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A Brief History of Dudley Castle

A History of Dudley Castle compiled by Adrian Durkin


The First Castle

In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest in 1066 the lands of the West Midlands remained in the hands of Earl Edwin of Mercia. In 1070, however, he was involved in an unsuccessful rebellion against King William. As a consequence he lost his life and his estates were granted to followers of William.

Ansculf of Picquigny benefited from this division and amongst the various grants of land he received was the manor of Sedgley, containing the estates at Dudley. Here he built a fortification of earth and timber, called a motte and bailey castle. This is first mentioned in the great survey commissioned by King William in 1086, called the Domesday Book. By that time the castle was held by Ansculf's son William fitz Ansculf.

The Second Castle: 

During the 12th century the de Paganel family became lords of Dudley. Details of the manner in which the family obtained the barony are uncertain.

In the turbulent years of the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Stephen Dudley was held by Ralph de Paganel who sided with the Queen. Documentary evidence suggests that, by this time, the castle had been refortified in stone for this reason when King Stephen and his army approached Dudley Castle in 1138 they decided not to besiege it but instead devastated the 'town' of Dudley and the surrounding lands and stole as much livestock as he could get his hands on. Fragments of the earliest stone walls can be seen within the surviving masonry.

 In 1153 peace was made between Stephen and Matilda and the future King Henry II, the son of Matilda, stayed at Dudley Castle with Gervaise de Paganel, the son of Ralph. Gervaise did not always get on with the king and was involved in a revolt in 1173. The king ordered that Dudley Castle be slighted, that is, partially demolished to make it militarily useless.

The De Somery Family:

The De Somery family gained the Dudley estates through the marriage of Hawyse de Paganel to John de Somery. On the death of Gervaise de Paganel, her son swiftly arranged his inheritance of the estate through a trip to  Germany where King Richard 1st was imprisoned. In 1210 he was succeeded by his son William who in turn was eventually succeeded by Roger de Somery. Documentary references for the Somery family are scarce for this period but information becomes more readily available during the barons revolt against King Henry III in 1264. It was because of Roger's support for the king that he was allowed to re-fortify the castle.

The De Sutton Family:

With the death of John de Somery in 1322 the extensive estates of the barony of Dudley entered into a period of confusion and disputed ownership. Only in 1327 did John de Sutton, after imprisonment in the Tower of London and the extraction of a forced disclaimer to the property, eventually inherit the estates of his wife Margaret de Somery.

 The castle had a relatively calm succession of de Sutton lords thereafter, all called John. Only in 1432 with the succession of John de Sutton VI did the barony come to prominence for he had a long and successful career in the royal court. Amongst his many appointments was the lieutenancy of Ireland. In the wars of the Roses he supported the Lancastrian faction under Henry VI and was imprisoned at Ludlow Castle.

In 1455 he was captured at the battle of St Albans and again imprisoned. Despite his previous loyalty to the Lancastrian cause he was soon employed on diplomatic missions for the Yorkists acting as ambassador in negotiations with Burgundy and Brittany. John de Sutton VI survived the slaughter of these wars and died in 1487 after a long and most distinguished career.

Dudley Castle from the Market Place, 1350

John Dudley:

John de Sutton VII succeeded to the estate in 1532. Unfortunately he soon ran into serious financial difficulties and was forced to sell his titles to a member of the junior line of the family, namely John Dudley, the son of Edmund Dudley (economic advisor to Henry VII. His taxation of the aristocracy was unpopular and early in the reign of Henry VIII the nobles persuaded the king to execute him). The execution of his father did not deter John Dudley from entering the service of Henry VIII and he rapidly rose to prominence, obtaining the titles of Viscount Lisle and Earl of Warwick.

Despite these honours he seems to have gained most pleasure in acquiring possession of the castle at Dudley. He swiftly embarked on a programme of rebuilding. He was advised in his work by Sir William Sharrington and the result of their labours is now known as the Sharrington Range

On the death of Henry VIII in 1547 he was succeeded by his young son Edward VI and John Dudley became one of the council of Regency. Ultimately Dudley became the chief protector of the king with the post of Lord President of the Council and the title Duke of Northumberland. His reign was short and in 1553 Edward's death left the throne open to the accession of Henry's eldest daughter, Mary. If Mary came to the throne her strong adherence to the Roman Catholic church would pose a threat to Henry's and later Edward's religious reformation, and the new found wealth of those who supported it. Dudley, using a political manoeuvre, attempted to place his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey on to the throne, but her claim was weak and he lacked support. Dudley's fellow conspirators swiftly deserted him and he was forced to surrender himself to the mercy of Mary. Such mercy was not forthcoming and he was executed in 1553. His son Guildford and Lady Jane later followed him to the block.

