Sitting East of the Welsh border and South-East of the city of Chester is the medieval ruins of Beeston Castle. It sits upon a tall, and mighty rocky hill at 360 feet overlooking the county of Cheshire, and if the day is clear, and you look hard enough, across to the River Mersey.
The medieval castle was built in the 1220s, using old Iron Age ramparts as a base for the outer wall. The castle began construction on the orders of the Earl of Chester, Ranulf de Blondeville, who decided to build the castle on his return from the Fifth Crusade. Ranulf is described as being ‘the last relic of the great feudal aristocracy of the Conquest.’ He was one of the few earls of England who remained loyal to King John throughout his turbulent reign, the Earl of Chester remained loyal even after his Norman lands were lost in 1204. However, this helped him turn his attention to his estates back home, and so to help secure the Cheshire border Beeston Castle was built. From there, Ranulf went on to sign numerous treaties with Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, and a son-in-law of King John. It is likely that one of these treaties was sealed with an agreement that Llywelyn’s daughter, Elen marry Ranulf’s heir and nephew, John of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon in 1222.
When Ranulf died in 1232, Beeston Castle came under royal possession, and under Henry III’s reign the size of the fortress was enlarged. It became a royal garrison for soldiers and barons who stood beside the king against Simon de Montfort and his supporters. As far as we can tell during this time, Beeston Castle never saw any real fighting action, though it did become a prison for some of the kings enemies who were captured at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and had previously been used as a prison for Welsh captives. Before Evesham, in 1254, Henry had granted the castle to his son and heir Prince Edward, the future warrior king, Edward Longshanks.
Past the castles outer walls and into what remains of the inner walls, atop the mound, and courtyard sits a well, one of two. The well that remains is one of the biggest wells in England, measuring at 340 feet. One legend surrounding these deep wells is that Richard II ‘lost’ his treasure down it, or around the castle grounds, possibly on his journey North as a captive of his cousin, the future Henry IV. Who knows perhaps Richard ‘lost’ the treasure so that Henry could not get his hands on it. Whatever the truth, the treasure has not yet confirmed to have been found. Though it is possible that Henry found it after Richard’s death, when he instructed searches be made for Richard’s hidden jewels and gold across the country.
Sadly for Beeston Castle by the 17th century, and the time of the English Civil War, it began to fall into disrepair. It was thought to be of no further military use, and in 1646, the already demolishing castle was destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell so that it could no longer be used.
1. The David and Charles Book by Plantagenet Somerset Fry
2. Beeston: Castle of the Rock by Julia Hickey <http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/castles/beeston.shtml>
3. A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest by John E. Lloyd (Longmans, Green and Company, 1939)
4. The Consitution History of England and it’s origin and development by William Stubbs (Clarendon Press: London, 1875)