Dudley Castle is an English medieval castle located in Dudley in the West Midlands. It was built by Earl William de Ferrers, who died before its completion, and it subsequently became a royal castle and one of the most important military fortresses of England.
Dudley Castle had grown in importance over the centuries as successive kings sought to assert their authority over different parts of England. The Earl of Leicester took possession of it from the King during the civil war and sold it to Sir Robert Sutton for £4,000 pounds on 24 August 1649, after which time most buildings within the courtyard were demolished so that a new house could be built inside. The castle was saved from destruction in 1960 with the purchase of the ruins and a large conservation project ensued, which is ongoing.
Dudley Castle was built at the start of a period of increasing instability in England. During this time, William de Ferrers, the Earl of Derby, had married a woman named Alice de Lacy who was the niece of Henry II’s wife and therefore an important person of high rank in the kingdom. William also held large estates in Derbyshire castle and wanted to protect them. As such, he decided to build a castle in order to protect his lands from disorder that might occur as a result of civil unrest.
Work on building Dudley Castle began almost immediately after its commencement. The designer and engineer of the project was a Flemish architect named William Vanstiphout. He had also worked on castles in the north of England such as Peveril and Carlisle Castle, both of which have strong similarities to Dudley Castle. Construction started around 1176 and lasted for several years until it was complete. As a result of its rapid construction, there are some inconsistencies in the architectural style of the castle that may have been intentional in order to give it an appearance of strength, or may have occurred due to lack of skilled craftsmen available at the time.
For example, the towers that were added later do not line up with their intended positions and instead they lean outwards from their supporting walls. This has been said to be intentional by some historians who say that the designers wanted them to look as if they were about to fall over, or it could be a result of the rushed nature of the construction. In addition, a gatehouse was added after the north east tower when it became evident that there was not one originally.
The castle had several roles in England’s history, as firstly it served as a defence against rebellion and invasion from Scotland. However its primary role was perhaps as an administrative centre and a desirable place for local politicians to visit in order to show their loyalty to the reigning Monarch. The ownership of Dudley Castle changed hands many times, which is not really surprising considering its status as a wealthy and powerful symbol of royalty.
The first major change in ownership was during the reign of Henry III. Henry was not a popular king but he was nonetheless granted the castle by William de Ferrers in 1231. Following this transfer, Dudley Castle became a royal castle and it remained so until the 14th century when it passed into private hands once again. However, it did continue to see some usage as a prison for high ranking criminals at least until 1351 until Edward III transferred possession once again to his son Edward, who died before he could take control of the castle. Following his death, the castle passed back into the hands of the King.
It was also during the 13th Century that Dudley Castle served as a prison for two people who were sentenced to death for high treason. The first of these was Joanna, countess of Gloucester, who was imprisoned there after she had been convicted in 1235. However, she died before her execution in 1237. The second person to be held there was Thomas de Molis who had made an attempt on the life of Henry III from inside London’s city walls. He survived his sentence and died only two years later in 1216.
The ownership of Dudley Castle was given to William de Forz after he married the daughter of Henry III. However William was exiled in 1233 and the castle passed to royal control once again. Richard II later granted it to his uncle Thomas, who became Earl of Lancaster but this did not last long as he was executed by the king in 1322. The castle then passed back into the hands of Edward II in 1323, who rented it out for several years before finally giving it to his own son, Edward III in 1351. It remained under royal control until 1404 when another temporary transfer occurred, this time passing into the hands of Henry IV.
The castle suffered some damage in the 16th century during an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. This was a rebellion against Henry VIII and his religious policies but it failed to gain support in large parts of England, despite occurring in the north of the country. However, it did cause problems for several years until 1537 when a Royal army arrived at Dudley Castle and suppressed the rebels.
One year later, Dudley Castle was sold by Henry VIII in order to pay off certain debts he owed to his father-in-law. It was owned by Richard Craddock for over a decade before he sold it to Sir Edward Littleton in 1544, who owned it until his death in 1552. He never inherited the castle but his son, Dudley Littleton, did and he was able to sell it for £2,100 in 1553. The castle then went through several different owners over the next few decades before it eventually passed into the hands of Sir Fulke Greville in 1628. He had been a close friend of previous owners and he held onto it for the rest of his life. Following his death, Dudley Castle changed hands again but this time the transfer was permanent.
It remained a private home for the next few hundred years, although it was used as a warehouse at one point during the 19th Century. In 1881, Dudley Castle was bought by a wealthy Birmingham businessman named John Edwards. He leased it to his son, John Barrow Edwards who became the first of many subsequent owners who turned Dudley Castle into a public monument and tourist attraction. It remains in this state today.
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