Hedingham Castle



'I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and house'

Lord Justice Crewe


The magnificent Norman Castle keep at Hedingham is among one of the best preserved in Europe. It was built by Aubrey de Vere in 1140 and now stands as a enduring monument to the great family of the de Vere earls of Oxford. The castle was built as a stronghold for the family and its walls are 12 feet thick, although strangely, 13 feet thick on the Eastern side. This is believed to be either to keep out the cold easterly winds that are common in this part of the country or to be for extra protection against a possible attack coming from the gatehouse side of the keep. Whatever the reason, the castle was to be a haunting reminder to the local population of their new Norman Lord's great wealth and power.

The family name of de Vere is believed to have come from the small town of Ver, near Bayeaux in Normandy and their roots trace back to the early tenth century and Danish origins. Other suggestions say they are decended from a Breton family from Vair, near Nantes, although their early history is surrounded in mystery and nobody is really certain.

The family was founded in England by Aubrey 'Albericus' de Vers, who obtained vast estates from William the Conqueror in 1066. These estates were once the property of Ulwine, a great Saxon thane, and consisted of manors in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Middlesex which is now part of modern London. The de Veres were also Lords of Kensington in modern London and nearby Earl's Court is where they had their court-house. To this day there is a quite exclusive area of Kensington called de Vere Gardens.

Surprisingly little is known about Albericus de Ver, it is said that he married Beatrice, half sister of King William, and they had five sons. However, there is little evidence to support this and much of the earlier life of Albericus and Beatrice is unknown. He founded Earl's Colne Priory in 1105, and after the death of Beatrice he became a Monk. He is also said to be responsible for laying out four new vineyards in England, one being at Hedingham, where wild red grapes have been found several times during the last century. He died peacefully at Earl's Colne Priory.

Aubrey de Vere, Lord Great Chamberlain of England.

Aubrey II, eldest son of Albericus, succeeded his father on his death and was responsible for building the great keep at Hedingham, using the Archbishop of Canterbury, William de Corbeuil as his architect. The keep is faced with Ashlar stone which had to be transported all the way from the quarries of Barnack in Northamptonshire. This was a tricky operation and would have involved great expense to Aubrey, but it ensured the Castle could withstand weather and considerable bombardment before it would yield as well as making it far more attractive to the eye. Very few Norman Castles were faced with stone like Hedingham, only a very few Nobles were as rich and powerful as the de Veres, and normally only the doors and windows were faced with cut stone.

Aubrey II took part in the First Crusade in 1098. There is a legend that while Aubrey was engaged in the fierce battle for Antioch against the Sultan of Persia's troops, darkness was starting to fall and there was great confusion on the battlefield. At the very moment when it seemed the Saracens were about to be saved by the darkness, a brilliant five-pointed star appeared on the standard being carried by de Vere. The battlefield was said to have been completely illuminated, and a great victory was won over the Sultan's troops. I would hardly believe this is true, but the arms of the de Vere family are amongst the most simple and one of the best known in medieval heraldry.

Aubrey II married Alice FitzRichard of Clare, (daughter of Gilbet FitzRichard, feudal lord of Clare) and in 1125 Aubrey was made joint Sheriff of London. In 1130 he appears to have been indebted to the crown for a considerable sum after a prisoner he was responsible for escaped. This apparently did him little harm because in 1133 he was created Great Chamberlain of England. As such he attended King Stephen at Westminster and also at Winchester in 1136. The title given was to be hereditary and all subsequent holders of this office were his descendents, although throughout the later middle ages, there were long periods when the de Vere family fell out of favour and didn't properly regain the title until after Bosworth Field.

Aubery II was killed in a riot in London in 1141, most probably while his Castle at Hedingham was still being built, he left four sons, Aubery III, Robert, Geoffrey and William and was succeeded by his eldest, Aubrey de Vere III.


The keep entrance and Great Hall from the gallery

Aubrey de Vere, the third, was another Crusader who was known as Aubrey the Grim on account of his height and stern appearance. He was made an earl by the Empress Matilda and was offered a choice of title from either Cambridge, ' Provided the King of the Scots had it not ', Oxford, Berkshire, Wiltshire or Dorset. He chose Oxford and became the 1st earl of Oxford. A title later confirmed by Henry II which was to continue for 20 generations. As well as his title he was also given ' a third of the penny of the pleas of the county, as an earl ought to have '. The new earl was always a keen supporter of the Empress, who frequently came to Hedingham Castle as a visitor and guest of de Vere. The other Matilda, Queen and wife of King Stephen, was another visitor to Hedingham, she died there on the 3rd May 1152, and was later buried at Faversham Abbey, Kent.

