Goodrich Castle is of Norman origin and is situated at a key location between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye. Perhaps for this reason it seems to have been affected by the strife concerned with the English monarchy more than Welsh castles nearby, some of which had a relatively quiet time until the Civil War.
Poised on the River Wye, near an ancient crossing point, its architecture was influenced by defensive needs and, once ruined, it became part of the itinerary of seekers after the picturesque. For some reason it now seems to me to be less famous than Raglan or Chepstow, although just as magnificent.
It is possible that the earthworks around the castle were part of a hillfort dating from the Iron Age and the history of the castle itself begins with an entry in the Domesday Book of 1086 as belonging to Godric Mappeson, hence the name, Goodrich. Nothing of the probably wooden original survives. The area was part of the Welsh Marches, a group of territories granted to Norman nobles by William I to help keep the turbulent Welsh in order.
The comparatively small keep (sometimes called Macbeth's Tower) in light grey sandstone is early Norman and had one smallish chamber on each floor measuring 18ft by 15ft (5.5 by 4.5 m) with thick walls and a mound around it for defence - the lower courses of stonework are still rougher than the rest. Around the keep is a virtually square structure guarded by 3 towers built during the 1280's from darker sandstone. These were protected on the vulnerable South and East sides by huge spurs which were intended to prevent undermining.
In the 4th corner is the gatehouse where you enter, with one tower larger than the other and previously guarded by portcullises, murder holes and a drawbridge. Before you go into it you will cross the barbican which followed a similar design to that in the Tower of London and which had its own gate so that attackers could be trapped there. There is a chapel included here which was rare: the altar may have pre-dated the castle.
The bailey had a number of luxurious large domestic facilities including a Great Hall, a Solar (living area from the French "sol"), kitchen, buttery (from French "bouteille") and pantry. The hall, overlooking the Wye had huge windows and fireplace. The living quarters were lavish as can be deduced from the unusual number of "garderobes" (latrines) for the comfort of inhabitants. We also know this from the detailed financial accounts of Joan, Countess of Pembroke and widow of William de Valence who would have had nearly 200 people to accommodate. There is a garderobe tower, unusually large, with the ultimate upper-class facility: multiple loos which could be used by several people at the same time. (You can see the outlets into the ditch from the East Wall.) Beyond are the ruins of the stables destroyed in the Civil War.
An example of good living: on Easter Sunday 1297, the kitchen ended the Lenten fast of the household with 3 quarters of beef, 3 pigs, half a boar, half a salmon, all from their store, half a carcass of beef at 10 shillings, mutton at 15 pence, 9 kid at 3s 8d, 17 capons, 2 veal calves, 600 eggs and more than 24 pigeons. Some banquet!
Because of changes of ownership over the centuries, the various parts of the castle were built and added by different people. During the 1130's, the rival supporters of Stephen and Matilda were battling for power. William de Baderon, the next owner, (why is everyone in the period called William?) passed the castle on to his son, Baderon of Monmouth. He married into the de Clare family of the Stephen faction and had to seize the castle during the fighting. The de Baderons were a relatively poor family and perhaps could not afford to build some of the usual amenities. In about 1138 Stephen masterminded the transfer of Goodrich to Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare whereas the other nobles of Hereford supported Matilda. Later, Richard de Clare (Strongbow) lost the favour of King Henry II, son of Matilda, and the castle was taken into crown hands.
In 1203, King John transferred the castle to William Marshal, one of the greatest knights of all times, who had to defend it from Welsh attack, particularly in a famous incident in 1216 when he was forced to leave Henry III's coronation banquet in Gloucester to rush back and fortify the castle. Although no documentary evidence survives, it is likely that he significantly upgraded its defences as he was a mighty castle renovator in Pembroke, Usk and Chepstow.
William de Valence obtained the castle by marriage to Joan de Munchensi, becoming fantastically rich thereby but being obliged to enlarge the concentric castle at enormous expense, demolishing Marshal's construction, in order to defend it against the raids of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd into English territories. By the middle of the 1320's England suffered from the oppression of the Marcher lords, the Despensers, royal favourites of King Edward II. Hugh le Despenser kidnapped the then owner, Elizabeth de Comyn, in London and imprisoned her in her own castle in Goodrich. She signed it over but then married Richard Talbot who seized it back just before Queen Isabella, the "she-wolf of France", landed in 1326 and deposed the Despensers plus her husband Edward II (whose terrible murder she may have arranged.)
