Odiham Castle

Whether you're looking for a tranquil spot to walk the dog or a convenient stop off along the meandering Basingstoke Canal, Odiham Castle is definitely worth a wander.

Whether you’re looking for a tranquil spot to walk the dog or a convenient stop off along the meandering Basingstoke Canal, Odiham Castle is definitely worth a wander. Elizabeth Barnett finds out how it came to be here and what important roles it has played within the county

Since the castle came to be owned by Hampshire County Council in 1977 a great deal has been done to preserve the ruins and learn as much from them as possible. Archaeologists have worked on the site for a great number of years, excavating finds to try to determine the castle’s history and the role it played throughout its years of service. Today there are still many chapters that remain untold but for now we can gauge a reasonable picture of how this magnificent structure would have acted as a fort, home and at one point, even a prison.Building is said to have started on the castle in 1207 under the orders of King John following his stay in Odiham three years previously. Although there were already 90 forts in Britain at that time, it is thought the King chose the site as it was halfway between Windsor and Winchester and could have initially served as a Royal Hunting Lodge during his visits to the southern regions. It was thought to have finally been completed in 1214 with records showing that a sum of around �1,000 was spent on the entire build and the surrounding architecture, a mere snip in today’s modern economy.Plans from around the time of the build show that the engineers working at Odiham paid particular attention to the castle defences due to the growing threat of a French invasion. It was the last octagonal royal castle to be built in England and just two years after it was completed, King John’s fears were recognised when Odiham found itself under siege.

This is warCivil war had begun in England and an opportunity was seized by French baron Louis the Dauphin. He travelled through the country joining the early Parliamentarians as they battled to overturn castles in Winchester, Rochester, Canterbury, Reigate, Guildford and Farnham. When they arrived at Odiham they were met with strong defences and gutsy Royalists, the battle lasted for two weeks and no doubt the well planned ‘square moats’ and raised banks would have ensured much of the violence was kept outside of the walls. Although most of the walls remained intact, smaller, earlier buildings surrounding the castle would have been destroyed along with King John’s reputation and strongholds.

Paid offAfter King John’s death in 1216 the throne was left to his nine year old son Henry who was supported greatly by his father’s executors. It was an opportunity for England to form a stable government aside from Louis ‘adventurous clans who still held much of the south east. Odiham, once again, found itself under siege when supporters of the throne took it upon themselves to claim back their rightful property and in 1217 Louis was handed a sum of 10,000 marks to encourage him to leave the country with a promise that he would never again cooperate with armed rebels, a gesture that no doubt would have been greatly celebrated. As Henry matured in to his responsibilities he set to work rebuilding and repairing the damage that had been done to Odiham and the other castles around England that had fallen under his father’s reign. The castle was finally completed in 1236 when it was passed to his sister Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke, a childless widow who was forced to marry 40 year old William Marshal, son of Earl Marshal at just nine years old.

Lady of luxuryOver the next 30 years, Eleanor, despite taking a vow of chastity met and married French opportunist, Simon de Montfort and together they sought to gain as much land, reputation and wealth as they possibly could from her brother the King. They lived a life of luxury drinking fine wines and commissioning the best tailors around to ensure their wardrobe reflected their reputations but Eleanor’s time at Odiham had to come to an end. Parliament was becoming restless and Eleanor was forced to move to Dover where she would have easy access to France should a threat of exile arise and sure enough, in 1267 after her husband Simon’s death, Eleanor fled across the water with her children. King Henry died in 1272 and Odiham was placed in the hands of the new Queen Eleanor under Henry’s son King Edward I. Further changes were made to accommodate the new Eleanor such as the input of a modernised kitchen and the filling in of a large section of the moat surrounding the castle.

Locked upThe castle remained under royal ownership throughout the 1300’s but was given fresh responsibilities when King Edward III transformed the once regal lodgings in to a prison to accommodate his military campaigns against the Scots and the French in 1335. For many years Odiham held King David II of Scotland, son of the notorious Robert the Bruce and he was in fact the last royal individual to be actively associated with Odiham.Although the castle remained under ownership of the royal family, very few visited it and over the years it slowly began to deteriorate. Records show that there were some efforts to renovate parts of the structure but by the late 15th century it was beyond repair.

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Laid to ruinKing John built Odiham Castle not only as a stronghold but also as a home and throughout its history it was celebrated greatly under both intentions. His successors spent a great deal of time and money on reinforcements and comfort combined and although the castle was to endure a slow decline, it was well used and much loved, a true testament to King John’s visions. Today only a crumbling shell may remain, but deep within the soil lays an abundance of tales and secrets that can never be resigned to ruins. If you’re looking to brush up on your history or just fancy a day out on the canal, Odiham Castle should definitely be on your list of attractions.

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