordeaux. When Richard acceded the throne as Richard II in 1377, this creation merged to the crown.
The title was subsequently inherited by the eldest sons of the sovereign, and these are generally considered to have held the same “creation” of the dukedom as that of the Black Prince in 1337. The exception was Richard, Duke of York (1411–1460); although he was not the King’s eldest son, the dukedom was specially created for him by Parliament in 1460 to support him as Lord Protector of England.
Berkhamsted Castle’s last noble resident was the wife of Richard, Duke of York: Cecily, Duchess of York (1415–1495). After her death, the Castle fell into ruin and was all but forgotten as a royal landholding.
In 1862, the Duchy of Cornwall estates around Berkhamsted were sold to Lord Brownlow, with the exception of the Castle ruins, which remained a Duchy possession. Lord Brownlow paid a nominal rent to the Duchy for use of the Castle.
In 1616, Berkhamsted was visited by Charles, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall – the future King Charles I. The 16-year-old prince saw Berkhamsted School before visiting his former tutor, Richard Murray, at Berkhamsted Place. Only a few years later, the Civil War erupted, a conflict which culminated in the execution of Charles in 1649.
Berkhamsted was not visited again by a Duke of Cornwall until 1935, when Edward, Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VIII, came to the town on 13 June 1935. Cinema newsreel footage recorded an enthusiastic welcome by excited townsfolk, marching bands and local dignitaries. Edward’s romance with Wallis Simpson led to a constitutional crisis, and only 18 months after his Berkhamsted visit, Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936.
The Castle today
Today, Berkhamsted Castle remains a possession of the Duchy of Cornwall (two adjoining pieces of land outside the moats are held by the DCMS and Berkhamsted Castle Trust) and proudly retains its historic associations with the Dukes of Cornwall through the centuries. The coat of arms of the Duke of Cornwall still bears the emblem of golden balls, a heraldic device inherited from the arms of Richard of Cornwall in the 13th century. A similar symbol can be seen in the modern arms of Berkhamsted Town Council, a castle emblem surrounded by 13 gold discs.
Historic title holders
|Edward of Woodstock, “The Black Prince”||1337||1376|
|Richard of Bordeaux||1376||1377||1376 creation|
|Henry of Monmouth||1399||1413|
|Edward of Westminster||1454||1471|
|Richard, Duke of York||1460||1460||1460 creation|
|Edward of Middleham, 1st Earl of Salisbury||1483||1484|
|Henry, 1st Duke of York||1502||1509|
|Prince Charles, 1st Duke of York, 1st Duke of Albany||1612||1625|
|Prince Charles James||1629||1629|
|Prince James Francis Edward||1688||1702|
|Prince George, 1st Duke of Cambridge||1714||1727|
|Prince Frederick, 1st Duke of Edinburgh||1727||1751|
|Prince Albert Edward||1841||1901|
|Prince George, 1st Duke of York||1901||1910|