Ælfgifu, queen consort of King Eadwig of England, bequeaths her estates, including the manor of Berkhamsted in her will. This is the earliest written reference to Berkhamsted, and evidence of early royal connections with this location.
Duke William II of Normandy invades the Kingdom of England and defeats King Harold at Hastings. The Normans advance north and the Saxon nobles surrender to William at Beorhðanstædæ (Berkhamsted). William is crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on 25 December.
Robert de Mortain, half brother of William the Conqueror begins construction of as castle at Berkhamsted, a strategically significant point on a key route between London and the Midlands through the Chiltern Hills
Stephen is King of England 1135-1154, a reign marked by a bloody civil war across England and Normandy, known as The Anarchy. The Holy Roman Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, attempts to take the throne of England. Little is known of Berkhamsted Castle during this turbulent time.
As Chancellor of England, Thomas Becket is in charge of the castle and carries out extensive building works, erecting royal buildings within the bailey. After becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket and Henry II fall out, and Becket is stripped of the Honours of Berkhamsted. Becket is later murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.
Henry II grants a royal charter to the merchants of Berkhamsted, confirming rights enjoyed under Edward the Confessor, and freeing them from tolls and dues. No market may be set up within seven miles of the town.
Richard I ("the Lionheart") is King of England 1189–1199. He mostly resides in Aquitaine, southern France, and during the Third Crusade (1189–1192) he is away in the Holy Land fighting Saladin. In 1191, he grants Berkhamsted Castle to Queen Berengaria, but she too is absent, traditionally known as "the only English queen never to set foot in the country".
England's barons are in revolt against King John and invite Prince Louis of France to become king of England. The French prince lands and marches on London. King John dies in October 1216, leaving his nine-year-old son Henry III as king. Prince Louis lays siege to Berkhamsted Castle, attacking it with trebuchets. The English surrender after 2 weeks.
As Berkhamstead town grows around the castle, a new church is consecrated close to the castle. The first known rector of St Peter's Church, Robert de Tuardo, is instituted in 1222 by the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells.
Henry III grants castle to Richard, Earl of Cornwall; from this point, Berkhamsted Castle becomes the administrative centre of the Earldom of Cornwall, which is to become the Duchy of Cornwall a century later.
Richard's son Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, founds a monastery near Berkhamsted, Ashridge Priory, for an Augustinian monastic order called the Brothers of Penitence (also known as Bonshommes or Bluefriars). He gives them a holy relic, a phial of the Sacred Blood Of Jesus Christ that he had acquired while travelling in Germany.
In medieval England, the English Parliament has no permanent home, sitting wherever the king decides. In 1290 Edward I (King of England 1272–1307) holds his Parliament at Ashridge. He also grants the Manor of Berkhamsted to Queen Margaret
King Edward I of England invades Scotland after John Balliol, King of Scots forms an alliance with France. Following the Battle of Dunbar on 28 April 1296, victorious Edward takes many high-status prisoners. A number of Scottish knights are brought south and imprisoned in Berkhamsted Castle.
Shortly after his accession to the throne, King Edward II ennobles his royal favourite, Piers Gaveston, as Earl of Cornwall. Edward prefers nearby Kings Langley Palace as his royal residence, and grants Berkhamsted Castle to Gaveston . Edward also secures for Gaveston a prestigious wedding to Margaret de Clare at Berkhamsted Castle.Queen Isabella succeeds to the Manor of Berkhamsted.
Edward II is deposed by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and Edward III is crowned King of England aged fourteen. Edward II's second John of Eltham is created Earl of Cornwall and granted possession of Berkhamsted Castle.
John, Earl of Cornwall, dies and Edward III takes possession of Berkhamsted Castle as his main residence. He begins major renovation work on the dilapidated castle, including repairs to the great tower, the painted chamber, the chapel and defensive walls.
Edward III grants Berkhamsted Castle to his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince. The king also creates a new title for the prince: Duke of Cornwall. The title supersedes the earlier Earl of Cornwall title and is reserved for the heir apparent to the throne of England. The Black Prince who makes Berkhamsted Castle his main residence and expands the hunting grounds, establishing Berkhamsted Castle as the centre of the Duchy of Cornwall.
During the Hundred Years' War, English forces win a significant victory against France at the Battle of Crécy (26 August 1346). A decisive weapon in the battle is the longbow. The English bowmen originated from Berkhamsted, and their participation established the longbow as the dominant weapon on the Western European battlefield for several centuries.
The Battle of Poitiers is fought on 19 September 1356, part of the Hundred Years' War. English forces, led by Edward the Black Prince, defeat French forces and capture King John II of France. He is brought to England and imprisoned in Berkhamsted Castle. Like the Battle of Crécy, England's victory is due to the large contingent of 2,000 longbowmen, many of whom came from Berkhamsted.
