Bristol Castle (2)

King Richard I and King John

In 1189 Richard I came to the throne but due of his lengthy absence on crusades his brother John effectively controlled the country. Prince John, married Hawisia, daughter and heiress of the Earl of Gloucester, and it was agreed in the marriage contract that he should inherit the estate on the Earl's death. Thus when the Earl died, John duly became Lord of Bristol, and with Richard away crusading, Prince John, Richards brother, ruled the country using Bristol castle his headquarters.

King Richard returned to England in 1194. King Richard seemed a bit displeased with the way his brother had been running things in his absence and deprived John of his titles and lands. The garrison at Bristol Castle remained loyal to John though and defended the castle for a while. In 1196, Richard d'Orescuilz, probably an officer of the garrison, was fined 100s for being present at the siege. King Richard soon after dropped dead - mainly because he was hit by a crossbow bolt on 6th April 1199 and his brother, John, became King. He soon divorced Hawisia, but kept the castle, estates and title.

Bristol Castle ~ c1200

Bristol Castle ~ c1200
Water colour by Tim Rossiter, 1978,
based on model by M. W. Ponsford and P. Weare

On the 30th August 1204, King John of England commanded the erection of an enlarged castle at Dublin, Ireland, with strong walls and good ditches, for the defence of the city, administration of justice and safe custody of treasure. Although he had lost lands in France and was not the best loved monarch at home, he still had eyes for opportunities to gain power and wealth and Ireland fit the bill. The location of Bristol on the west coast undoubtably aided his exploits at this time.

It wasn't a good idea to cross King John. Eleanor of Brittany, the granddaughter of Henry II, probably had a stronger claim to the throne than he did. She was made a prisoner by king John in August 1203 and kept at various castles in the area. She was imprisoned in Bristol Castle from June 1224 and remained there apart from a 4 year period, from 1234 to 1238 when she was kept at Gloucester, until her death aged 57, on 10th August 1241. She had been a prisoner for thirty-nine years, 13 years of which was spent at Bristol. Some consideration was given to her though as King John allowed her three maids, clothes and 5 marks a quarter for alms or pocket money. Her "staff" varied from time to time. Margaret Sharp in her Accounts of the Constables of Bristol Castle in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries says that her household consisted of "one damsel, a chaplain and two clerks: later there were two damsels and two knights, who assisted in guarding her. Issues might be made of green cloth trimmed with rabbit for the dartlsels and of red cloth for the knights."

Sharp also says that by 1228, the upkeep of her household was costing £130 a year. While Eleanor of Brittany was imprisoned there, the number of castle staff was increased and consisted of four knights, three serjeants, thirteen squires, seven watchmen, four porters, a clerk, steward, two bakers, one gardener, one cook, two serjeant-carters, one laundress, one recluse, two ale-bearers, one purveyor of fodder, seventeen grooms and twenty five horses. That sounds rather comfortable but she was a prisoner and her life could have ended on a whim of King John.

What happened after her death was also recorded by Sharp:

At the king's order, her funeral was marked by fitting state. She was buried at the priory church of St. James, Bristol, in the presence of a distinguished company, including the abbots of St. Augustine's and of Keynsham, the priors of Bath and of St. James', Bristol, of William Putot, of the mayor of Bristol and other good men of the town. Brother Richard, the king's almoner, was responsible for the arrangements and he got the town bailiffs to provide tapers, lights and alms which cost the town over £20. The obsequies were to be observed 'with all possible solemnity and honour'. Subsequently her body was moved to Amesbury. In 1250, the king started to pay a chaplain 'to celebrate divine service all the days of his life' in the chapel of the king's tower of Bristol, for the soul of Eleanor the king's kinswoman.

William de Braose, a powerful baron, was a supporter of King John, but about 1207 a fierce quarrel broke out between the two of them, and John was so enraged by William that he vented his wrath on the whole de Braose family. William de Braose was outlawed, Mathilda, his wife and their eldest son were put in Windsor Castle and left to starve to death. A daughter, Annora, had been born around 1179. She and four nephews were imprisoned in Bristol Castle and were only released in 1214. Annora moved to Iffley in Oxfordshire, where she became an anchoresses, or religious recluse, at St. Mary's church. She died there around 1241. (Annora the Anchoress) (Internet Archive)

Shortly after Annora's release in 1214, a anchorhold was installed at the castle. Margaret Sharp in Accounts of the Constables of Bristol Castle: In the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Century, page xxix, says that an anchorite had been established in the castle since 1224/25, if not earlier. Of course, nohing survives of the anchorhold here as the castle was almost totally demolished on Oliver Cromwell's orders in 1655.