Aubrey, 2nd earl of Oxford, succeeded in 1194. He fought alongside Richard Coeur de Lion in Normandy and was later to command King John's forces in Ireland, where John had done his best to upset the local Chieftains of the Country. He was Privy Councillor and Steward of the vast estates of Epping Forest in 1213, but he died childless and his brother Robert succeeded him as 3rd earl of Oxford.

By now the Castle at Hedingham was complete, along with the curtain wall around the castle keep, although much has changed since then. The curtain wall has disappeared and the area around the keep has now a small wood of trees which were planted around 1719. This whole area would have been kept clear of any undergrowth in the castle's heyday, giving excellent views from the battlements to warn of any approaching danger.

The entrance to the keep is on the first floor with the dungeon being outside, opposite the entrance. This first floor entrance is yet another precaution against attack and the Garrison and Guard room were on the ground floor which also served as dwelling space. The main entrance door has a well-defined chevron moulding which is of a typical Norman pattern, these are to be found in various places throughout the castle, each and every one slightly different. After stepping through the entrance door, one is taken immediately into a narrow passage which leads into the Banqueting or Great Hall. The Great Hall would have been used for entertaining guests, giving audiences and holding court and was a natural place for the masons to perform their finest work.. In keeping with the Lords social status, Hedingham was endowed with the largest Norman Arch in Europe.

The largest Norman arch in Europe at Hedingham

Robert, 3rd earl of Oxford was also a Crusader in the Holy Wars, but in the 15th year of King John's reign he took up arms against the King and with 25 other Barons, ' In the defence of England ' forced John to sign the Magna Carta. De Vere, like the others involved were excommunicated by the Pope for their actions. The Barons then offered the crown to Louis, son of the French King, and a French force landed and established themselves at Colchester Castle whereby they were soon attacked by John and surrendered. John then turned his attention to Hedingham which he immediately put under a seige and after long, fierce resistance, surrendered in 1216.

The following year the Dauphin and his soldiers were back and promptly laid seige again to Hedingham. After another long and desparate struggle it was finally re-taken. On the death of King John, peace was made with the Barons by Henry III and Robert de Vere was returned to favour - with Hedingham and all his lands returned. Robert died on 25th October 1221 and he was buried at Hatfield Priory, his effigy and body were later removed and reburied in Hatfield Church where they remain to this day.

Hugh the 4th earl of Oxford was born in 1210 and was at the side of Edward I at the seige of Caerlaverock and was later involved in the 6th Crusade from 1248-1254. He founded several Hospitals and Almshouses and did a lot for the poor on his manor in Hedingham. He also built the steeple of Earl's Colne church and was buried there in 1263. His son Robert, became the 6th earl of Oxford and also fought with Longshanks in Wales, he is buried in the family chapel at Bures some 20 miles distant from Hedingham, just outside Colchester, where many of the earls have now been placed.

Thirteenth-century shields by the St Alban's chronicler Matthew Paris.

( The de Vere arms are in the third row, second from the left)

Robert, 6th earl of Oxford, was also noted for his military exploits and has claim to have fought for Edward I, II and III, firstly against the Scots and then the French in the Hundred Years War. He officiated at the Coronation of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II in 1308 and was known as;

" The Good earl of Oxford, his government, both in peace and war being so prudent, his hospitality and works of Charity so wisely abundant, and his temperance, with religious zeal, so admirably conjoined, that the common people esteemed him as a Saint "

His only son, Thomas, pre-deceased him, so Robert left all his estates and titles to his brother's son John, who became the 7th Earl of Oxford.

John was soon to become another of the fighting de Vere earls of Oxford. He spent much of his time in the saddle fighting for his King, and can rightly claim to have been the family's finest. He was renowned for his gallentry and chivalry and became one of Edward III's greatest generals, serving in Scotland, France, Flanders, Brittany and Gascony.