As a result the estates reverted to the main line of the Sutton family in the person of Edward, the eldest son of John de Sutton VII. In 1575, on one of her frequent progressions around the realm, Queen Elizabeth 1st visited Dudley Castle but despite the magnificence of the occasion the castle was already in decline. The family preferred to live in the more comfortable surroundings of Himley Hall a few miles from Dudley. In 1585, a survey of the castle was undertaken to establish if it was suitable for use as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. The survey recorded that the castle was in a poor state and unsuitable as a prison. The reports could have been biased however, as there were many catholic gentlemen living, in the area and the authorities might have been worried about giving them a focus for rebellion. The fortunes of the family declined still further with the accession of Edward, son of Edward in 1586. In order to help the failing fortunes of the family Edward arranged the marriage of his granddaughter, Frances, to the rich London jeweller Humble Ward, who was created Baron Birmingham by Charles 1st.

The Civil War:

It was not surprising therefore that when the English Civil War broke out Dudley Castle was garrisoned by royalist troops. The castle was twice besieged. The first time was by the Earl of Denbigh in 1644.

Popular legend maintains that the castle was bombarded from Kates Hill, which would have been possible with contemporary cannon. The siege was relieved by a relief column commanded by Prince Rupert marching from Worcester. As a result a skirmish was fought at nearby Tipton Green. Although details of this battle are vague the desired outcome was achieved and the castle was saved for the Royalist cause.


Sir William Brereton, Parliamentarian Commander


In 1646 a renewed attempt on the castle was made under Sir William Brereton, a formidable Parliamentarian general. The royalist garrison was commanded by Colonel Leveson. The second siege saw considerable skirmishing including an attack by the garrison against the nearby priory. Initially the sortie was successful against the somewhat lax defenders but, fortunately for them, help was on hand and the attacking company of troops was forced back to the safety of the castle.

It seems highly unlikely that the castle could have been taken by direct assault. However by this time the battle of Naseby had been lost and the king was now a prisoner. It seemed that the Royalist cause had lost all hope. After some negotiation Colonel Leveson surrendered the castle on the 13th May 1646. He rode out of the castle accompanied by 340 men at one o'clock. For Dudley the civil war was over.

Despite Sir William Brereton's request that the castle should be preserved as a parliamentarian stronghold, Dudley Castle suffered the fate of so many of England's noble fortresses. In 1647, by order of Parliament, the keep, gatehouse and various portions of the curtain wall were slighted. It later turned out that Sir William Brereton was planning to marry two of his children into the Ward family of Dudley; perhaps his wish to keep the castle intact was not motivated by purely military considerations. Whatever the case, Dudley Castle would never again play a part in the military history of England. In 1646 a renewed attempt on the castle was made under Sir William Brereton, a formidable Parliamentarian general. The royalist garrison was commanded by Colonel Leveson. The second siege saw considerable skirmishing including an attack by the garrison against the nearby priory. Initially the sortie was successful against the somewhat lax defenders but, fortunately for them, help was on hand and the attacking company of troops was forced back to the safety of the castle.

Eighteenth - Twentieth Century:

Although the castles defences were dismantled, the domestic range was left intact and the Ward family continued to use these buildings on an occasional basis. Even then it would seem that the castle was falling from favour and when, on the 24th of July 1750 a great fire tore through the Sharrington Range little effort was made to extinguish the flames. The fire raged for three days and no attempt was made to rebuild the castle afterwards. A popular belief of the time was that the fire was started on purpose by a gang of forgers intent on hiding their activities from discovery. The local population did not put out the blaze as it was rumoured that the local militia stored their gunpowder in the castle and everyone was afraid of the possibility of an explosion.

Dudley Castle was allowed to settle into the role of a romantic ruin. The Ward family who had, by then, been created Earls of Dudley showed sporadic interest in the ruin and occasional work was undertaken to improve its appearance. For example the battlements of the keep were rebuilt in the early years of the 19th century. Throughout that century and into the 20th the castle fulfilled a new role as a centre for festivals and fetes for the people of Dudley and beyond. A History of Dudley Castle compiled by Adrian Durkin and beyond.

 In more recent years the castle became a drain on the resources of the Earl of Dudley. In 1937 he opened the zoological gardens which preserved the castle as its focal point. In the early 1980s major restoration work and an archaeological dig were carried out on the site. This work has ensured that this history of the castle is now better known but as a new century commences in the life of the castle there are still many questions left to be answered about its history.



Steven and Sharan's 2016 visit to the Castle.

See more photos of the 2016 visit 

Friends of Dudley Castle Website





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