Ludlow Castle was probably founded by Walter de Lacy around 1075. Walter had arrived in England in 1066 as part of William fitzOsbern's household during the Norman conquest of England. FitzOsbern was made the Earl of Hereford and tasked with settling the area; at the same time, several castles were founded in the west of the county, securing its border with Wales. Walter de Lacy was the earl's second in command, and was rewarded with 163 manors spread across seven counties, with 91 in Herefordshire alone. Walter began building a castle within the manor of Stanton Lacy; the fortification was originally called Dinham Castle, before it acquired its later name of Ludlow. Ludlow was the most important of Walter's castles: as well as being at the heart of his new estates, the site also lay at a strategic crossroads over the Teme River, on a strong defensive promontory. Walter died in a construction accident at Hereford in 1085 and was succeeded by his son, Roger de Lacy. The castle's Norman stone fortifications were added possibly as early as the 1080s onwards, and were finished before 1115, based around what is now the inner bailey of the castle, forming a stone version of a ringwork. It had four towers and a gatehouse tower along the walls, with a ditch dug out of the rock along two sides, the excavated stone being reused for the building works, and would have been one of the very first masonry castles in England.
In 1096, Roger was stripped of his lands after rebelling against William II and they were reassigned to Roger's brother, Hugh. Hugh de Lacy died childless around 1115, and Henry I gave Ludlow Castle and most of the surrounding estates to Hugh's niece, Sybil, marrying her to Pain fitzJohn, one of his household staff. Pain used Ludlow as his caput, the main castle in his estates, using the surrounding estates and knight's fees to support the castle and its defences. Pain died in 1137 fighting the Welsh, triggering a struggle for the inheritance of the castle. Robert fitzMiles, who had been planning to marry Pain's daughter, laid claim to it, as did Gilbert de Lacy, Roger de Lacy's son. By now, King Stephen had seized the English throne, but his position was insecure and he therefore gave Ludlow to fitzMiles in 1137, in exchange for promises of future political support. A civil war between Stephen and the Empress Matilda soon broke out and Gilbert took his chance to rise up against Stephen, seizing Ludlow Castle. Stephen responded by taking an army into the Welsh Marches, where he attempted to garner local support by marrying one of his knights, Joce de Dinan, to Sybil and granting the future ownership of the castle to them. Stephen took the castle after several attempts in 1139, famously rescuing his ally Prince Henry of Scotland when the latter was caught on a hook thrown over the walls by the garrison. Gilbert still maintained that he was the rightful owner of Ludlow, however, and a private war ensued between Joce and himself. Gilbert was ultimately successful and retook the castle a few years before the end of the civil war in 1153. He ultimately left for the Levant, leaving Ludlow in the hands of firstly, his eldest son, Robert, and then, after Robert's death, his younger son, Hugh de Lacy
Walter de Lacy travelled to Ireland in 1201 and the following year his properties, including Ludlow Castle, were confiscated to ensure his loyalty and placed under the control of William de Braose, his father-in-law. Walter's lands were returned to him, subject to the payment of a fine of 400 marks, but in 1207 his disagreements with royal officials in Ireland led to King John seizing the castle and putting it under the control of William again. Walter reconciled himself with John the following year, but meanwhile William himself had fallen out with the King; violence broke out and both Walter and William took refuge in Ireland, with John taking control of Ludlow yet again. It was not until 1215 that their relationship recovered and John agreed to give Ludlow back to Walter. At some point during the early 13th century, the innermost bailey was constructed in the castle, creating an additional private space within the inner bailey. In 1223, King Henry III met with the Welsh prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at Ludlow Castle for peace talks, but the negotiations were unsuccessful. The same year Henry became suspicious of Walter's activities in Ireland and, among other measures to secure his loyalty, Ludlow Castle was taken over by the Crown for a period of two years. This was cut short in May 1225 when Walter carried out a campaign against Henry's enemies in Ireland and paid the King 3,000 marks for the return of his castles and lands. During the 1230s, however, Walter had accumulated a thousand pounds of debt to Henry and private moneylenders which he was unable to repay. As a result, in 1238 he gave Ludlow Castle as collateral to the King, although the fortification was returned to him sometime before his death in 1241.
