Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle, also called Farleigh Castle or Farley Castle, at Farleigh Hungerford in the civil parish of Norton St Philip, Somerset, was built around 1370. Originally a manor house overlooking the River Frome,  it was fortified and developed over hundreds of years. It played a role in the English Civil War before falling into ruin.

Castle's main gate.  photo by Rod ward

Castle’s history.
After the Norman Conquest the manor of Farleigh (or Farley as it was then spelled) was bestowed by King William on one of his followers, Roger de Curcelle, upon whose death it reverted to the Crown.  Built in the 14th century, the castle was originally a manor house for the Montfort family having been granted to them by William Rufus.  After the Montfort family it passed to Bartholomew de Bunghersh in the early years of the reign of Edward III.  One of his descendants sold it in 1370 to Sir Thomas Hungerford, the first person formally mentioned in the rolls of parliament as holding the office of Speaker of the House of Commons.  This led to the name of the manor being changed from Farley Montfort to Farley Hungerford.

Hungerford fortified the house between 1370 and 1380, although this was done without the appropriate licence to crenellate from the king.  Farleigh Castle then consisted of four towers with a height of sixty feet, high embattled walls, a moat crossed by a drawbridge, and two embattled gatehouses.  Standing on a steep hill, with a stream below, it was well constructed in a strong position.  The licence to crenellate was finally granted in 1381 and Hungerford was conditionally pardoned, although in the process he had needed to pay a fine of 1000 Marks to Richard II.

remains of one of the towers.        photo by Ian Knox

The barbican, and polygonal outer court, were added around 1420 or 1430 for Thomas Hungerford's son, Sir Walter Hungerford, who won renown in the One Hundred Years War, fighting in many engagements including the Battle of Agincourt.  The building work was funded by the ransom he had obtained for the capture of the Duke of Orleans at the Battle of Agincourt.

In the early 15th century, Lord Walter, enlarged the castle by adding the outer court that enclosed the parish church, St Leonard's, which he used as his chapel.  It is thought that he built the present parish church nearby to replace it.

The castle passed from his son Robert, to Walter's grandson, Robert Hungerford, 3rd Baron Hungerford, who was captured in the last battle of the Hundred Years' War, and held prisoner in France for seven years.  On his return he joined the forces of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses who were defeated at the Battle of Towton.   Robert was executed for his part in the war and Farleigh was given to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later known as Richard III.  After Richard's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field the new king, Henry VII, gave Farliegh to one of his supporters, Walter Hungerford who was the grandson of Robert.   Walter's son, Sir Edward, inherited the castle in 1516. His surviving son, another Walter supported Henry VII and was created Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury in 1536.

During the reign of Henry VIII, Lord Hungerford, married three times. He consigned his third wife to one of the castle's towers, and kept her under lock and key, with a chaplain for her only attendant. The lady survived her husband, who was executed, for treason and "unnatural vice", and went on to remarry,  while the castle reverted to the Crown.

Walter Hungerford (Knight of Farley) was restored by Queen Mary of England to the confiscated estate of Farleigh in 1554, when the attainder on his father, Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury, was reversed.   The Castle passed to his brother Edward, a gentleman-pensioner to Queen Elizabeth, was twice married, but died without issue in 1607.  He left to his widow a life interest in the estates, with remainder to his great-nephew, Sir Edward (1596–1648), who was a colonel in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War.

John Hungerford held Farleigh Castle for the Royalists but surrendered it to Sir Edward without a fight in 1645.  Sir Edward took up residency in the Castle.  With the death of Sir Edward in 1648, Sir Edward's reversionary interest in the Farleigh estates passed to his royalist half-brother Anthony Hungerford.

Anthony's son, Sir Edward Hungerford, entertained Charles II of England at Farleigh in about 1675, although originally he had been a supporter of Parliament and a friend of Oliver Cromwell.  After the discovery of the Rye House Plot in 1683, the castle was raided by the government and weapons were seized.

In 1686 Farleigh was sold by Sir Edward Hungerford to a Mr. Baynton, and since then has passed through many owners.  Part of the destruction of the castle was by the Houlton family, who carried off its paneling and carved beams to their house at Trowbridge.  Many of the stones were used to build Farleigh House within the parkland outside the castle.