Rotha Mary Clay in her The Hermits and Anchorites of England mantions this anchorite as well (page 78):

In the tower of Bristol Castle there was a chapel and anchorage dedicated to St. Edward. Directions were sent by Henry III for certain alterations in the fortress :—

"Block up the doors of the chapel beside our great hall there, and let a door be made in the chancel towards the reclusorium : in which reclusorium let there be made an altar in the chapel of the blessed Edward, and above that reclusorium in the turret let the chamber of the clerks be made."

A chaplain, probably a recluse, was to perform masses for the soul of Alienora of Brittany, the king's cousin.

Nicholls and Taylor in their Bristol Past and Present (page 77) go into a little more detail about these changes to the royal chapel in the castle:

The royal chapel, which was afterwards, by order of Henry III., converted into a hermitage. In a code of instructions signed at Berkeley, August 28th, 1249, the King enjoins the mayor and bailiff of Bristol " to lengthen three windows of his chapel, and to white wash it throughout ; also glass windows are ordered to be put in our hall at Bristol, a royal seat in the same hall, and dormant tables around the same, and block up the doors of the chapel beside our great hall there, and make a door in the chancel towards the hermitage; in that hermitage make an altar to St. Edward, and in the turret over that hermitage make a chamber for the clerk with appurtenances; also build a kitchen and a sewer beside the said hall, and find the wages of a certain chaplain whom wo have ordered to celebrate divine service in the chapel of our tower there all the days of our life, for Eleanor of Brittany, our cousin, to wit, 50s per annum."

This was obviously not going to be a draughty old cave!

King John lived a very lavish lifestyle and the money to pay for it was raised by increased taxes. At this time it was forbidden for Christians to take interest for money lent, but Jews, under the protection of the King were exempt. The increase in trade that England in general and Bristol in particular, were enjoying meant that money had to come from somewhere and the Jews were the people to supply it. Because people resented paying interest to the Jews they were unpopular and so they kept to themselves. In Bristol, the Jewish 'quarter' was by the Quayside between Broad and Small Streets. For the King's protection the Jews had to pay dearly. Due to his lifestyle, King John, was always short of money. When the Jews became reluctant to give him more money he ordered all Jews in the country to be seized and held to ransom. From one Jew in Bristol 10,000 marks (£6,666) were demanded, this was a huge sum and it is commonly held that this was the sum demanded from all the Jews in the town. When the man refused to pay John ordered that one of his teeth be pulled everyday until the sum was paid. The Jew held out for seven days before the money was forthcoming.

By now, it wasn't only the Jews who hated King John, the Barons revolted captured London and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. The Barons and people around Bristol stayed loyal to King John, and when Louis of France arrived, in 1216, to help the rebel Barons it was to Bristol that King John returned. He left Bristol to meet Louis arriving at the Wash where he was killed.

On his death, the Barons didn't need Louis and he was forced to return to France and John's nine year old son became Henry III, being crowned at Gloucester in 1216. The boy king ruled with several regents until 1241 when he was 25. The first regent was William the Marshall who governed until his death in 1219; the last was Hugh de Burgh. Henry was grateful to the citizens of Bristol and again reaffirmed the rights of its citizens. He probably also granted them the right to choose their mayor, and the first one took office in 1216.

Britain enjoyed a relatively peaceful time, for a few years anyway, but that didn't stop people planning ahead. In 1217, the first trebuchet was brought to England to besiege Dover castle. A trebuchet was a descendant of the catapult but could hurl bigger rocks, further and with more accuracy. By 1224 Master Jordan was making one at Dover and the next year another at Windsor, probably finishing it in 1228. This seems to have been his only task. He was paid separately from other artificers of King Henry III and it is possible to follow the ups and downs of his rewards continuously over six years to 1230. He may then have gone to Western France and had a hand in the building of another trebuchet there which was brought to Bristol castle in 1238 for storage. (Arms and Armour) (Internet Archive)


Image by Patrick Ward
from Warfare of the Middle Ages (Internet Archive)

The Earls of Gloucester

No one seemed to get on with anyone else! The regents of the young Henry III, made Gilbert de Clare the Earl of Gloucester and gave him the manor if Bristol in 1218. He was supposed to take charge of the castle, but the constable, Hugh de Vivonne, refused to give it up. de Vivonne managed to keep hold of the castle and the earl was compensated. In 1254, Henry III gave the manor of Bristol and the castle to his son Edward, who would become King Edward I in 1272. Richard de Clare, the new Earl of Gloucester, was pretty upset, he wanted Henry to give him the castle. Instead of the castle, Henry gave him sizeable farmland valued at £40 19s. 5d. per annum, while the castle was worth at least £150 per year.