In 1333 and 1335 he fought in Scotland in support of Edward Baliol and when war broke out with France in 1339, he accompanied King Edward III to Flanders. Three years later he joined the Breton campaign of William de Bohun, earl of Northampton, and was present at the Battle of Morlaix. For this campaign he had in his service, forty men-at-arms, one banneret, nine knights, twenty-nine esquires, and thirty mounted archers, with a total allowance of fifty-six sacks of wool as wages. In June 1345 he accompanied de Bohun again to Brittany. After yet another successful campaign, their ship was blown off course on the return journey to England and ended up wrecked at Conaught where the ' Barbarous People ' robbed the party of all they possessed.

View of Hedingham in 1730

John de Vere was soon back in action and the following year, 1346, he went with Edward III on his expedition to France which led to the Battle of Crecy and siege of Calais. At Crecy he was one of the Commanders of the first Division with the earl of Warwick and the young Edward, Black Prince of Wales. Oxford had 160 men plus archers under his banner and like all his fellow countrymen that day, they all played their part as they won an overwelming victory over the vastly superior numbers of the French. After Crecy, they all marched without any opposition to the powerful fortified port of Calais which they immediately put under siege.

During the siege John de Vere was sent back to England to get fresh horses and supplies for the King but was hastily recalled by Edward III. He immediately returned, leaving England with 200 ships and right away fell into contact with the French Fleet, also making for Calais. A difficult and bloody battle took place in the Channel which eventually ended with another defeat for the French and the capture of 20 ships, all loaded with supplies which were meant for Calais.

In 1355 he accompanied Edward, Black Prince of Wales to Bordeaux and he later took part in the celebrated 'Chevauchee' into Languedoc with the Black Prince and subsequently shared, with the earl of Warwick, the first division at the Battle of Poitiers. Oxford, Warwick and their men played a major role in stopping the French cavalry running down the English lines during the early fighting and played a major part in the battle which ended with the French King John being taken prisoner.

" Yet all courage had been thrown away to no purpose, had it not been seconded by the extraordinary Gallantry of the English Archers, under the earl of Oxford, who behaved themselves that day with wonderful Constancy, Alacrity and Resolution "

John, 7th earl of Oxford, was one of the Flowers of English Chivalry and was the greatest of all the medieval de Veres. He died in January 1360 while at the siege of Rheims, leaving Hedingham and other vast estates in 10 counties. His body was returned to England and interred in the family burial-place at Colne Church Priory.


The keep from the SW and from the E across the 'Tudor' bridge

The 7th earl's son, Thomas, became the 8th Earl, but died quite young in 1371 and his son, Robert de Vere became the 9th earl of Oxford and Hereditary Chamberlain of England. He was only nine when he succeeded his father but was still allowed to act as Chamberlain to King Richard II. At 16 he married Philippa, daughter of the earl of Bedford and Isabel, the daughter of Edward III. Robert was a brave young man and was with King Richard when he faced Wat Tyler and his army of peasants at Mile End during the Peasants Revolt. He had a great influence over Richard who showered him with gifts and further estates which soon started causing resentment among the other barons.

In 1386 he was made Duke of Ireland and given semi-regal powers which again didn't go down well with his growing bunch of enemies. He was to soon leave his wife, Philippa, and this caused quite a stir, especially when he set up home with one of the Queen's maidens. This was to be the begining of his downfall. The Duke of Gloucester, Philippa's Uncle, was particularly annoyed with him, and other barons were to also plot against him which led to him being forced into exile after being impeached for High Treason. He never did return to England and in 1392 he was fatally injured by a boar while out hunting.

Robert's title and estates were then granted to his Uncle, Aubrey de Vere who became the 10th earl and he was yet another of the great fighting de Veres. In 1367 he was retained to ' Abide for Life ' with the Black Prince and received an allowance of 100 marks a year. He died in 1400 aged 60 and his son Richard succeeded him as the 11th earl of Oxford.

Being true to the family tradition, Richard spent much of his time by the side of his King. He was made a knight of the Garter and was with Henry V at the siege of Harfleur in 1415 and was also a commander at the Battle of Agincourt. He died in 1417 and his body was also interred in the family vaults at Earl's Colne.


The gallery passage and view from the gallery window

The next earl of Oxford, John, the 12th in the line, like most his ancestors, spent much of his time with his King. He became a prominent Lancastrian and remained loyal to Henry VI. On the accession of Edward IV he and his eldest son came under suspicion and were imprisoned in the Tower of London and in 1462 were both beheaded on Tower Hill. His younger son, John, became the 13th earl and like many of his other higher ranking Lords was unfortunate in becoming involved in the struggles to become known as the Wars of the Roses.

