Hedingham Castle

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The Norman keep, in winter 1999

Hedingham Castle, in the village of Castle Hedingham, Braintree District, Essex, England, is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle with a stone keep. For four centuries it was the primary seat of the de Vere family, Earls of Oxford.


The manor of Hedingham was awarded to Aubrey de Vere I by William the Conqueror by 1086. The castle was constructed by the de Veres in the late 11th to early 12th century and the keep in the 1130s and 1140s.[1] To accommodate the existing castle, a large ditch was cut through a natural spur westward into the Colne Valley in order to form a ringwork and inner bailey; an outer bailey extended south further into the valley and what is now the modern village of Castle Hedingham. The stone keep survives in a very good state of preservation and is open to the public.[2][3]

The keep is nearly square: the east and west sides are 53 ft (16 m) long and the north-south sides about 58 ft (18 m). It stands more than 70 ft (21 m) tall; (the turrets rise an additional 15 to 25 ft (4.6 to 7.6 m) above the parapets) [4][3] and it commands the countryside around it from its elevated position atop the ringwork. The walls are about 11 ft (3.4 m) thick at the base and average 10 ft (3.0 m) at the top.[3] They are constructed from flint rubble bound with lime mortar,[2] but, very unusually for an Essex castle, are faced with ashlar stone transported from a quarry in Barnack, Northamptonshire.

The keep has four floors, including the Great or Banqueting Hall with a central arch extending two stories and a fireplace. The top floor may have been added around the 15th century, replacing an impressive pyramid-shaped roof.[5] This is a recent theory, however, and many older sources have noted the similar plans of Hedingham Castle and Rochester Castle, which was begun about 1126 and has four floors and four turrets.

Floor plans of the keep from The Growth of the English House by John Alfred Gotch, 1909.

Two of the original four corner turrets are missing,[2] and it seems likely that their demise was a result of an attempt to demolish the building for materials rather than through military action.[citation needed] The keep is the only medieval element of the castle to have survived; the hall, drawbridge, and outbuildings all having been replaced during the Tudor period by structures which—with the exception of a brick bridge—have now also been lost.[2]

A chapel was located to the south of the stone keep within the inner bailey.[6]

A red-brick bridge of four spans connects the inner bailey to the outer bailey lying to the north-east. It was built in late 15th or early 16th century has been restored several times.[2] A Queen Anne style red-brick mansion was built in the outer bailey by Sir William Ashhurst (an MP and a former Lord Mayor of London) between his purchase of the property in 1693 and his death in 1719.[7][8][9]


Hedingham Castle may occupy the site of an earlier castle believed to have been built in the late 11th or early 12th century by Aubrey de Vere I, a Norman baron. Hedingham was one of the largest manors among those acquired by Aubrey I. The Domesday Book records that he held the manor of Hedingham by 1086, and he ordered that vineyards be planted.[10] It became the head of the Vere barony.

Aubrey II and Aubrey III are candidates for initiating the construction of a major stone tower at Hedingham, possibly to reflect the enhanced status of the family.[11] In 1133 Aubrey II, son and heir of the first Aubrey, was created master chamberlain of England by Henry I. In 1141, his son and heir Aubrey was granted an earldom by Empress Matilda. By that time he had been Count of Guines for several years by right of his wife's inheritance of that continental territory.

Matilda, wife of King Stephen, died at Castle Hedingham on May 3, 1152.[12] The castle was besieged twice, in 1216 and 1217, during the dispute between King John, rebel barons, and the French prince. (In both cases the sieges were short and successful for those besieging the castle).

The castle was held by the de Vere family until 1625. Among the more famous earls are Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford; Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford; John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford; and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, suspected by some to be the writer of the works commonly ascribed to William Shakespeare.