There were the usual political machinations and Henry was forced by powerful barons to accept a council ruling in his name. Richard de Clare was one of the leaders of this council. The council appointed Robert Walerand as Bristol's constable in July 1259. Richard de Clare was still incensed over the castle and in the autumn of 1259, he and his men attacked the castle. It did not end well. Some of the attackers were captured and peremptorily hanged without trial by Edward's steward in Bristol, Roger Leyboume. The haggling was not over and in May 1260, the council removed Leyboume from office.

Simon de Montfort's revolt against Henry began in 1263 and in June Edward came to Bristol castle himself. He and his men's antics caused a lot of bad feeling among the townspeople and they beseiged the castle. Walter, bishop of Worcester arrived and persuaded them to let Edward leave. Robert Walerand acting as the castle constable, remained behind as did some of Edward's men. Edward's men in Bristol castle continued to hold out against Montfort, even sending out pillaging parties against them. On 14 May, Henry and Edward were captured at the Battle of Lewes and held at Wallingford castle in Oxfordshire. In November, Walerand and his men fought their way into Wallingford castle and only retreated when the defenders threatened to catapult Edward over, or perhaps even into, the castle walls.

As was often the way at this time, by March 1264, Edward reached an agreement with de Montfort where he did not have to relingish the title to Bristol castle, but it would be administered by a council under de Monfort' s control.


The castle may have been impressive but very expensive to maintain. It always seems to have been underfunded, and like the rest of the city's defences often neglected and in need of repair. During Henry III's reign the city's defences were again being strengthened and on 15th June 1232, he granted Bristol the right to raise special taxes for a period of two years to pay for the improvements.

Henry, by the grace of God, King of England ... to his well beloved and faithful men of Bristol, health. Know ye that we have granted to you, in aid of inclosing the town of Bristol, and for the security and preservation of the same town, together with parts adjacent [Redcliffe and Temple Fee], that you may take in the town of Bristol, from the day of St. John the Baptist, in the sixteenth year of our reign [midsummer 1232] until the end of two whole years...

There then follows a list of items to be taxed, these included...

For every boat coming there laden with merchandise other than wine, 6d
And for every boat coming there laden with merchandise, 2d
For every cask of wine, for every hundred of sheep skins, and for ten sheep, goats or pigs coming to be sold, 1d
For every last of leather, 3d
For every cask of honey, 2d
For every weigh of iron, for every fother of lead, for every hundred of salmon, conger or mullet, for five sheep, etc., and for every quarter of woad, 1/2d
For every cwt. of iron, for every weight of tallow, butter or cheese, for every hundred skins of lambs, goats and hares, for every 1,000 herrings, and for every 100 hake, 1/4d
For every cart with goods from Gloucestershire, 1/2d
For every other cart with goods, 1d
For every horse load of goods (firewood excepted), 1/4d

The grant continues...

Nethertheless, by reason of this our grant of these premises, nothing shall be taken after the completion of the aforesaid two years; but immediately on completion of that term the same Custom shall cease and be entirely abolished; and therefore we command you that, in aid of inclosing the town aforesaid, you shall take the aforesaid Customs unto the end of the said term, as is aforesaid. In witness whereof we have caused these our Letters to be made Patent.

Witness myself at Woodstock, the 15th day of June, in the sixteenth year of our reign.

Peace didn't last long as Henry III proved to be very unpopular and in the spring of 1264, England descended into civil war. Trouble started for Bristol when the people were asked to pay to put the castle in a state of defense. Prince Edward was besieged in the castle, from where he managed to escape. A while later the Prince saw the futility of trying to calm the people and ordered the Governor of the castle to yield to the townsfolk.

A fleet of ships set out from Bristol for Wales to bring Simon de Montford, the main rebel Baron back up the Avon. This fleet suffered severe losses when it was attacked by three of the Prince's galleys, which managed to sink eleven ships from the fleet. This was bad enough for the rebels, but then Bristol castle fell to Royalist forces in 1265. The town was fined £1,000 for it's part in the civil war.

In December 1266, Henry III, granted another tax levy similar to the one granted in June 1232, for the upkeep of the castle, this one was to last for eight years. His son, Prince Edward, was still a bit ticked off by the way he had been treated by the people of Bristol and prevailed on his father to change the levy slightly. The grant was changed in May 1267 so that instead of the taxes going to the city for the enhancement of the defences as a whole, the money went straight to Prince Edward...