Owen Glyndwr's forces invaded the Goodrich area in 1404 and 1405 but Gilbert Talbot fought back and the threat diminished in the 15th century which meant that the domestic aspects of the castle could then be expanded. During the Wars of the Roses the Talbots supported the Lancastrians but John died in their defeat in 1460 and the castle passed to the Yorkist, William Herbert, but later came back into Talbot possession to son John (by now we are confused by Johns!)
The Civil War
One of the most bitter sieges of the Civil War took place at Goodrich: Richard Tyler, a local lawyer, had become tenant and constable of the castle and major renovations had been undertaken in the early 1630's. With his support the Earl of Stamford garrisoned the castle for the Parliamentary forces until December 1643 when it was occupied by the Royalist, Sir Henry Lingen, whose troops of 200 men with 90 horses burned surrounding areas. In 1646, Colonels John Birch and Robert Kyrle, on the Parliament side, advanced from winning the Siege of Hereford and the struggle was increased by personal hatred between Birch and Lingen. Lingen set fire to the stables in the night but failed to win until later that year. He destroyed the water supply and ordered the building locally of "Roaring Meg", a massively powerful mortar capable of firing gunpowder-filled shells of 187-198 lbs in weight (85-90 kg.) This pugnacious lady now sits peacefully in the courtyard with an accessory of a pile of cannon balls nearby. Finally the Royalists surrendered having merely 4 barrels of gunpowder and 30 of beer left and marched out to the tune of "Sir Henry Lingen's Fancy". Their side left in style at Raglan also.
In the early 16th century John Leland noted: ""They cary their prisoners to Castel Goderyce sumwhat owt of Erchynfeld, but longging to the Erle of Shrewsbyri." (Love that spelling!) He was noting the fact that the castle was abandoned as a residence and was used for judicial purposes. Like many picturesque ruins, the castle attracted later sight-seers including William Gilpin who popularised the tourist craze in 1782 and who called the scene from the river one of the grandest views and "correctly picturesque", high praise from a man who wanted to take a mallet to Tintern Abbey to improve its appeal. Yet he managed to be grumpy about guidebooks: "full of intricate and tiresome details, and some undoubtedly incorrect."
The early Victorian historian Theodore Fielding was moved to "solemnity that is inspired by the sight of grandeur sinking in dignity, into decay." Artists David Cox and William Callow visited and painted and William Wordsworth called it "the noblest ruin in Herefordshire", immortalising his visit in the 1798 poem: "We are Seven" inspired by meeting a little girl there. A window was added in the chapel in June 1992 to commemorate the personnel who died in service during the development of radar. RAF Halifax V9977 caught fire and crashed a mile south of the castle whilst flying a test mission in June 1942 killing all 11 on board. I feel this adds poignancy and modernity to the sense of past warfare.
A little extra
In the early 1820's Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick wanted to buy the site but was refused: out of pique, presumably, he then built the neo-Gothic Goodrich Court next door, an act which greatly annoyed Wordsworth on his return visit since it spoilt the view. Personally, I'd love to have seen it. In fact, given a choice between a tour of Meyrick's folly and re-reading "We are Seven" ... The Court has been demolished but its gatehouse can be seen on the main road.
Arriving by the no 34 bus (Monmouth/Ross-on-Wye) may be less romantic than the river tour but the view of the castle as you approach still takes your breath away. There is a good shop, excellent café and toilets at the entrance (go before you go) and you can obtain a very helpful audio-guide free of charge. For prices and opening times click here. There are lovely walks in the area. Other interesting castles not too far away are Raglan Castle, Chepstow Castle and Usk Castle. Monmouth, at one end of your bus route has the castle where Henry V was born. I have merely summarised the fascinating history of Goodrich and will write in more detail about some of the people connected with it in future posts.