Berkeley Castle - an ancient fortress where a king was murdered

Stately Home & Garden

Berkeley Castle - an ancient fortress where a king was murdered

Dating from the 12th century, Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire is one of England's most impressive and oldest surviving castles. It is perhps most well-known as the site of the murder of King Edward II. The castle and gardens are open to the public.

The Berkeley Castle keep was constructed by Robert Fitzharding in the 12th century, on the site of an older fortress. His descendants still own the castle today. Fitzharding also founded St Augustine’s Abbey, which would later become Bristol Cathedral.

In 1327, Berkeley Castle became the scene of one of the most infamous murders in British history. King Edward II was imprisoned in a cell by his former Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, and violently put to death shortly afterwards. This is the notorious "red-hot poker" murder. The dungeon and holding cell thought to be the scene of the murder are part of the Keep.

The official story told at the time was that Edward had died after an accident. His embalmed body was kept on display in the castle for a month. Other monarchs, such as Elizabeth I, visited under happier circumstances. She is said to have played bowls on her visit, and appropriately, another bowls player - Francis Drake - was also a frequent visitor.

Over time, successive generations have softened the stern aspect of the Castle walls with flowers, and the most recent redesign of the planting of the terraces was carried out with the help of famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll at the beginning of the 20th century. 

The gardens specialise in scent, and the roses in particular are a delight in June. The grounds also include a Butterfly House with hundreds of butterflies flying freely in a tranquil indoor garden - 

Apparently the last court jester in England died at the Castle when he tumbled from the minstrel's gallery in the Great Hall. Also, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is reputed to have been written for a Berkeley family wedding.

The castle has been open to the public since 1956.

Further reading

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