Henry lost control of power in the 1260s, resulting in the Second Barons' War across England. Following the Royalist defeat in 1264, the rebel leader Simon de Montfort seized Ludlow Castle, but it was recaptured shortly afterwards by Henry's supporters, probably led by Geoffrey de Geneville. Prince Edward escaped from captivity in 1265 and met up with his supporters at the castle, before commencing his campaign to retake the throne, culminating in de Montfort's defeat at Evesham later that year. Geoffrey continued to occupy the castle for the rest of the century under Edward I's rule, prospering until his death in 1314. Geoffrey built the Great Hall and the Solar block during his tenure of the castle, either between 1250 and 1280, or later, in the 1280s and 1290s. The town walls of Ludlow also began to be constructed in the 13th century, probably from 1260 onwards, and these were linked to the castle to form a continuous ring of defences around the town. Geoffrey and Maud's oldest granddaughter, Joan, married Roger Mortimer in 1301, giving Mortimer control of Ludlow Castle. Around 1320, Roger built the Great Chamber block alongside the existing Great Hall and Solar complex, copying what was becoming a popular tripartite design for domestic castle buildings in the 14th century; an additional building was also constructed by Roger on the location of the later Tudor Lodgings, and the Guardrobe Tower was added to the curtain wall. Between 1321 and 1322 Mortimer found himself on the losing side of the Despenser War and, after being imprisoned by Edward II, he escaped from the Tower of London in 1323 into exile.
Ludlow Castle was in the wardship of King Henry IV, when the Owain Glyndŵr revolt broke out across Wales. Military captains were appointed to the castle to protect it from the rebel threat, in the first instance John Lovel and then Henry's half-brother, Sir Thomas Beaufort. Roger Mortimer's younger brother, Edmund, set out from the castle with an army against the rebels in 1402, but was captured at the Battle of Bryn Glas. Henry refused to ransom him, and he eventually married one of Glyndŵr's daughters, before dying during the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409. Henry placed the young heir to Ludlow, another Edmund Mortimer, under house arrest in the south of England, and kept a firm grip on Ludlow Castle himself. This persisted until Henry V finally granted Edmund his estates in 1413, with Edmund going on to serve the Crown overseas. As a result, the Mortimers rarely visited the castle during the first part of the century, despite the surrounding town having become prosperous in the wool and cloth trades. Edmund fell heavily into debt and having sold his rights to his Welsh estates to a consortium of nobles, before dying childless in 1425. The castle was inherited by Edmund's sister's young son, Richard the Duke of York, who took possession in 1432.
In 1501, Prince Arthur arrived in Ludlow for his honeymoon with his bride Catherine of Aragon, before dying the following year. The Council in the Marches of Wales evolved into a combination of a governmental body and a court of law, settling a range of disputes across Wales and charged with maintaining general order, and Ludlow Castle became effectively the capital of Wales. Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, spent 19 months at Ludlow overseeing the Council of the Marches between 1525 and 1528, along with her entourage of servants, advisors, and guardians. The relatively small sum of £5 was spent restoring the castle before her arrival. The council's wide ranging role was reinforced in legislation in 1534, and its purpose was further elaborated in the Act of Union of 1543; some presidents, such as Bishop Rowland Lee, used its harsher powers extensively to execute local criminals, but later presidents typically preferred to punish with the pillory, whipping or imprisonment in the castle. The Great Chamber itself was used as the council's meeting room. The establishment of the Council in Ludlow Castle gave it a new lease of life, during a period in which many similar fortifications were falling into decay. By the 1530s, the castle needed considerable renovation; Lee began work in 1534, borrowing money to do so, but Sir Thomas Engleford complained the following year that the castle was still unfit for habitation. Lee repaired the castle roofs, probably using lead from the Carmelite friary in the town, and using the fines imposed and the goods confiscated by the court. He later claimed that the work on the castle would have cost around £500, had the Crown had to pay for it all directly. The porter's lodge and prison were built in the outer bailey around 1552.
