Tamworth Castle is a typical Norman motte and bailey castle thought to date from the 1180’s. Since then numerous additions and alterations have been made to the Castle by succeeding generations of owners. The oldest surviving section within the Shell-Keep, apart from the Tower itself, is the north wing.
The Banqueting Hall added in the early 15th century, and the Warder’s Lodge at the entrance to the Courtyard is Tudor. Unfortunately the Castle was much neglected in the 18th century, but between 1783 and 1811 extensive alterations were made.
There has been some confusion over the identity of the castle’s first Lord. There is evidence that it was held by both Robert de Despencer and Robert Marmion. Robert de Despencer evidently left no male heir so either a daughter or a niece married into the Marmion family. But as the name Despencer means Steward it is now believed that they may have been the same person. Marmion had performed the office of Champion to William the Conqueror and the gift of Tamworth Castle required him to render service as Royal Champion to the King of England.
The Marmions held the Castle until 1291 when Philip, the last Baron died. The Castle was granted by Edward I to Sir Alexander de Freville who was the last holder of the Castle to perform the office of Royal Champion.
In 1423 the male line of Freville failed and the Castle passed to Sir Thomas Ferrers of Groby. From the Ferrers, the Castle passed by marriage to the Shirleys of Chartley in 1688, Earls of Northampton in 1715, and finally to the Townshends of Raynham in 1751. In 1897 the Castle was purchased by Tamworth Corporation for the sum for £3000, and was formally opened to the public on the 22nd May 1899.
The Castle was twice threatened with destruction. In 1215 King John sent an armed force to raze it to the ground in revenge for Sir Robert Marmion, the fifth Baron, having sided with the Barons against him. During the Civil War the Castle was held by the Royalists in 1642. The Cromwellian forces captured the Castle in 1643 after a siege lasting two days. Cromwell ordered the Castle’s destruction, but, as in King John’s time, the threat was not carried out.
The castle is reputedly home to many spirits. The most famed ghosts are known to be the Black Lady and White Lady. The White Lady is said to have been captured and locked in the Tower by the wicked Sir Tarquin. But after a while she fell in love with him and is said to walk the battlements around the castle, weeping over her lover who was slain by Sir Lancelot du Lac, who came to rescue her. Legend has it that the White Lady’s ghost can still be seen walking the Battlements and her cries can be heard on the wind….
The Black Lady is allegedly the ghost of a nun called Editha who founded her order in the 9th century; her nuns were said to have been expelled from a nearby Convent by Robert de Marmion. The angry prayers of the nuns were said to have called Editha from her grave. One night in 1139 after a lavish banquet, Marmion was attacked by the ghost of Editha, who prophesied that unless the nuns were restored to Polesworth, the Baron would meet an untimely death. Just before she vanished the spectre hit the Baron on the side with the point of her crosier; the wound was so terrible that Marmion’s cries awoke the whole Castle. His pain only ceased when this vow was taken and the nuns returned to Polesworth.
First broadcast: 11th November 2003