A Major Stronghold
Wallingford Castle was a major royal castle and stronghold. It was so threatening that Oliver Cromwell decided to destroy it at the end of the Civil War. It was built around 1067-1071 by Robert D’Oilly, on orders from William the Conqueror. Like other Norman castles, it was a “motte and bailey” – a central mound capped with a tower and surrounded by a large courtyard with high protective walls. It was much enlarged during the Middle Ages.
Matilda and Stephen
The castle was important in the war between Empress Matilda, Henry I’s daughter and royal heir, and her cousin Stephen, who had seized the throne. Stephen laid siege to Matilda’s supporters at Wallingford Castle many times.
Many royals and their associates lived and entertained at the castle, including Richard Earl of Cornwall, Henry III’s brother, who was the richest man in England. Piers Gaveston, favourite of Edward II held a tournament here, where he insulted all his guests. Joan of Kent died here, and Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, is believed to have met Owen Tudor here, a romance that led to the Tudor dynasty.
The Castle had a prison. Among many who were imprisoned here were William Martel, Edward I and Owen Tudor.
St Nicholas College
A small college to serve the Royal Chapel was built within the castle grounds around 1278 – these are the best-preserved remains.
Henry VIII thought the castle too draughty and so it fell from royal favour. However, in the Civil War, Charles I’s supporters found it an effective military base, and Cromwell’s forces laid siege to it, before its ultimate destruction.
After the Castle
A gothic house was built on the site in 1837, but demolished in 1972. These days, it’s a very pleasant park, with substantial earthworks, views over the town and the river, and a couple of fragments of wall and the old college to remind you of how strategically important it once was.