The castle was luxuriously appointed by the 17th century, with an expensive, but grand, household based around the Council of the Marches. The future Charles I was declared Prince of Wales in the castle by James I in 1616, and Ludlow was made his principal castle in Wales. A company called the "Queen's Players" entertained the Council in the 1610s, and in 1634 John Milton's masque Comus was performed in the Great Hall for John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater. The Council faced increased criticism over its legal practices, however, and in 1641 an Act of Parliament stripped it of its judicial powers. When the English Civil War broke out in 1642 between the supporters of King Charles and those of Parliament, Ludlow and the surrounding region supported the Royalists. A Royalist garrison was put in place in the town, under the command of Sir Michael Woodhouse, and the defences were strengthened, with artillery being brought from nearby Bringwood Forge for the castle. As the war turned against the King in 1644, the garrison was drawn down to provide reinforcements for the field army. The military situation deteriorated and in 1645 the remaining outlying garrisons were drawn in to protect Ludlow itself. In April 1646 Sir William Brereton and Colonel John Birch led a Parliamentary army from Hereford to take Ludlow; after a short siege, Woodhouse surrendered the castle and town on good terms on 26 May. The most valuable items in the castle were removed shortly after the siege, and the remainder of the luxurious furnishings were sold off in the town in 1650. The castle was initially kept garrisoned, but in 1653, most of the weapons in the castle were removed on the grounds of security and sent to Hereford, then in 1655 the garrison was disbanded altogether. Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 and reinstated the Council of the Marches in 1661, but the castle never recovered from the war.
The castle remained in disrepair, and in 1704 its governor, William Gower, proposed dismantling the castle and building a residential square on the site instead, in a more contemporary style. His proposal was not adopted but, by 1708, only three rooms were still in use in the hall range, many of the other buildings in the inner bailey had fallen into disuse, and much of the remaining furniture was rotten or broken. Shortly after 1714, the roofs were stripped of their lead and the wooden floors began to collapse; the writer Daniel Defoe visited in 1722, and noted that the castle "is in the very Perfection of Decay". Nonetheless, some rooms remained usable for many years afterwards, possibly as late as the 1760s and 1770s, when drawings show the entrance block to the inner bailey to still be intact, and visitors remarked on the good condition of the round chapel. The stonework became overgrown with ivy, trees and shrubs, and by 1800 the chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene had finally degenerated into ruin. The town of Ludlow was increasingly fashionable and frequented by tourists, with the castle forming a particularly popular attraction. Thomas Warton published an edition of Milton's poems in 1785, describing Ludlow Castle and popularising the links to Comus, reinforcing the castle's reputation as a picturesque and sublime location. The castle became a topic for painters interested in these themes: J. M. W. Turner, Francis Towne, Thomas Hearne, Julius Ibbetson, Peter de Wint and William Marlowe all produced depictions of the castle during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, usually taking some artistic licence with the details in order to produce atmospheric works.
Entrance: The path has a rough, cobbled surface. There is one step down to the Castle Shop, and there is an accessible adapted toilet. Outer Bailey: Level grassed area. The bridge over the dry moat has a smooth surface. Inner Bailey: The path through the entrance is rough and uneven. There are no problems for wheelchair users when attending the play performed in the Inner Bailey during the Ludlow Festival. All dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
Location : Castle Sq, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1AY
Transport: Ludlow (National Rail)0.5 miles. Bus Routes : 143, 490, 701, 723, 731, 738, 740, 745 and X11 stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £5.00; Seniors $4.50; Children (6+) £2.50
Tel: 01584 873355