Donnington Castle, Berkshire
Castle Lane, Donnington.
Donnington castle was built upon a hill overlooking Newbury and the River Lambourne. It was arranged around a rectangular courtyard with ranges on all sides.
The site was enclosed by a thick curtain wall with round towers on each of the corners. Additional rectangular towers, which provided further chambers, were added to the north and south curtain walls. The most prominent feature of the castle is the magnificent twin towered, three storey gatehouse which is primarily all that remains of the castle.
~ History ~
1287 ~ The manor of Donnington is purchased by Thomas de Abberbury.
1350 ~ The manor passes to his cousin, Richard de Abberbury, who prospered in Royal service and had been chosen by Edward, (Black) Prince of Wales to be one of the guardians of his son, the future King Richard II. He later becomes chamberlain to Richard II's queen, Anne of Bohemia.
1380's ~ With the wealth his high status has accumulated during his life time he begins to upgrade his manor house into a small castle.
1386 ~ A licence to crenellate his already completed castle is granted by King Richard II. The retrospective Royal permission is primarily for the addition of the gatehouse.
1388 ~ Richard de Abberbury is expelled from the Royal court by the Lords Appellant, a group of nobles who seeks to restrict the King's rule by eliminating his key supporters. He retires to Donnington.
1400 ~ Upon Richard's death the castle passes to his son, also called Richard.
1415 ~ Richard sells his father's castle to Thomas Chauncer and it later passed through marriage to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.
1487 ~ The Yorkist de la Pole's fights at the Battle of Stoke Field in support of King Edward IV against the Lancastrian army of King Henry VI.
1503 ~ Donnington Castle is taken into Crown ownership.
1514 ~ King Henry VIII grants the castle to Charles Brandon when elevating him to Duke of Suffolk. He makes some minor modifications to the site.
1535 ~ The castle is again taken back into Crown ownership.
1539 ~ King Henry VIII visits the castle, return again two years later.
1551 ~ King Edward VI visits the castle.
1568 ~ The castle hosts the visit of Queens Elizabeth I and courtiers.
1600 ~ The castle is granted to Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham.
1642 ~ At the outbreak of the Civil War the castle is owned by John Packer who, despite previously serving as private secretary to the Duke of Buckingham, supports Parliament and garrisons the castle accordingly.
When King Charles I fails to capture London in the early months of the war, Oxford becomes the Royalist capital. Nearby Donnington becomes strategically important to both sides.
1643 ~ The First Battle of Newbury is fought a mile to the south of the castle. Parliament's main field army under the command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex - finds its way to London blocked by the Southern Royalist Army. The resulting battle is indecisive although it leaves the Parliamentary garrison at Donnington Castle dangerously exposed. The Royalists take full advantage of this and Sir John Boys is dispatched with a force of 200 infantry, 25 cavalry and 4 cannon to take possession of the castle. He successfully seizes it and commences construction of substantial earthwork artillery bastions around the old outdated medieval castle.
1644 ~ The war is going in Parliament's favour and attempts are made to open a path to Oxford. Three key Royalist strongholds are targeted - Banbury Castle, Basing House and Donnington Castle. The Earl of Essex dispatches Lieutenant-General John Middleton with a 3,000 strong combined cavalry and dragoon force to seize control of Donnington.
A direct assault is attempted but, lacking artillery support, it fails with heavy casualties. Parliament then prepare to besiege the castle and by the end of September, under the supervision of Colonel Jeremy Horton, this is in place. Banbury Castle and Basing House are also under siege at the same time.
King Charles decides to relieve Basing House, which is critically short of supplies, but Parliament merges its three main three field armies into one huge force at Basingstoke, preventing any attempt to relieve Basing House.
King Charles therefores decides to try and relieve Donnington Castle instead. The Parliamentary army move to intercept him and at the Second Battle of Newbury, under the walls of Donnington Castle, the two forces fight for control of the castle.
The Royalists are greatly outnumbered but have established themselves in an extremely strong position and are defended by the guns of Donnington Castle. However in the end the Parliamentary superior numbers ensure the battle itself is a Parliamentary victory but King Charles objective of relieving Donnington Castle is achieved and it remains in Royalist hands.
Parliamentary forces make a furthert attempt to capture Donnington Castle the following month, but the assault is repulsed. Further attempts are made but eventually the Parliamentary forces withdraw enabling King Charles to resupply the garrison once more. The castle however remains under a loose siege but this is later slowly tightened as Royalist fortunes wane.
1645 ~ After the Battle of Naseby which results in the destruction of the last Royalist field army, any hope that the garrison will be relieved is lost.
1646 ~ Donnington remains a thorn in the side of Parliament but the end is now inevitable and, after an eighteen month siege, Sir John Boys surrenders the castle. Given its stiff resistance Parliament orders its immediate demolition with only the gatehouse, at the request of the local population, to be left standing.