Goodrich Castle appears to have been in existence by 1101, when it was known as Godric’s Castle, named probably after Godric of Mappestone, a local Anglo-Saxon thane and landowner mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. By Norman times, Goodrich formed part of the Welsh Marches, a sequence of territories granted to Norman nobles in, and alongside. During the 12th century the attitudes of the English nobility towards the Welsh began to harden; the policies of successive rulers, but especially Henry II, began to become more aggressive in the region. In the mid-12th century Godric's original earth and timber fortification was dismantled and replaced by a tall but relatively small square keep built of stone, sometimes known as "Macbeth's Tower". The keep was designed to be secure and imposing but relatively cheap to build. At the beginning of the 12th century, the castle had passed from Godric to William Fitz Baderon, thought to be his son-in-law, and on to his son, Baderon of Monmouth, in the 1120s. England descended into anarchy, however, during the 1130s as the rival factions of Stephen and his cousin the Empress Matilda vied for power. Baderon of Monmouth married Rohese de Clare, a member of the powerful de Clare family who usually supported Stephen, and there are records of Baderon having to seize Goodrich Castle during the fighting in the region, which was primarily held by supporters of Matilda. Some suspect that Baderon may have therefore built the stone keep in the early years of the conflict.
During the following reigns of King Richard I and his brother John, the castle and manor were held by the Crown. King John, however, lost many of his lands in France which in turn deprived key English nobles of their own estates. Accordingly, in 1203 John transferred Goodrich Castle and the surrounding manor to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, to partially compensate him for his lost lands on the continent. Marshal was a famous English knight with reputation as a heroic warrior, and he expanded Goodrich by building an additional towered curtain wall in stone, around the existing keep. Marshal had to intervene to protect Goodrich Castle from Welsh attack, most famously in 1216 when he was obliged to leave Henry III's coronation feast in Gloucester to hurry back to Goodrich to reinforce the castle. Marshal's second son, Richard led the baronial opposition to Henry III and allied himself with the Welsh, resulting in King Henry besieging Goodrich Castle in 1233 and retaking personal control for a period. The castle, in 1247, passed by marriage to William de Valence, half brother to Henry III. De Valence was a French nobleman from Poitiers and a noted soldier who spent most of his life fighting in military campaigns; Henry arranged his marriage to Joan de Munchensi, one of the heiresses to the Marshal estate. The marriage made Valence immensely rich and gave him the title of Earl of Pembroke. The Welsh border situation remained unsettled however, and in the decades after 1250 security grew significantly worse, as the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd conducted numerous raids into English territories. The Wye valley and Goodrich were particularly affected by these raids.
The castle then passed to Aymer's niece, Elizabeth de Comyn, a well-connected young noblewoman. By the middle of the 1320s, however, England was in the grip of the oppressive rule of the Marcher lords Hugh le Despenser the older and his son Hugh Despenser the younger, the royal favourites of King Edward II. As part of a "sweeping revenge" on their rivals, especially in the Marches, the Despensers illegally seized a wide range of properties, particularly from vulnerable targets such as widows, wives whose husbands were out of favour with the king or unmarried women. Upon her inheritance, Hugh le Despenser the younger promptly kidnapped Elizabeth in London and transported her to Herefordshire to be imprisoned in her own castle at Goodrich. Threatened with death, Elizabeth was finally forced to sign over the castle and other lands to the Despensers in April 1325. Elizabeth then married Richard Talbot, the 2nd Baron Talbot, who seized back the castle in 1326 shortly before Queen Isabella of France landed in England and deposed both the Despensers and her husband Edward II; Talbot and Elizabeth regained their legal title to the castle the following year. Richard later received permission from Isabella's son Edward III to create a dungeon under the keep for holding prisoners.
Goodrich Castle became the scene of one of the most desperate sieges during the English Civil War in the 1640s, which saw the rival factions of Parliament and the king vie for power across England. In the years before the war, there had been a resurgence of building at the castle. Richard Tyler, a local lawyer, became the tenant and constable of the castle, and during the early 1630s there had been considerable renovation work. Shortly after the outbreak of war, the Earl of Stamford, with support from Tyler, garrisoned the castle for Parliament until December 1643, when increasing Royalist pressure in the region forced his withdrawal to Gloucester. The castle was then occupied by a garrison led by the Royalist Sir Henry Lingen. The occupation was not peaceful, with Royalist troops burning surrounding farm buildings – Tyler himself was imprisoned by Lingen. As the Royalist situation deteriorated, the south-west became one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds. Lingen, with 200 men and 90 horses at Goodrich Castle, conducted raids on Parliamentary forces in the region, representing a continuing challenge. In 1646, the Parliamentary Colonels John Birch and Robert Kyrle marched south from their successful Siege of Hereford and besieged the castle, with the aim of eliminating one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds. Birch's first move was to prevent further attacks from Lingen, and on 9 March he burned the weakly defended stables in a surprise night attack, driving away the Royalist horses and temporarily denying the Royalist forces' mobility. Birch was unable to press home his advantage however, and over the next few months Lingen succeeded in replacing some of his horses and resumed his attacks on Parliamentary forces.
In June, Birch returned and besieged the castle itself. He found that it was too strong to be taken by direct attack, and instead began laying down trenches to allow him to bring artillery to bear on the structure. Parliamentary attacks broke the pipe carrying water into the castle, and the cisterns in the courtyard were destroyed by exploding shells, forcing the garrison to depend on the older castle well. With the castle still holding out, Colonel Birch built an enormous mortar called "Roaring Meg", able to fire a gunpowder-filled shell 85–90 kilograms in weight. Birch concentrated his efforts on the north-west tower, using his mortar against the masonry and undermining the foundations with his sappers. Lingen responded with a counter-mine dug out under Parliament's own tunnel. This would probably have succeeded, but Birch brought his mortar forward under the cover of darkness and launched a close-range attack on the tower, which collapsed and buried Lingen's counter-mine. Down to their last four barrels of gunpowder and thirty barrels of beer, and with a direct assault now imminent, the Royalists surrendered. Despite the damage, Tyler was able to move back into his castle, which was now protected by a small Parliamentary garrison. After investigation by Parliamentary agents Brown and Selden, however, the castle was slighted the following year, which rendered it impossible to defend. The Countess of Kent, the new owner of the castle, was given £1,000 in damages, but chose not to rebuild the fortification as it was by then virtually uninhabitable.
Disabled access is limited (no ramps). Access to the top of the keep is via a steep, narrow and dark spiral staircase. Other stairs across the site may become slippery when wet. Assistance dogs are welcome and a dog bowl is available. There are tactile experiences.
Location : Castle Lane, Goodrich, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6HY
Transport: Hereford (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : H & H Coaches service 34 and 411 (Wed) to within 1⁄2 mile.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 18:00.
Tickets : Adults £7.70; Children £4.60
Tel: 0370 333 1181