Ludlow Castle

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This article is about the castle in Shropshire. For the house in Delhi, see Ludlow Castle, Delhi.
Ludlow Castle
Ludlow in Shropshire, England
Ludlow Castle from Whitcliffe, 2011.jpg
Ludlow Castle from the south-east
Ludlow Castle is located in Shropshire
Ludlow Castle
Ludlow Castle
Coordinates grid reference SO5086874594
Site information
Owner The Trustees of the Powis Castle Estate on behalf of the family of the Earl of Powis
Open to
the public
Yes (with fee)

Ludlow Castle is a partly ruined uninhabited medieval building in the town of the same name in the English county of Shropshire. It stands on a high point overlooking the River Teme and in the Middle Ages it was an important strategic stronghold for control of the Welsh Borders, and at times the seat of English government in Wales. The castle was probably founded by Walter de Lacy in the late 11th century. Possession of Ludlow Castle descended through the Lacy family until 1115 by which point had Hugh de Lacy died without any children and his property taken over by the king. Pain fitzJohn married Hugh de Lacy's niece, Sybil, and through her acquired a good deal of the family's lands.

During the Anarchy Gilbert de Lacy, Sybil's cousin, laid claim to the family's estates and during the course of the civil war control of the castle changed hands several times. Gilbert regained the property and control of Ludlow Castle once again descended through the Lacy family. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries Ludlow Castle was taken into the care of the crown on multiple occasions to ensure the family's loyalty. The family owned the castle until the 14th century, when it came into the possession of the Mortimers through marriage. Early in the 14th century, the castle was enlarged into a magnificent palace for Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, then the most powerful man in England. During their reign the Mortimers made their castle (Ludlow Castle) crown land. It remained crown land for three hundred and fifty years.

The earls of Powis began renting Ludlow Castle from the Crown in 1772, and bought the structure in 1811. The castle and it has descended through the family since and is owned by The Trustees of the Powis Castle Estate on behalf of the family of the earls. Now open to the public, the castle is a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Early history: 11th and 12th centuries[edit]

Seen here from the west across the River Teme, the Norman castle was built on a rocky promontory.

Walter de Lacy arrived in England in 1066 as part of William FitzOsbern's household. FitzOsbern was made Earl of Hereford and tasked with settling the area; at the same time, several castles were founded in the west of the county, securing its border with Wales. Walter de Lacy may have been the earl's second in command, and was rewarded with 163 manors in seven counties (91 in Herefordshire alone), altogether worth £423 a year according to the Domesday Survey. Walter de Lacy probably began building a castle within the manor of Stanton Lacy in 1085. Walter de Lacy also owned the castles of Ewyas Harold and Weobley, both also in Herefordshire, but Ludlow was the most important.[1] There is no documented reference to Ludlow Castle before 1139, so it is uncertain when it was founded, however historian Derek Renn suggests that around 1075 may be the most likely date.[2]

Walter died in a construction accident at Hereford in 1085[3] and was succeeded by his son, Roger de Lacy. In 1096, Roger was stripped of his lands after rebelling against his king and they were instead given to Hugh, his brother. Hugh died childless sometime before 1115, and his property was taken into royal possession. Roger de Lacy's son, Gilbert, laid claim to the barony but was ignored. Roger and Hugh had a sister, Agnes, and King Henry I chose to give the property to her daughter, Sybil. The king made her marry Pain fitzJohn, and the land was probably a reward for fitzJohn's loyal service. The barony given to Pain was probably worth about 20% less than Hugh's as the king had withheld about 20 manors. As with the de Lacys before, Pain probably used Ludlow as caput baroniae, the "head" or chief possession of his barony. To the south of Pain's lands was the property of Miles of Gloucester, the sheriff of Gloucestershire. In 1137 Pain arranged for his eldest daughter, Cecily, to marry Mile's oldest son, Robert fitzMiles.[4]

