Tonbridge Castle

Tonbridge Castle, Kent

~ History ~

1066 - Dusk, Saturday October 14th. King Harold, last Saxon King of England is killed and his army finally defeated by William Duke of Normandy and his loyal noblemen. On Christmas day, aged 39, William is crowned King of England.

1067 - Richard Fitzgilbert is rewarded with lands in Suffolk and Kent. Richard rides into Tonbridge to survey his new lands and orders the peasants to build him a simple timber and earth motte and bailey castle. Before leaving Normandy he has taken the precaution of measuring with rope the perimeter of the Brionne lands which he had left behind to ensure that it matched precisely the same size of land rewarded by the King.

1088 - Richard and his son, who had since taken the name de Clare, join in rebellion with Bishop Odo against King William II. The King besieges the castle which is surrendered and burnt after Richard is wounded. He subsequently retires to a monastery.

1154 - King Henry II is on the throne of England and is in conflict with Archbishop Becket over Tonbridge castle, who is demanding that Roger de Clare, should do homage to him due to the long standing claim of the church over the surrounding lands. Becket sends a messenger to Tonbridge to  demand his obedience. Roger orders the messenger to eat the summons wax seal and all. Meanwhile, King Henry is growing more and more tired of Becket and exclaims aloud "Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?". Tragically, four knights take up his cry literally and murder Becket in his own cathedral in Canterbury.

1215 - Richard de Clare and his son Gilbert are two of twenty-five barons present as King John is forced to sign Magna Carta. Peace lasts just 10 weeks before the King is again on the warpath. He gets Rome to renounce the rebellious barons, including the de Clares, and brings in his own foreign mercenaries to help him wreak his revenge. Tonbirdge castle is captured.

1216 - King John is dead and Tonbridge castle is returned to the de Clares by King Henry III, with whose army Gilbert dies fighting in France.

1230 - With Gilbert dead, his son, another Richard, is due to take over the castle but is just eight years of age. The King appoints Hubert de Burgh as custodian. Archbishop Wethershed is not amused and protests that Tonbridge comes under his jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Hubert has a plan to bring the bickering to a halt. He marries his eight-year-old daughter to young Richard. Both King and Archbishop turn their wrath on Hubert. The archbishop excommunicates everybody in Tonbridge castle and anyone who would do business with them. He then sets sail to Rome to gain the Pope's support for the church's claim on Tonbridge. At the same time the King, also furious with Hubert, packs of his own emissary to Rome. From this point on the whole episode degenerates into a farce. The Pope agrees with his Archbishop who dies before reaching home, along with the Pope's judgement. Henry meanwhile is busy undoing the marriage and damage done by Hubert.

1264 - Gilbert de Clare, known as the Red Earl, supports Simon de Montford against King Henry III and consequently the castle is captured, the town burnt and Countess Alice taken prisoner. King Henry is then defeated by de Montford at Lewes, who is now the true power in England.

1265 - Earl Gilbert changes sides and supports Prince Edward (future Edward I) in defeating de Montford at Evesham. Shortly afterwards he begins building one of the country's mightiest castles, Caerphilly in Glamorgan, in defience of Llywylen the Last.

1272 - King Henry is dead and the new King Edward I is welcomed back from his crusades at Dover by Gilbert de Clare. Edward and his Queen graciously accept the Red Earls invitation to feast at Tonbridge Castle.

1284 - Gilbert's power has grown so much in South Wales that Edward has to ask his permission to enter Glamorgan.

1290 - Fearing de Clares power and history of allegiance, Edward decides Gilbert should divorce his wife and marry his daughter.

1314 - The last of the de Clares, another Gilbert, is killed fighting for Edward II against the Scots at Bannockburn. Tonbridge passes to the hated favourite Hugh le Despenser through his marriage to Gilbert's sister Eleanor. Hugh's good fortune is short-lived as the detested tyrant is hanged seven years later. His brother-in-law Hugh d'Audley now becomes Lord of Tonbridge.

1322 - D'Audley joins the Earl of Lancaster's revolt against the King and forfeits Tonbridge but later get's it back.

1643 - The castle is garrisoned by Parliament. A Royalist force is defeated in trying to take the castle.

1646 - The defences to the castle are slighted by order of Parliament. Stone from the castle is taken away for the building of locks on the River Medway.


Castle St






Tonbridge castle was founded by Richard Fitzgilbert after he was given an estate here by William I, having fought loyally at his side at the Battle of Hastings.

Access to this castle is a short walk off the high street, as its now the town park, located next the the River Medway.

The remaining curtain walls are still quite impressive and on entering the castle bailey it opens up to where you can clearly see the motte, with the most imposing remains being the magnificant gate-house. Anyone who has visited Caerphilly Castle recognise this immediately.

Unfortunately there is little now left to explore, as the gatehouse cannot be climbed and nothing now remains on the motte itself. The castle does however provide a relaxing stroll round its grounds to explore the walls which can be best viewed from the river walk.