Construction of Ludlow Castle began in the late 11th century as the border stronghold of one of the Marcher Lords, Roger de Lacy. It is first referred to by chroniclers in 1138 but was at this time a more basic castle type. It was held by the de Lacy's into the 13th century and with their focus on their holdings in Ireland their enemies took it during the civil wars of the reign of King Stephen when the King himself besieged the castle and rescued his ally Prince Henry of Scotland. In 1224 King Henry III of England met with Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, the Welsh prince and leader, at Ludlow to sign a treaty with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton as mediator. Early in the 14th century it was enlarged into a magnificent palace for Roger Mortimer, then the most powerful man in England.
In 1402 Edmund Mortimer, himself born at Ludlow Castle, set out from the castle with a large army to seek battle with the forces of Owain Glyndwr - he met them in the valley of the River Lugg at the Battle of Bryn Glas where he was defeated, captured and eventually allied himself to the Welsh rebel's cause, to the extent of marrying one of Glyndwr's daughters with whom he had four children, before starvation and death at the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409.
The Outer Bailey. Covering an area of nearly four acres the Outer Bailey would have provided protection for sufficient stables, workshops and storehouses to service a the needs of a garrison. It also may have been used to muster troops before the English invasion of Ireland in 1171. The Outer Bailey was probably built by Hugh de Lacy.
The Outer Bailey would have been a busy and crowded area. Jousting tournaments, troop exercises and other competitive entertainments would have occupied the people of the Castle.
Over the centuries, the Outer Bailey has been used for many public entertainments. In 1852, a celebration sports event was held to mark the opening of the Shrewsbury to Ludlow railway.
The Great Tower. This has been described as 'one of the most curious Norman keeps still standing,' though the combination of gatehouse and keep also occurs at Richmond, Yorkshire, and at Rougemont Castle, Exeter. The development of the great tower was complex, but four main stages can be detected:
[i] A late 11th Century gatehouse, the main entrance to the original castle. The round arched opening, later blocked up, and the ledge where the drawbridge rested, can be seen from the outer bailey.
[ii] The gatehouse was raised to a four-storey tower or keep in the early 12th Century. There was a two-storey living hall on the first floor and an adjoining solar or bedroom. The hall windows were enlarged at a later date, but narrow Norman windows survive at the top of the original interior stairs and at the other side of the hall.
[iii] In the late 12th Century, the original entrance was blocked to give greater security to the whole building and a new archway was cut through the curtain wall. The stones in the blocked entrance contrast with adjoining masonry.
[iv] In the second half of the 15th Century the Great Tower was reduced in size and the north wall rebuilt. At the same time floors were inserted in the hall, creating new rooms lit by enlarged windows.
Historians still debate the details of this striking building - documents as yet undiscovered may give clues as to the real reasons for the unusual pattern of development seen in the Great Tower of Ludlow Castle.
North Range. This range of buildings was completed by 1320 on a crescent shaped plan to replace earlier buildings on the same site. The central hall was begun under the instruction of Geoffrey de Geneville and his son Peter, but the other buildings of the North Range were possibly added later by Roger Mortimer.
The Great Hall, the Solar Wing, Kitchens, Basement, the Grehamber Block, the Garderobe Tower and the Tudor Lodgings survive as a largely intact shell, even though the roof material has long since been dismantled.
The interiors were once richly furnished with beautiful tapestries, panelling and plaster work, and even now give some idea of how grand life must have been for the wealthy and powerful in the early fourteenth century.
Judges' Lodgings. The lodgings consist of a three-storey block built up against the Norman curtain wall. The gables above the wall are a distinctive feature.
The lodgings were probably built by Sir Henry Sidney before 1581. His accounts refer to 'greate and lardg wyndowes and glasing thereof'. Some of these windows are now blocked up.
The buildings helped to accommodate the many judges, attorneys and clerks who needed to live or stay at the Castle when the courts of the Council of the Marches were in session.
The coats of arms and inscriptions were erected in 1581 to mark the completion of the Judges' Lodgings and other buildings. The lower coat of arms is that of Sir Henry Sidney (d. 1586), Lord President of the Council of Marches, 1560-86. The arms are surrounded by the garter, above which is the Sidney crest, a chained porcupine. The inscription contains the Latin words: Hominibus Ingratis Loqvimini Lapides - which means "To ungrateful men we stones do speak".
Sidney was bitter at the way that rumours of his disloyalty were being circulated at court, endangering the Queen's favour, in spite of his funding much of the new building.
Round Chapel. Sometimes called the Norman Chapel, the Round Chapel in the midst of the Inner Bailey was possibly built by Hugh de Lacy. The Chapel is dedicated to St Mary Magdelene and is the most important chapel at Ludlow Castle. It has a circular nave, which is still standing, and a ruined rectangular chancel. Round chapels like this were associated with The Knights Templar who would have seen such round church buildings whilst on the First Crusade in 1099.
The Chapel of St. Peter. Built by Roger Mortimer (d. 1330) to celebrate his escape from the Tower of London on St. Peter's Day, 29 June, 1324.
In 1328 Mortimer assigned a rent of £6 13s 4d to two chaplains to celebrate daily services here 'for the souls of the King, Queens Isabel and Phillipa, Henry Bishop of Lincoln, the said Roger and Joan his wife'. The Decorated style with 'Y' tracery is the most obvious remnant of the original Chapel.
The building was much altered about 1570, when a floor was inserted and the upper room was used as a courthouse, with 'two offices under the same for keping of the Recordes'.
Three Elizabethan style doorways can be detected, one of them on the upper floor where it was reached by an outside staircase.
Mortimer's Tower. Built in the 13th Century, though taking its name from the Mortimers who acquired the Castle in 1308. The tower is semi-circular, a contrast to most of the towers at Ludlow which are rectangular. The tower has been much altered and the ground floor has a fine 15th Century grained vault.
The tower was perhaps built as a gatehouse controlling a rear exit from the Castle down to Dinham bridge and the most direct route to Wigmore and Wales. There is a similar feature at Trim Castle in Ireland which like Ludlow was held by the de Genevilles in the 13th Century. It is likely that Richard Duke of York (1411-60) and his son Edward (1442-83), later King Edward IV, escaped through here on 12th October 1459, following the rout of their forces by the Lancastrians at Ludford.