The number of Welsh raids into England increased after King Henry died in 1135, and while fighting a raiding party in 1137 Pain fitzJohn took a spear to the head and died. Robert and Cecily were not yet married so the inheritance of Pain's property was in doubt. Following Henry's death, Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror, seized the throne though it had been promised to the Empress Matilda, Henry's daughter. Gilbert de Lacy came to England to appeal to Stephen, pressing his claim to the barony. In December 1137, Stephen issued a charter confirming that the property would remain with Cecily until she married Roger fitzMiles. It is likely that with peaceful means of taking the barony closed to him, Lacy took Ludlow Castle himself the following spring. At the same time, Geoffrey Talbot, de Lacy's ally and Sybil's half brother, took the castle of Hereford and Weobley.[5] Ludlow Castle is first referred to by chroniclers during a siege 1139 during the civil wars of the reign of King Stephen; the king himself besieged the castle and rescued his ally Prince Henry of Scotland when the later was caught on a hook thrown by the garrison.[6]

The chapel, the round tower on the right, dates from the 12th century. On the left is the Great Chamber.

Hugh de Lacy succeeded his brother to the barony in 1162 after his brother died. Hugh took part in the Norman Invasion of Ireland and in 1172 was made lord of Meath in Ireland; he spent much time away from Ludlow, and when he was reconfirmed as Lord of Meath in 1177 Henry II took the castle from him, possibly to ensure that Hugh stay loyal while in Ireland. The king put Ludlow Castle in the custody of Thurstan fitzSimon, who cared for it until 1190. When Hugh de Lacy died in Ireland in 1186, his oldest son, Walter, was still under age, so the castle remained in custodianship and the barony was taken into royal care. Richard I confiscated all of Walter de Lacy's property in 1194 because the latter had ravaged Prince John's lands in Ireland. At the time John was in open rebellion against his brother, the king, and Walter had wrongly assumed Richard would approve of the raids. Walter de Lacy tried to buy back his land for 1,000 marks, but the offer was rejected; in 1198 he agreed to pay the vast sum of 3,100 marks.[7] The following year the two daughters Josce de Dinan had with Sybil de Lacy petitioned the king regarding the ownership of the town and castle of Ludlow but were turned down.[8]

13th to 15th centuries[edit]

Walter de Lacy returned to Ireland in 1201, and the following year all of his property was again taken into royal custody to ensure his loyalty and placed under the control of William de Braose, Walter's father-in-law and a favourite of the king. In 1205 or 1206 Walter de Lacy's lands were returned to him and a fine of 400 marks levied against him for possession of Ludlow Castle. Walter's activities in Ireland in 1207 led to William de Braose taking Ludlow Castle on behalf of King John. Relations between William de Braose and the king broke down, so that in 1208 William was using Weobley Castle to attack the king's property in Herefordshire. Pursued by John, William fled to Ireland seeking safety with Walter de Lacy. Walter offered his property to the king to appease him. John was still unhappy and Walter de Lacy, his brother Hugh, and William de Braose went to France in exile and all the Lacy property was taken into the monarchy's possession.[9]

The entrance (right) to the inner bailey, next to the keep (left). What is now the inner bailey marks the limit of the Norman castle.

In 1213 Walter de Lacy wrote to John asking to return to England, and by 1214 his property in England and Wales (which had been under the control of Engelard de Cigogné) except for the borough and castle of Ludlow had been returned to him. In 1215 Lacy paid a fine of 4,000 marks for the return of his lands in Ireland and Ludlow Castle.[10] On 5 July 1223, King Henry III met with the Welsh prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at Ludlow Castle to negotiate a peace because the latter raided Shropshire and captured Norman castles. The talks were unsuccessful. The same year Hugh de Lacy left went to Ireland to take back the lands he owned before he and his brother fell out of King John's favour. Walter did not join Hugh's rebellion and instead travelled to Ireland to help subdue his brother. The castles of Trim in Ireland and Ludlow were given over to the custody of the crown for a period of two years beginning in Easter 1224. This was cut short in May 1225 when Hugh gave himself up and Walter paid the king 3,000 marks for the return of his castles and land confiscated from tenants who had joined Hugh's cause.[11]