Recent history[edit]

In 1713 the castle was purchased by Sir William Ashhurst, after his death in 1720, the estate passed to his great granddaughter, the wife of Lewis Majendie. The Majendie family owned Hedingham Castle for 250 years until Miss Musette Majendie left it to her cousin, The Honourable Thomas Lindsay, descended from the de Veres through both maternal and paternal lines. His son Jason Lindsay and wife Demetra now live at Hedingham Castle with their children.[13]

Present day use[edit]

While Hedingham Castle remains a family home, the Norman keep and grounds are open to the public from Easter to October. Educational school visits take place throughout the year. Today the castle is a venue for a range of events, including jousting, archery, falconry, re-enactment battles, fairs, classic & vintage car shows, music concerts and theatre productions.[13]

Hedingham Castle is currently used for wedding ceremonies and corporate or private parties. Weddings are held by candlelight in the keep with space for 100 seated guests and standing room in the Minstrels’ gallery. Civil ceremonies, Civil Partnerships, Renewal of Vows and Naming ceremonies are all permitted. The Queen Anne mansion house and marquee are used for wedding receptions and parties.[13]

Filming and photography[edit]

Hedingham Castle was the location for episode 2 of The Landscape of Man aired on Channel 4 in 2010[14] in which the castle grounds and gardens, which had been left to become a wilderness throughout the 20th century, were restored.[13]

The castle has also been a location for the feature film The Reckoning starring Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany and for the BBC drama Ivanhoe.[13] The documentaries Made in Britain with Fred Dibnah, The Shakespeare Theory with Sir Derek Jacobi and A History of Britain with Simon Schama have used Hedingham Castle as a location.[13]

The castle also appeared in a photo-shoot for Vanity Fair featuring Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow,[13] the photograph can be seen hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, London.[15]


  1. ^ Renn, D. F., "The Anglo-Norman Keep, 1066-1138," in The Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd ser., 23 (1960),,p. 20.
  2. ^ a b c d e Essex County Council 6787.
  3. ^ a b c Essex County Council 25226.
  4. ^ Storer 1815, p. 21.
  5. ^ Dixon & Marshall 2003, pp. 299–306.
  6. ^ Renn 1973, p. 202.
  7. ^ Disraeli 1993, p. 223.
  8. ^ McCann 1997, p. 295.
  9. ^ Lindsay.
  10. ^ Doubleday & Page 1903, p. 533.
  11. ^ D. F. Renn, Norman Castles in Britain (1973), 18-20.
  12. ^ Matthew Paris, Roger & Henry Richards Luard 1874, p. 188.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Lindsay, J; et al. "Hedingham Castle official website". www.hedinghamcastle.co.uk. Retrieved January 2013. 
  14. ^ "Channel 4 The Landscape Man". www.channel4.com. Retrieved January 2013.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  15. ^ "National Portrait Gallery, London Website". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved January 2013.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)


  • Disraeli, Benjamin (1993). Gunn, John Alexander Wilson; Wiebe, Melvin George, eds. Benjamin Disraeli Letters: 1848-1851 5 (illustrated ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-8020-2927-2. 
  • Dixon, Philip; Marshall, Pamela (2003). "15 The Great Tower at Hedingham Castle: a Reassessment". In Liddiard, Robert. Anglo-Norman castles (illustrated ed.). Boydell Press. pp. 297–306. ISBN 0-85115-904-4.  Originally published in:
    • Dixon, Philip; Marshall, Pamela (1993). "The great tower at Hedingham castle : a reassessment". Fortress 18: 16–23. 
  • Doubleday, H. Arthur; Page, William, eds. (1903). The Victoria history of the county of Essex 1. Westminster. p. 533. 
  • Essex County Council. "SMR Number:6787 Hedingham Castle". Unlocking Essex's Past website. Retrieved September 2011. 
  • Essex County Council. "SMR Number:25226 Hedingham Castle:Early C12 castle keep". Unlocking Essex's Past website. Retrieved September 2011. 
  • Lindsay, J; et al. "Hedingham Castle official website". www.hedinghamcastle.co.uk. Retrieved September 2011. 
  • Matthew Paris; Roger; Henry Richards Luard (1874). Parisiensis Matthæi : Monachi Santi Albani, Chronica Majora 2. Longman & co. p. 188. 
  • McCann, John (1997). "The Dovecote at Hedingham Castle". Essex archaeology and history 28: 295. 
  • Renn, Derek Frank (1973). Norman Castles in Britain (2nd illustrated ed.). J. Baker. p. 202. 
  • Storer, James (1815). The antiquarian itinerary: comprising specimens of architecture, monastic, castellated, and domestic; with other vestiges of antiquity in Great Britain; accompanied with descriptions 1. W. Clarke. p. 21. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°59′33″N 0°36′04″E / 51.99250°N 0.60111°E / 51.99250; 0.60111