Richard, son of Edward the Black Prince, is crowned King Richard II at the age of ten. Richard grants Berkhamsted Castle to his favourite court companion, Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland. Richard also becomes royal patron of St Peter's Church in Berkhamsted, and the Rector, John de Waltham. becomes a favourite and close friend of the king.
King Richard II is deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, who is crowned King Henry IV. He confers the titles Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Wales on his his son, Henry of Monmouth, and grants to him Berkhamsted Castle.John Holland, who held the castle under Richard, is executed after a failed coup against Henry. Richard dies in captivity in February 1400 and is buried at King's Langley Priory.
Henry V defeats French forces at the Battle of Agincourt, a decisive battle that shapes European history. English victory is again assured by the use of the English longbow in very large numbers. It is probable that Berkhamsted bowmen played a important part in this battle.
To establish peace with France after the Hundred Years' War, Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou. Henry grants Berkhamsted Castle to Queen Margaret. Conflict grows within England as the houses of Lancaster and York struggle for power, and the Wars of the Roses begin
In the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547), Berkhamsted Castle is largely forgotten. In 1503, the castle in the care of an Under-Keeper for the king. Henry grants the Manor of Berkhamsted his successive wives: in 1509 to Catherine of Aragon, in 1533 to Anne Boleyn, and in 1536 to Jane Seymour, none of whom is known to have visited the town.
Queen Elizabeth I leases the Berkhamsted estate, including the castle ruins and the park, to Sir Edward Carey,for the nominal rent of one red rose each year. He plunders the derelict castle for stones to build Berkhamsted Place, a mansion house at the top of Castle Hill in Berkhamsted.
Berkhamsted Castle is now in ruins. Historians of the time record that most of the outer walls and chimneys are still standing, with windows visible and the remains of the chapel and a staircase still visible. The ruins often feature in paintings and drawings by local artists.
Berkhamsted Castle and its estate are separated. The parkland is leased to Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, the "Canal Duke". The castle ruins remain under direct control of the Duchy of Cornwall.
As the Industrial Revolution gets underway, the Grand Junction Canal Company builds a new canal between the Midlands and London, passing right in front of Berkhamsted Castle. Peacock & Willetts boat-building yard is established at the new Castle Wharf, and the first vessel to be launched in 1801 is a river barge named Berkhamsted Castle, beginning a 125-year tradition of boat-building.
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, railway engineer Robert Stephenson builds the London and Birmingham Railway, and the route passes very close to the Berkhamsted Castle ruins. Navvies drain the southern part of the outer moat and demolish the ruins of the barbican gate to allow construction of the railway embankment.
In the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, the castle grounds are frequently used for public events. Mechanics' fetes are held here, and a Grand Bazaar is held to raise funds for the new town hall, designed by Edward Buckton-Lamb. Cricket matches and golf tournaments are played in the bailey, and musket practice also takes place.
J.R. Crawford, a Master of Berkhamsted School, publishes an elegaic poem, "Berkhampsted Castle, an Historical Reverie"I sit alone on the Castle-moundAnd muse in silence on its slow decay.A tranquil melancholy reigns around,And o'er my soul asserts its thoughtful sway.
The estates and park surrounding the castle are sold off altogether by the Duchy of Cornwall to John Egerton-Cust, 2nd Earl Brownlow. He also agrees to rent the castle from the Duchy for a nominal rent.
Prior to World War I, Britain is developing small airships to compete with Germany's Zeppelin airships. In 1913, a British Army ‘Gamma’ dirigible balloon lands in the castle grounds, captained by J.N. Fletcher, an old boy of Berkhamsted School. Standing in the crowd is a young schoolboy named Graham Greene.
In July 1922 the first Berkhamsted Pageant is held in the castle grounds to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the consecration of St Peter’s Church. Parishioners dress up in historical costumes and put on a play, telling the story of Berkhamsted.
On 24th December 1929, the Duchy of Cornwall places Berkhamsted Castle into the Guardianship of the Office of Works, a government department.The following year, extensive works begin on the Castle site, including clearing the many trees that have grown in the ruins, and digging in the bailey. During clearance of the moats, a crossbow stave is discovered,
Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), visits Berkhamsted. He gives an address at Berkhamsted School, prior to visiting the castle. He is the first Duke of Cornwall to see his Manor of Berkhamsted since 1616.
A town pageant is held to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest. Local people act out episodes in history, including the crowning of William the Conqueror, the siege of the castle. the Battle of Berkhamsted Common, and the visit of King Louis XVIII’s of France,
A group of embroiderers on the Island of Alderney completes a modern reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the "missing" scenes: the surrender of the Saxons at Berkhamsted, William's coronation and the building of the Tower of London.
Historic England takes over the statutory & conservation remit for ancient monuments from English Heritage. The management of historic properties and visitor experience continues to be run by English Heritage, including Berkhamsted Castle.
Berkhamsted Castle Trust is established by local volunteers, with the support and encouragement of English Heritage, to promote education about the history of Berkhamsted Castle and to assist English Heritage with the visitor experience and site preservation & maintenance.