Whereas we lately granted to the good men of Bristol certain customs for eight years in aid of inclosing the town. And the Castle of our Son at Bristol requiring great and immediate repair, we will be repaire at all speed. Therefore we grant that our Son shall receive, by the hands of his constables, all monies arising from the customs aforesaid for the repair of the Castle during the time aforesaid. Dated at Stafford, May 10th, in the 51st year of our rein.

Prince Edward became Edward I (Edward Longshanks) in 1272 and his laws and kingship greatly increased trade, Bristol prospered again, for a while anyway. Edward I gave the castle to his Queen, Eleanor of Castile, who rented it out to the Mayor of Bristol. For this reason Bristol at the time was called the "Queen's Chamber".

The Mint

Being an important city, Bristol had one of several provincial mints. The mint in Bristol was housed in various buildings at different times. An indenture by William Turnmire, Master of the Tower Mint, dated 8th December 1279, named a mint in Bristol to hold twelve furnaces. It actually opened in on 2nd January 1280 with the Mint Keeper being the Constable of the Castle, Peter de la Mare. At the time it was probably easier to move bullion around rather than transport coins from a central, national mint. The mint in Bristol wasn't in full time use, it would produce enough coin for local needs then cease production. So, when the mint was opened in 1280 it only operated for less than two years before being shut down again in the autumn of 1281. During that period it had minted around £40,000 worth of coins. New quarters were built for mint working in 1300 inside the castle and another minting took place between then and 1302. Until then, the mint the Bristol Mint struck only silver coins (halfpennies, pennies, half-groats and groats). The mint was then closed until 1465.

Until the reign of Edward IV (1461-70), the Bristol Mint struck only silver coins (halfpennies, pennies, half-groats and groats). From then on, it was licensed to strike in gold as well. Repairs to the Castle at this time might have been to make it more secure for the gold that was going to be kept there.

During the first reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), orders were issued to open the mint in Bristol, but no coins are known from this period so presumably the mint did not actually open. It was issuing coins during the first reign of Edward IV (1461-1470), when it first produced coins in gold. Repairs to the Castle around this time might have been to make it more secure for the gold that was going to be kept there as on 6th July 1465, William Melsounby and Thomas Cartlage and assistants were ordered to strike coins in both gold and silver. The gold coins produced for Edward IV were the ryal (value 10 shillings or 50p) and the half-ryal. This mint was closed on 23rd July 1472.

The mint was operating for the seven months of the second reign of Henry VI (1470-1471). It produced angels (6s 8d or 34p) and half-angels, and silver groats, pennies and halfpennies. Some of these coins were probably melted down and restruck by Edward IV during his second reign (1471-1483) and succeeding monarchs. The Bristol-struck gold coins of Henry VI are thus rare. The mint reopened between 14th April 1471 and 23rd July 1472 when £117 was struck in gold and £903 in silver. The mint was then closed again until 1546.

On 25th March 1546, the mint was reestablished with the following...

William Sharington - Under-Treasurer - 200 marks per annun (£133 6s 8d)
Roger Wygmore - Comptroller - £40
Tomas Mashall - Assay Master - £40
James Pagett - Numismator (teller) - 40 marks (£26 13s 4d)
Giles Evenet - Graver of Irons (engraver) - £20
William Goldsmythe - Hostiarius (porter) - £10

Bristol was now the only mint outside of London creating gold coins and to have its own engraver. The mint also made the coins for Ireland.

Sharington purchased Lacock Abbey and converted it into his residence, and was knighted on 20th February 1547 by Edward VI. But, he turned out to be a bit of a scoundrel. Apart from his political beliefs, Lacock was also very expensive to maintain. Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547 but Sharington went on producing coins with his name and portrait on them well into the reign of Edward VI. In January 1549 he was arrested for this, other currency frauds including coin clipping and for assisting Admiral Sir Thomas Seymour against the Lord Protector of Somerset. Sharington confessed, blamed Seymour who was later beheaded, and escaped with almost without punishment except forfeiture of some land. Sometime later Sharington was presented with a royal pardon and upon the payment of £12,866 regained all of his lands including Lacock.

William Sharington

William Sharington
Image from "The Bristol Mint - An Historical Outline" by L. V. Grinsell
(Bristol Branch of the Historical Society, facing page 14)

Thomas Chamberlain, who was in charge of investigating Sharington's crimes, became Under-Treasurer and the other staff at the mint was changed...

