Berkhamsted Castle, lies in the town of the same name in the county of Hertfordshire in England.
The first fortification at this site was probably a Saxon fort.
The first castle, although a timber structure, was built by a Norman; Robert, Count of Mortain. He had been granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamsted by his half-brother; William the Conqueror, after the Normans had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The castle was laid out as a typical Norman motte and bailey castle with a keep on a conical mound (the motte) and an oval shaped bailey.
Henry I, King of England, held court at Berkhamsted Castle in 1123. During his reign and that of his successor, Henry II, the castle was in the hands of the Chancellors, including Thomas Becket. Extensive building works were undertaken during this period. The earliest stone buildings date from Thomas's time (1155-1164). The castle was taken back by Henry II in 1163, from Thomas Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury, whom Henry had accused of misappropriating cash.
In 1191, Richard I, King of England, a.k.a. Richard the Lionheart, gave Berkhamsted Castle to his queen, Berengaria of Navarre. She lived there until Richard's death in 1199, when the castle came into the possession of Richard's brother, John. In 1204, John granted the castle to his queen, Isabella of Angoulême, who lived there until 1216, when Prince Louis of France (later Louis VIII the Lion, King of France) laid siege to the castle. The defenders held out for only 2 weeks.
In 1227, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of the English King Henry III, was granted the castle. He used it as one of his main residences and the administrative center of the Earldom of Cornwall.
In 1291, King Edward I of England granted Berkhamsted to his second queen, Margaret of France. On her death, Isabella of France, queen of Edward II, succeeded. Edward III gave the castle to his son Edward, the Black Prince, in 1337, as part of the newly-created Duchy of Cornwall. At present Berkhamsted Castle is still part of this duchy. After his capture by the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, King John II of France was imprisoned in Berkhamsted Castle.
On his accession in 1399, Henry IV granted the castle to his son, later Henry V. It then passed to Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's queen.
Edward IV granted the castle to his mother Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, in 1469. She lived here for the remainder of her life, but after her death, the castle gradually fell into decay.
In 1580, Elizabeth I leased the Manor of Berkhamsted, including the ruined castle, for the nominal rent of one red rose to Sir Edward Carey, Keeper of the Queen's Jewels. He built Berkhamsted Place on the hill above the castle, using stone from the ruins.
Berkhamsted Castle is a nice example of a motte and bailey castle, but it is a pity that so little remains but the rubble cores of wall parts. It is owned by English Heritage and freely accessible.