Home of the Berkeley Family for 850 Years, the most remarkable thing about the Castle is that for nine centuries, the building, the Berkeley family, the archives (which go back to the 12th Century), the contents, the estate and the town have all survived together.
Its place in history is significant, not just because it is still intact, but because the Berkeley family and their home have played an important part in the power struggles of so many centuries.
The Castle is one of the March Castles, built to keep out the Welsh. And it has all the trappings to match: trip steps designed to make the enemy stumble during an assault, arrow slits, murder holes, enormous barred doors, slots where the portcullis once fell, and worn stones where sentries stood guard.
It is also a fairytale Castle with its warm pink stone that glows in soft sunset light. Outside, the battlements drop some 60′ to the Great Lawn below; but inside the Inner Courtyard, the building is on a human scale, with uneven battlements, small towers, doors and windows of every shape and size. The surrounding land would have been flooded for defence.
The Family are one of only three families in England who can trace their ancestry from father to son back to Saxon times. English history has been lived out within these walls – and by this family. The Castle is the oldest building in the country to be inhabited by the same family who built it.
For centuries, the Berkeleys were close to the throne, able administrators and fighters who supported their king or queen (as long as they could), backed the winning side, and married well. The Castle, naturally enough, is full of stories.
The Archives housed in the Castle date back from the earliest part of the 12th Century and number around 20,000 documents, 6,000 of which relate to the mediaeval period. The latter are mainly manorial records which relate to every county in England, excepting two only.
The Contents of The Castle are items that have been chosen, collected and treasured by members of the Berkeley family throughout the centuries, and many reflect the history of the place.
They include Francis Drake’s cabin chest, Queen Elizabeth I’s bedspread, and the banner that the 4th Earl of Berkeley took with him to the Battle of Culloden. Many of the unusual tapestries, paintings, ceramics and silverware, have their own story to tell.
The Estate consists of 6,000 acres, and includes one of the best examples of a mediaeval deer park in the country, 18 tenant farms, a stretch of the River Severn and the land on which the famous Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge is situated.
Berkeley town itself goes back in time as far as the Castle, and evidence suggests that there was a large Saxon settlement and possibly, a Roman Temple.