Like his Father, John supported the Lancastrian cause and received most of his honours and rewards for his actions on the battlefield, only this time against his fellow countrymen. When Edward IV returned to the throne, John de Vere had to flee to Scotland where the King of Scotland ordered he have right of passage and safe conduct for six months for himself and 40 Englishmen. From Scotland he went to France where he assembled a small fleet of ships and caused havoc with the Yorkists shipping.

In 1473 he returned to England with 400 men and captured St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. The following year, after a long seige, he was forced to surrender to the King. He was taken to Hammes Castle, near Calais, for 12 years and his Wife, Margaret, the sister to the earl of Warwick, was treated very badly. She was deprived of all her income and almost kept a prisoner as well. During all this trouble for the family, Hedingham was granted to Sir Thomas Montgomery, but he wasn't to keep it for long.

In 1485, John de Vere escaped from Hammes castle with the Governor and Captain and joined the Vanguard at the Battle of Bosworth Field under the earl of Richmond. The Yorkists were put to flight with the death of King Richard III and Richmond was crowned King Henry VII. Shortly after, John de Vere had all his estates and titles returned and again the family were awarded the hereditary title of Lord Great Chamberlain.

John de Vere continued to have a good relationship with the King, or so it seems, until one day the King paid him a visit at Hedingham. The story goes that when the King departed the castle, John de Vere had all his servants line up, their coats enblazoned with the de Vere arms, to form a line down which the King could pass. King Henry VII then said to de Vere:

' My Lord, I have heard much of your hospitality, but I see that it is greater than the speech '

The King then reprimanded the earl for having too many retainers wearing livery and uniform. This was a law which was to ensure the nobles didn't get too powerful and raise an army to fight each other ending in a repeat of the Wars of Lancaster and York. As far as the King was concerned, the earl of Oxford has exceeded his limit and was fined the sum of 15,000 Marks. There were not many who had helped the King as much as de Vere during his struggles for the throne and one would have thought the King would have overlooked the matter, but he didn't, and the fine would have caused some financial problems for a short time to the family.

The 'Tudor' bridge which replaced the Gatehouse - Drawbridge at Hedingham.

John de Vere, 15th earl of Oxford was the last in a long line of the fighting medieval earls of Oxford. Their fortunes had generally been favourable at a time when all could be lost by simply taking the wrong side in an argument. Most important of all, the de Veres were nearly always loyal to their King and as such gained vast estates and wealth. As the family moved into the Tudor period they continued to be leading players at court for their Monarch and country.

John, 16th earl of Oxford, and his son, another John, 17th earl of Oxford, both served with Henry VIII in England and in France. John, 16th earl, escorted Elizabeth from Hatfield to London when she beame Queen, officiating at her coronation in 1559. His wife, Margery was appointed maid of Honour to the new Queen and Elizabeth was visitor to Hedingham Castle on several occasions. He was a popular landlord to his tenants and was known for his generosity to the poor of his estates. He was to die in 1562 and his son, Edward, succeeded him at the age of 12 to became the 17th earl. Edward was unfortunate in that although a poular figure and a learned man, he was unfortunate in making some bad investments and lost considerable sums of money. He also liked to live in rather lavish style, and although little is known of his later life, there is a body of opinion who believe this is because he was writing the works more usually attributed to William Shakespeare, although I've yet to read any convincing evidence of this.

He had 1 son, Henry, who became the 18th earl of Oxford and was to be the last de Vere to live at Hedingham. He has been described as the poorest earl in England at the time and perhaps that was a legacy inherited from his father's lavish ways and poor investments. The title then passed to his second cousin in 1626 and his son, Aubrey, was to become the last de Vere earl of Oxford, the 20th in the line.

After the death of the 18th earl's widow, the castle reverted by family arrangement to the widow of the 17th earl - Elizabeth Trentham. It was then sold for the first time in 550 years in 1713 to Sir William Ashhurst, MP and Lord Mayor of London. He soon built himself a new house to the east of the castle bailey which is a fine example from that period. They kept the castle in the family until it the passed to the Majendie Family through marriage until 1870 when Lewis Ashhurst Majendie married Lady Margaret Lindsey, daughter of the 25th earl of Crawford and Balcarres.

