Staffordshire

The above aerial image is dated 1946

The castle to the south-west of the town was built in the fourteenth century by Ralph de Stafford, on the site of an earlier Norman wooden castle.  In December 1643, during the English Civil War (after the fall of the castle in July of that year) orders were issued by the Parliamentary Committee in Stafford that the castle should be demolished.

In the early years of the nineteenth century the Jerningham family sought to gain the Baronetcy of Stafford and began to rebuild the castle as a home, but did not progress beyond the front towers and the joining rooms at the front, and the rear towers as far as the first floor. This work progressed from 1810 until 1815 and after that no further work was done.

The construction work was poor and part of the north tower fell to the ground during the gales of March 1947, during which the whole structure was said to have vibrated. The army demolished the main part, including the two front towers, in the 1960s, leaving a filled-in shell.

Excavations in the castle began in 1979, when it was discovered that Stafford possessed one of the largest medieval castles in the country.

Copyright and ownership of this image is retained by Aerofilms Ltd.

This is the castle today:

This impressive site was once a Norman motte and bailey castle. Earl Ralph, a founder member of the Order of the Garter, spent part of his fortune building a stone keep in 1348. During the Civil War, the castle was successfully defended, but eventually demolished. The current building was erected in the early 19th century and fell into ruin through this century. The Visitor Centre displays artifacts found during recent excavations. An imaginative audio-visual presentation describes the castle's mixed fortunes.

The Stafford knot

The arms of Staffordshire show a distinctive three looped knot and the county motto is the knot unites. However this is properly called the Stafford knot since it was the badge of the de Stafford family. The fanciful legend is that three convicted felons who had committed a crime together were due to be executed in Stafford jail. There was argument over who should be hanged first but the hangman solved the problem by devising this knot and hanging the three simultaneously.

Ralph, 1st Earl of Stafford

It was the exploits of Ralph, created 1st Earl of Stafford during the initial outbreak of the Hundred Years War, which catapulted the family into the great nobility. The creation of the Earldom was in part due to his diplomatic and military services on behalf of Edward III in France and also newfound wealth. This wealth came from the estates of the childless Gilbert De Clare, Earl of Hereford and Gloucester, whose possessions were divided up between his three surviving sisters in 1317. Margaret, the second of these, received the lordship of Newport in Wales and much other property across southern England. Her marriage to Hugh Audley produced one daughter, also named Margaret, who stood to inherit all the wealth of her mother making her a highly desirable commodity on the marriage market.

 
After the death of his first wife, Ralph led an armed raid on the Audley's house at Thaxted and abducted the young Margaret. Far from disapproving of Ralph's second matrimonial venture, King Edward seems to have intervened to protect him from Hugh Audley's wrath. Edward III and Ralph knew each other well through many years campaigning together and fighting together in France. With an income twenty times greater than his own this affected a massive coup on the part of the Staffords, rewarding them with lands and property worth a reputed 2,314 a year. By 1343, nine years later, Hugh Audley was sufficiently reconciled enough to settle all his wife's property on Ralph. No sooner had this been done than the Castle and Lordship of Caus in Shropshire worth 265 a year passed to him from his grandmother Alice Corbet.

 
When Ralph died in 1372 he was a wealthy man, the inquisition post mortem seems to have valued him at 1,432 per annum. However, from 1351 onwards he appears to have been worth twice this sum, the Audley and Corbet estates coming to 3,350 a year between them. From his parents he inherited a further 200 a year and received an annuity of 1,000 marks a Earl of Stafford. His two sons, Ralph and Hugh, made successful marriages to Matilda of Lancaster (daughter of Henry of Grosmont, successively Earl of Derby and Duke of Lancaster) and Philippa Beachamp (daughter of Thomas Beachamp, Earl of Warwick). Hugh, who enjoyed great popularity throughout his life and received many rewards under Richard II, eventually succeeded him. He died on his return from pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1386, one year after the death of his eldest son Ralph in a brawl with the Earl of Huntingdon, during the Scottish campaign of 1385.

Great website with Stafford Family history & information on the castle.

 

To learn more, visit these websites:

Staffordshire

Stafford Town