In the mid 1230s Walter de Lacy accumulated several thousand pounds of debt so that in 1238 he gave Ludlow Castle to the king. It was returned to him sometime before his death in 1241. Walter de Lacy's son died in 1230, so his daughters (Maud and Margaret) were set to inherit, however they were most likely underage in 1241 so the property was taken over by the crown and Henry III arranged for Maud to marry Peter de Geneva. The Lacy lands were divided between the sisters and Ludlow was given to Peter de Geneva through right of his wife, but he died in 1249.[12] By 1252 Maud was remarried to Geoffrey de Geneville.[13] In February 1263 royals armies gathered at Hereford and Ludlow to deal with incursions across the Welsh border by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Simon de Montfort's rebellion later that year meant Henry III turned his attention away from Wales. During the war Simon de Montfort worked with the Welsh to attack the property of those loyal to the king in Herefordshire. After Hereford Castle, Hay Castle, and Richard's Castle fell in late 1264, de Montfort captured Ludlow Castle. Royal forces recaptured Ludlow Castle by May the following year; it remained under royal control for the remainder of the civil war.[14]

Geoffrey and Maud's oldest granddaughter, Joan, married Roger Mortimer in 1301 and through his wife, Mortimer became lord of Ludlow. In 1323 Mortimer went into exile after he and several other marcher lords raided the lands of Hugh le Despenser. While in exile Mortimer encountered Isabella, Edward II's queen, and began plotting to install her son on the English throne. Edward II was deposed and his 14-year-old son was crowned Edward III in 1327. As the king was young Mortimer and Isabella ruled in his name. Mortimer exploited his position of power to acquire the Earl of Arundel's property in Shropshire and was named the Earl of March. At Ludlow Castle Mortimer built a chapel to celebrate his escape from imprisonment.[15] In 1402, Edmund Mortimer, himself born at Ludlow Castle, set out from the castle with a large army to seek battle with the forces of Owain Glyndŵr. Mortimer met them in the valley of the River Lugg at the Battle of Bryn Glas, where he was defeated and captured. He eventually allied himself to the Welsh rebel's cause to the extent of marrying one of Glyndŵr's daughters, with whom he had four children before starvation and death at the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409.

Plantagenet, Tudor and Elizabethan background[edit]

The interior of Ludlow Castle

Later, in the 15th century under the ownership of Richard, Duke of York, the castle was a major base in the Wars of the Roses and was taken by the Lancastrians in 1459 but back in York hands in 1461. Ludlow afterwards became a royal palace. In 1472 Edward IV sent his son the Prince of Wales and his brother (later the ‘Princes in the Tower’ of Shakespeare fame), to live at the castle, which was also the seat of Government for Wales and the Border Counties.

In 1501 Prince Arthur, (son of Henry VII and brother to Henry VIII) with his bride Catherine of Aragon, lived here for a short time before his early death of an infection from which his wife recovered. Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, heir to the throne of England as the couple's only issue, spent three winters at Ludlow between 1525 and 1528, along with her entourage of servants, advisors, and guardians.

Bishop Rowland Lee inspected the castle armoury at Christmastime, 1534. He found arrows with no bows, a gun with no powder or stones, and breastplates but no chain-mail or helmets. The great gun had been brought to Ludlow by Lord Ferrers. Lee repaired some roofs which he said had not been touched for 100 years with lead.[16]