Robert Recorde - Comptroller
John Walker - Teller
John Mune - Provost of the Moneyers
Stephen Lathebury - Surveyor of the Melting House
John smith - Receiver of the Testons
Giles Evenet - Graver of Irons (engraver)

Chamberlain was sent to Denmark as an ambassador in June 1549 and Recorde became the Under-Treasurer until the mint was closed on 31st October 1549. It was during this minting (1546 - 1549) that much gold plate from the cathedrals of Wells and Salisbury as well as the churches of Bristol were melted down at the mint.

During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603) the mint was producing lead tokens, so tokens with things like "John Brown: Grocer in Bristol" were not uncommon. Around 100,000 of these tokens were minted.

During the civil war in August or September 1643, Charles I's moneyer, Thomas Bushell was ordered to create a mint at Bristol. This operated until shortly before being taken by the Parliamentarians on 11th September 1645. This was the end of the mint at Bristol Castle.

In early 2005, Bristol Museum purchased a Henry VI angel. On the obverse (head) is the Archangel St Michael killing a dragon, a beautiful piece of sculpting considering that the coin is only 28 mm in diameter. On the reverse (tail) is a ship: in the waves below it is the letter 'B' for Bristol.

Henry VI Angel minted in Bristol

Henry VI Angel minted in Bristol


By 1252, Dafydd ap Gruffudd was a joint ruler of the Principality of Wales with his brothers, Owain, Llywelyn and Rhodri. In the mid 1250s, Llywelyn seized sole power. In 1276, Edward I declared Llywelyn a rebel and in the Treaty of Aberconwy of 1277, Llywelyn was forced to give up much of his power. Dafydd revolted against Edward I in 1282, and Llywelyn soon joined him. Edward I decided to sort out the Welsh once and for all. Llywelyn was killed near Builth on 11th December 1282 and Dafydd was executed at Shrewsbury in 1283 by disembowellment, having his intestines seared with a hot iron, hanging, and drawing and quartering. Dafydd's sons were imprisoned in Bristol Castle until their deaths. Wales was organised into six counties which were granted to the king's heir and so Wales passed into English rule.

The fate of Dafydd's children shows how vindictive Edward I could be. Their jailer was Peter de la Mare who was allowed 6d per day for their maintenance and 6d per day for the wages of three servants to guard them. Davydd's oldest son, Llewelyn, imprisoned at age five, died in captivity in Bristol Castle in March 1288. Owain, his second son, imprisoned at age three, survived long into his captivity at Bristol Castle. In 1304, Owain attempted to escape, he had after all already been a captive for 21 years. Edward ordered that henceforth Owain be kept nightly in a wooden cage bound with iron. Owain still manged to outlive Edward, who died of dysentery on 7th July 1307, at Burgh on the Sands near Carlisle aged 68. Owain was alive, but still a prisoner as late as August 1325. Both Davydd's infant daughter Gwladys and his infant niece Gwenllian were sealed away and pledged to God at their capture. Edward did not even allow them the comfort of settling them at the same convent. Gwladys died at Sixhills in 1336. Gwenllian died just before she reached the age of 55 in at Sempringham Priory in 1337.

In April 1272, a daughter, Joan of Acre was born to Edward I. On 30th April 1290, she married  Gilbert de Clare, 3rd Earl of Gloucester in Westminster Abbey. He held the Manor of Corhampton in Hampshire. On 7th December 1295, Gilbert died and she secretly married Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Gloucester. She hadn't asked he father's consent and so Edward I had Ralph imprisoned in Bristol Castle. They were both later pardoned and Ralph was released on 2nd August 1297. Joan died on 23rd April 1307, Ralph survived her by several years and died on 5th April 1325.

The family couldn't have been strangers to the castle though. Elizabeth de Clare, born 16th September 1295, was the daughter of Joan of Acre and Gilbert de Clare. She married John de Burgh in 1308. In 1316 she was abducted from Bristol Castle by and married to Sir Theobald de Verdon. He died the same year. Edward II had her locked back up in the castle. However, the next year, 1317, she was married to Roger d'Amorie, Lord d'Amorie, one of Edwards supporters. In exchange for this favour, she was allowed to inherit her share of the de Clare estate. Roger didn't last long either and died in 1322. Her inheritance made her one of the richest women in Britain and she used her wealth for many charitable works. She died in 1360. (Daughters, Wives, and Widows (Internet Archive)

Bristol Castle around 1300
This page created April 8, 2005; last modified November 6, 2022