Hedingham then passed onto the Lindsey family and through marriage, returned to the de Veres via the last earls daughter's family, although not with the title of earl of Oxford.

I'd like to take this opportunity of thanking Mr Clive Willingham and Mr Simon Daw for their help, patience and corrections in putting together the family history of the de Vere earls of Oxford. Without their help there would be many gaps and mistakes.

Simon Daw worked at Hedingham Castle for several years and has a web site which covers the beautiful town of Hedingham, this can be found at;


The official web site on village of Castle Hedingham can be found at;


© MWC2000

Additional Information on Hedingham Castle.

Hedingham Castle is owned by the Hon. Thomas Lindsay

Hours of Opening - 10am - 5pm, 7 Days a week, from 7th April - 31st October.

Telephone - 01787-460261 Office Hours.

OS Map - No 167.

Entry £4-00 for Adults, £3-00 for Children.

Family ticket for 2 adults and up to 5 children - £11-50. Concessions - £3.50.

Hedingham Castle

It is difficult not to miss the great Norman keep of Hedingham as you drive past the town on the A604 road. It looks out from its lofty position, high above the town, unchanged in over 800 years. The town of Hedingham has grown up around its base and the entrance is gained via a private drive which takes you to the castle car park.

Hedingham is another of those castles that is perfect for children, and they are well catered for by the staff. The castle is privately owned, but a programme of events are held at least a couple of times a month at the weekends right through the season. For lovers of Brass Bands, last year there were regular Sunday afternoon sessions by the Essex Yeomanry Brass Band in the Gardens by the Fish Ponds, check before your visit for the most up to date information on attractions.

Access for people with walking disabilities is good to the base of the Castle, but venturing further may prove a problem due to the steep steps which are at times quite uneven.

Hedingham Castle was a real treat for me. It is billed as one of the finest Norman keeps in Europe and this title is not far from the truth. It is in excellent condition, and the inside looks as if the Lord only moved out a short while ago. It's finest attraction is without doubt the Banqueting/Great Hall. This is a real gem and rather surprising it has survived in such good condition with it's splendid huge Norman Arch spanning the whole room. Although not as grand as some other attractions available from this period in England, Hedingham, as I said, is privately owned and therefore doesn't command the financial clout of some of the greater more well known monuments. But saying that, it holds it's own with equal charm and fascination that one would hardly notice the difference. I had a most enjoyable day out here, and the children I was with thoughly enjoyed the Falconry display, and later, drama group playing Robin Hood, Maid Marion and the Sheriff of Nottingham, complete with authentic dress and sword fighting. Even without these added attractions, Hedingham is worth a visit on it's own just to see the dwelling place of the truely great de Vere earls of Oxford.

On my visit I took several rolls of film of the Castle with several distant views from the other side of the town in very nice lighting conditions. Unfortunatly, the company developing them for me managed to lose 2 of the 3 rolls, so the pictures shown are all I am left with.

I have also contacted the Family that are now the owners of the Chapel at Bures, Nr Colchester, to obtain their permission to photograph the magnificent effigies of at least five of the past earls in their new sourroundings. I've seen them from the outside of the chapel, through the window, and they look absolutely stunning and in excellent condition as far as I could make out. Before long I shall hopefully be able to put up a new page with these pictures on.

© MWC2000

Information on Hedingham Castle was obtained from;

Hedingham Castle - English Life Publications Ltd.

The Castle in Medieval England and Wales - Colin Platt.

England and its Rulers 1066 - 1272 - MT Clanchy.

The English Dictionary of National Biography - Edited by George Smith.

The Knight in Medieval England and Wales 1000-1400 - Peter Coss.

Anglo-Norman Warfare - Ed Matthew Strickland.

Anglo-Norman England - Marjorie Chibnall

Stephen and Matilda - Jim Bradbury

The Crecy War - Lt Col Alfred H Burne.

The Agincourt War - Lt Col Alfred H Burne.

Chronicles of Jean Froissart - Translated and edited by Geoffrey Brereton.

Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince - Edited by Richard Barber.

The Three Edwards - Michael Prestwich.

Edward III - Michael Packe.

The Crowned Lions - The Early Plantagenet Kings - Carolyn Bingham.

Henry V - Harold H Hutchison.

The Wars of the Roses - JR Lander.

Plantagenet Encyclopedia - Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

Oxford History of Medieval England - Nigel Saul.

The Reader's Digest Touring Guide to Britain.


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