|Front cover of Ludgershall Castle: Excavations by Peter Addyman|
edited by Peter Ellis: Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Monograph series 2. English Heritage
Ludgershall Manor and Castle: the early years. 1015 - 1216
Ludgershall makes its appearance in the record books in 1015 as Lutegareshalle in the will of the Aetheling Athelstan and probably refers to it being a place where wild animals were caught in a spear trap. From Athelstan, Lutegareshalle then passed to one Godwine the Driveller. By the Norman Conquest it was in the hands of Edward of Salisbury, who was William Marshal’s great grandfather.
The Domesday book changed the name to Litlegarsele. In 1086 it had enough land for 3 plough teams. Two ploughs and three serfs worked the demesne land. There were also eight peasant cottage holders with one plough. There was pastureland three furlongs in length and one furlong broad (there are 8 furlongs in a mile). There was also woodland, half an acre long and two furlongs broad. In 1086 it was worth £6.10s. These statistics show it to have been a prosperous manor, average for its region.
Edward of Salisbury, an Englishman, held more lands in Wiltshire than any other tenant-in-chief and by 1081 was sheriff of the county. He is thought to be the first person to build a fortified residence at Ludgershall, and some of the earliest structures in the northern enclosure of the castle may have been built on his watch.
By the reign of Henry I, Ludgershall was once again in crown hands and there are writs dated there from 1103. By Stephen’s reign, the manor had come into the hands of John the Marshal. How he obtained it is not clear in the records, but he certainly had it in his possession by 1138. In all likelihood it was given to him by Stephen as part of a ‘loyalty package’ that also included Marlborough. As former holders of the manor, the Salisbury family were not overjoyed about this, and John Marshal found himself facing the hostility of Patrick of Salisbury. The two came to blows over the possession of Ludgershall – as reported in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, and there was some bitter and bloody fighting. The situation was resolved by John putting aside his wife, Aline, and marrying Patrick’s sister Sybilla – mother of the great William Marshal.
In 1141, Ludgershall Castle had its part to play in the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. Forced to flee Winchester attacked by Stephen’s forces, the Empress took refuge at Ludgershall en route to Devizes.
It is not known how long John continued to hold Ludgershall. He had to give up Marlborough in 1158 but there is no mention of him yielding Ludgershall. It was back in royal hands by 1174/5. This may have been due to William Marshal’s support of the Young King in the rebellion of 1173/4, but there is no solid proof as to the reasons and the where and when for Henry II taking Ludgershall into his own hands. Henry stocked Ludgershall with wine in 1174 and 1175. William Marshal witnessed a charter there in 1175 and Henry stayed there between June and August 1176.
Richard I granted the castle to his brother John in 1189, but reclaimed it in 1194 after John’s rebellion. When Richard died, John once more came into possession of the castle and put it into the custody of his chief forester Hugh de Neville. John visited Ludgershall on several occasions with his queen – in 1200, 1204, 1205, 1207, 1208 and 1210. Following the 1204 visit an order was made in April 1205 ‘to make two new kitchens, one at Marlborugh and one at Ludgershall to make our meals, and in each kitchen have an oven made for cooking in each, two or three oxen. In 1207-8 . At this time there were also two chapels, one dedicated to St Catherine, the other to St. Leonard. How long they had been there is not known.
Henry III went on to turn Ludgershall into a comfortable palatial residence on a small scale, which is outside the brief of this short blog post, but he went to town on it. The 13th century was Ludgershall Castle’s full glorious heyday. By 1540 it was ruinous. What stands today are foundations and the cores of some towers. There’s not a lot to see, but it’s free to visit and it still gives one a thrill to walk in the footsteps of Marshals and Kings!