Elizabeth I appointed Sir Henry Sidney as President of the Council of the Marches to Ludlow Castle. Sir Henry extended the castle by building family apartments between the Great Hall and Mortimer's Tower and used the former royal apartments as a guest wing. The ruins of the Sidney apartments directly face the round Norman chapel. Sir Henry Sidney's daughters included poet Mary Sidney. They were tutored at Ludlow Castle in classics, Calvinism, Hebrew, music, archery, hunting and needlework while their elder brother, poet Philip Sidney boarded with George Leigh MP in Shrewsbury while attending Shrewsbury School. Their sister Ambrosia Sidney died at Ludlow Castle and the family subsequently erected her tomb and memorial in St Laurence Church, Ludlow. Following Ambrosia's death, Elizabeth I wrote to Sir Henry and his wife, Mary Dudley summoning Mary Sidney their last remaining daughter to Court to escape the infected 'air' in Ludlow Castle. In 1577, her uncle Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, arranged Mary's marriage to Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. The 2nd Earl of Pembroke succeeded Sir Henry Sidney nine years later as President of the Council of the Marches, in 1586.

The Civil War and subsequent decline[edit]

Painting by anonymous artist, October 1812

In the English Civil War between 1642 to 1648 Ludlow was a Royalist stronghold and was besieged by Parliamentarian forces but negotiated a surrender, avoiding damage and slighting. In 1669 the seat of administration for the Marches and Wales and the Council of the Marches was centralised in London during the reign of William and Mary. The legal and administrative community moved with it. In 1689 the Royal Welch Fusiliers were founded at the Castle by Lord Herbert of Chirbury but soon after it was abandoned and gradually fell into decay.

The earls of Powis began renting Ludlow Castle from the Crown in 1772, and in 1811 they purchased the structure; it remains in the ownership of the family.[6] The castle is a Scheduled Monument,[17] a "nationally important" historic building and archaeological site which has been given protection against unauthorised change.[18] It is also a Grade I listed building,[19] and recognised as an internationally important structure.[20]


The keep was once the gatehouse through which the Norman castle would have been entered.

Ludlow Castle sits on a rock promontory with the town lying on lower ground to the east. The ground slopes steeply from the castle to the rivers Corve and Teme to the south and west about 100 feet (30 m) below.[21] The castle is broadly rectangular and divided into two main parts: an inner bailey which occupies the northwest corner and a much larger outer bailey.[22] A third enclosure, known as the inmost bailey, was created in the early 13th century when walls (which no longer survive) were built enclosing the southern corner of the inner ward.[23] The castle's long history is reflected in its varied architecture; comprising Norman, Medieval and Tudor styles.

The inner bailey represents the extent of the Norman castle. When Ludlow Castle was founded a ditch was cut into the promontory and the rock excavated was used in construction. It was entered through a gatehouse, which may date from the 1080s, in the southern wall.[22] It seems likely from its design that the gatehouse was meant to be used as accommodation, specifically the room above the gate passage. The archway was later blocked and the gatehouse converted into a keep.[24] The creation of the inmost bailey in the 13th century meant the gatehouse no longer gave access to the whole enclosure. To address this another gateway was added immediately east of the keep.[25] The inner bailey contains the residential buildings that formed the castle's principal accommodation. These buildings feature large windows that overlook the courtyard.

The interior of Ludlow Castle's Romanesque chapel

The circular chapel in the inner ward is very unusual, perhaps unique in Britain. An example of Romanesque architecture and dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, the chapel has been dated to the 12th century based on its style. Little is known of the structure until the 16th century because it is almost undocumented, but it seems to have survived up to that point mostly intact. Though the roof no longer survives, the circular nave survives to its full height and is 8.3 metres (27 ft) wide. A square presbytery, 3.8 by 3.8 metres (12 by 12 ft) was attached, and beyond that a chancel.[26]


