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Arundel Castle – The embodiment of a thousand years of English history

If, like us, you’re a bit hooked on castles, then we’re hoping this month you’ll love finding out about a castle that’s not only swathed in heraldry, but is still the lived in stately home of the Earl Marshal of England.

Packed with stories reaching back a millennium, the history of Arundel closely tracks the fate of England century by century, right up to the current day. And we’ve loved every minute we’ve spent researching it.

How it all started…

Arundel Castle is the family home of the Duke of Norfolk and has been since the late fifteenth century. But the initial clod of earth to start the motte was dug in 1068, just after the Norman invasion. Roger de Montgomery was the first to hold the Earldom of Arundel, although this is debated by some who assert that the honour was not bestowed until 1138 to William d’Aubigny. But putting such disputes aside, if it was first given to Roger it was done so by William the Conqueror, who saw the gatehouse built soon after the start of the project, in 1070.

When Roger de Montgomery died, ownership of the castle reverted to Henry I. He, in turn, then left it and its lands to his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. She married William d’Aubigny three years later, and he built the stone keep. However, it wasn’t until after the death of Henry I in 1135 that building started to really take place.

The seat of the Dukes of Norfolk…

The body of the main part of the castle was constructed by Henry II. And in 1155 Henry confirmed William d’Aubigny II as Earl of Arundel and bestowed Arundel Castle upon him too. Of course, as with any structure of historical significance in this country, it has reverted to the Crown on occasion. But that just needs to be part of a castle’s provenance, we reckon.

As the years passed, Arundel Castle was further developed according to the needs of its noble owners of the time. For example, in 1139, the Empress Matilda stayed for quite a while, and to facilitate this the Aubigny family constructed stone apartments specifically for her stay. These apartments still exist now!

For a brief time after William d’Aubigny died, Arundel reverted to the Crown, the then holder being Henry II. Henry actually invested significant time and money in developing the site. But when his son, Richard the Lionheart, inherited it he returned it to the Aubigny family. The last Aubigny heir to take on the castle, however, died at a young age and without progeny, so his sister, Isabel, took it on. She later married John FitzAlan of Clun. And so the FitzAlan era began.

A bit of chopping and changing…

By 1272, the castle was in need of some renovation and maintenance. The earl in situ, Richard FitzAlan, was granted permission by Edward I to collect taxes and raise funds for the work. Richard added the well tower and rebuilt the keep.

The FitzAlan fortunes, and that of the castle, wavered for a while after that, though. A dash of rebellion against Edward II by Richard’s son, Edmund, ended with Edmund’s execution. The castle passed to Edward I’s 6th son, who was then also executed, and ownership then returned to the FitzAlan’s just a few years later.

The tenth earl, Richard FitzAlan, who supported Edward III and the Black Prince at the Crecy, had the FitzAlan Chapel built posthumously via a request in his will. But the eleventh earl was a bit of a pickle to the Crown and was eventually executed for treachery, after which the Crown obviously took the opportunity to confiscate his property too. At this point, Arundel suddenly found itself a ward of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. However, Henry IV had him executed, and you’ll be relieved to learn that Arundel was finally once again returned to the FitzAlans.

A home for the Howards

The FitzAlans retained their ownership of Arundel Castle up to the nineteenth earl. The male line ceased at this point and was left to the daughter, Mary FitzAlan, who married Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. In keeping with the chopping and changing of the day, however, Thomas was executed for conspiring to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1572. And the castle once again found itself briefly in royal hands… until it was eventually returned to the Howards.

The years of disrepair…

It has to be said, the castle languished in the hands of the Howards for a couple of centuries. Their interests lay elsewhere and it wasn’t top of their list of priorities. However, Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, picked up the baton in 1787 and invested much time, money and effort in Arundel. It became his home and he spent quite a lot of time entertaining there. Of the features that he renovated and adjusted, it’s the library that has remained closest to his original efforts. The folly on the hill above Swanbourne Lake was designed and built by Francis Hiorne. And Charles Howard threw a huge party to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 1815.

The royal seal of approval…

The 13th Duke of Norfolk hosted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for four days in 1846. His efforts to make the castle less cold, dark and unfriendly (complaints that had been levied at the work done by his ancestor, Charles) in anticipation of the visit paid off. The brand new apartment block built specifically for the brief royal sojourn are now part of the private apartments used by the Howard family. Victoria was delighted with the grounds, the accommodation, and the friendliness of the reception. Arundel was, at last, being seen as a proper home.

The present day…

By 1975, the 16th Duke had made plans to pass the castle over to the National Trust. But this decision was overturned by his heir, who created an independent charitable trust to ensure its future instead.

And so, Arundel Castle currently stands proud – lived in and maintained. Much of it, and its grounds, are open to the public. It is still both the principle seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and the official residence of the Earl Marshal of England. Which makes Arundel not only someone’s home, but more significantly a true representation of that in which England excels; retaining its identity through resilience whilst adjusting with the changing times.

Arundel Castle