This beautiful and historic castle, begun in 1117, still remains the home of the famous family who gave their name to numerous locations all over the world. notably, Berkeley Square in London, Berkeley Hundred in Virginia and Berkeley University in California. Scene of the brutal murder of Edward II in 1327 and besieged by Cromwell's troops in 1645, the castle is steeped in history. The state apartments contain magnificent collections of furniture, tapestries and rare paintings by, primarily, English and Dutch masters. Part of the famous Berkeley silver is on display in the dining room. Many other rooms are equally interesting, particularly the Great Hall where Barons of the Westcountry met in 1215 before going to Runnymede to force King John to put his seal to Magna Carta. Twenty four generations of Berkeleys have transformed a Norman fortress into the lovely home it is today, surrounded by terraced elizabethan gardens and sweeping lawns. Guillaume FitzOsbern, a commander in the Norman army that landed at Hastings in 1066, was created Earl of Hereford and charged with the task of guarding the western defences of the Conqueror's new kingdom.
Part of his domain was the Saxon manor of Berkeley and he recognised the military value of the site with its commanding views over the River Severn and Welsh borders. There he erected a wooden stockade surrounding a keep on a natural hill which formed the bases Berkeley Castle. A more substantial stone structure was erected after the manor had been granted to the FitzHarding family, ancestors of the Berkeley family who have occupied the castle ever since. In 1295 Thomas, Lord Berkeley was summoned to attend Parliament and he is regarded as the 1st Baron Berkeley. His grandson, Thomas, held the castle when it received its most famous prisoner, Edward II, committed there in 1326 following the struggle for power in England. He was held in a dungeon deep within the castle until brutally murdered by Sir John Maltravers and Sir Thomas Gurney. It seems likely that Lord Berkeley played no part in the King's death as he was not in residence at the time.
Standing majestically on sheer, rocky crags, Beeston has perhaps the most stunning views from any castle in England. Its history stretches back over 4,000 years, to when it was a Bronze Age hill fort. The huge castle was built from 1226 and soon became a royal stronghold, only falling centuries later during the English Civil War. The present castle was built after knights returning from the Holy Land in the thirteenth century, told of mighty fortresses, perched high on craggy cliffs - majestic and virtually impregnable. Inspired by what he had heard, Earl Ranulf of Chester set about building himself just such a castle, on a site that must rank as one of the most dramatic in all England. From the great crag of Beeston Castle, you can see from the Welsh mountains in the west to the Pennines in the East, and to the Wrekin in the south. On a clear day, you can see eight counties. It wasn't just the position of Beeston that was inspired by the great castles of the Holy Land. With snaking walls and rock- cut ditches, its construction is similar, too. After Ranulf's death the castle's fortune declined, although one fortune - Richard II's treasure - is said to be buried at the bottom of the well, over 100 metres below ground. The castle rose to prominence again briefly during the Civil War, when it was captured by the Royalists, then besieged by Cromwell's troops, who succeeded in starving their opponents.
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