Milton’s masque Comus was first performed in the Great Hall in 1634 and the tradition of a performance is continued each June and July when a Shakespearean play is performed in the open air within the Inner Bailey, as part of the successful Ludlow Festival. The Castle hosts other events throughout the year, such as the Ludlow and the Marches Food and Drink Festival which takes place in the Castle precincts each September.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coplestone-Crow "From Foundation to the Anarchy" Ludlow Castle pp. 21–22
  2. ^ Renn "'Chastel de Dynan': the first phases of Ludlow" Castles in Wales and the Marches pp. 55–58
  3. ^ Renn "'Chastel de Dynan': the first phases of Ludlow" Castles in Wales and the Marches p. 57
  4. ^ Coplestone-Crow "From Foundation to the Anarchy" Ludlow Castle pp. 22–25
  5. ^ Coplestone-Crow "From Foundation to the Anarchy" Ludlow Castle pp. 25–26
  6. ^ a b Renn "'Chastel de Dynan': the first phases of Ludlow" Castles in Wales and the Marches p. 55
  7. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle pp. 35–36
  8. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle pp. 36–37
  9. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle p. 37
  10. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle p. 38
  11. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle pp. 38–39
  12. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle pp. 39–41
  13. ^ Prestwich "Geneville , Geoffrey de, first Lord Geneville (1225x33–1314)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  14. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle p. 43
  15. ^ Coplestone-Crow "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles" Ludlow Castle p. 44; Harding "The Mortimer Lordship" Ludlow Castle pp. 45–47
  16. ^ Ellis, Henry, ed., Original letters English History, 3rd series, vol.2 (1846), 365, 371: Shoesmith & Johnson, Ludlow Castle, Logaston (2000), 70, 103, 181.
  17. ^ Ludlow Castle, Pastscape (English Heritage), retrieved 11 January 2012 
  18. ^ Scheduled Monuments, Pastscape (English Heritage), retrieved 11 January 2012 
  19. ^ Ludlow Castle, Heritage Gateway, retrieved 12 January 2012 
  20. ^ Frequently asked questions, Images of England (English Heritage), retrieved 12 January 2012 
  21. ^ Clark "Ludlow Castle" Archaeologia Cambrensis p. 166
  22. ^ a b Shoesmith "Ludlow Castle" Ludlow Castle pp. 15–16
  23. ^ Renn "The Norman Military Works" Ludlow Castle p. 135; Shoesmith "Ludlow Castle" Ludlow Castle p. 16
  24. ^ White "Changes to the Castle Keep" Ludlow Castle pp. 140–141
  25. ^ White "Changes to the Castle Keep" Ludlow Castle p. 144
  26. ^ Coppack "The Round Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene" Ludlow Castle pp. 145–146


  • Clark, G. T. (1877). "Ludlow Castle". Archaeologia Cambrensis 32: 165–192. 
  • Coplestone-Crow, Bruce (2000). "From Foundation to the Anarchy". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 21–34. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • Coplestone-Crow, Bruce (2000). "The End of the Anarchy to the de Genevilles". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 35–44. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • Coppack, Glyn (2000). "The Round Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 145–154. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • Harding, David (2000). "The Mortimer Lordship". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 45–56. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • Prestwich, Michael (2004). "Geneville , Geoffrey de, first Lord Geneville (1225x33–1314)" ((subscription or UK public library membership required)). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37448. Retrieved 13 March 2011. 
  • Renn, Derek (1987). "'Chastel de Dynan': the first phases of Ludlow". In John R. Kenyon and Richard Avent. Castles in Wales and the Marches: essays in honour of D. J. Cathcart King. University of Wales Press. pp. 55–74. ISBN 0-7083-0948-8. 
  • Renn, Derek (2000). "The Norman Military Works". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 125–138. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • Shoesmith, Ron (2000). "Ludlow Castle". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 15–20. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 
  • White, Peter (2000). "Changes to the Castle Keep". In Ron Shoesmith & Andy Johnson. Ludlow Castle: Its History & Buildings. Logaston Press. pp. 139–144. ISBN 1-873827-51-2. 

Further reading[edit]

  • McNeill, Tom (1992), English Heritage Book of Castles, London: English Heritage and B. T. Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-7025-9 

External links[edit]