Bolingbroke Castle

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Bolingbroke Castle


The ruined walls of Bolingbroke Castle
Type: Enclosure castle
Location: 53°9’51"N, 0°-0’59"E
Village: Old Bolingbroke
Built c. 1220
Material: Spilsby Greenstone
timber, earth
Battles: Battle of Winceby, 1643
Key events: Birthplace of King Henry IV
Condition: Ruined
Owned by: Heritage Lincolnshire

Bolingbroke Castle is a ruined castle in Old Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire. It is today a poor ruin, slighted after the Civil War and only hinting at past greatness, but here was born Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt the great Duke of Lancaster, who overthrew King Richard II to claim his father’s duchy and his cousin’s crown, becoming King Henry IV, first King of the House of Lancaster.


Most of the castle is built of Spilsby greenstone, as are several nearby churches. The local greenstone is a limestone that proved to be porous, prone to rapid deterioration when exposed to weather and a substandard building material. The castle was constructed as an irregular polygonal enclosure. The castle is one of the earliest examples of a uniform castle designed and built without a keep. It originally was surrounded by a large water-filled moat 102 feet wide. The curtain wall was up to 16 feet thick and defended by five D-shaped towers and a twin-towered gate house.

Similar to another castle built by Ranulf during the same period at Beeston in Cheshire, Bolingroke had no inner defensive keep. The castle relied instead on thick walls and the five D shaped defensive corner towers. Some design similarities are noted with the contemporary castle at the Château de Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French coast that was also built without a central donjon.


The area was first fortified by the Saxons in the 6th or 7th century. In the 12th century the Normans built a Motte-and-bailey on a nearby hill above the settlement of Bolingbroke.[1] The present structure was founded by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester in 1220 shortly after he returned from the Fifth Crusade.[2]

Ranulf died in 1232 without a male heir, and his titles, lands and castles passed to his sisters. Following the death of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster in 1361 Bolingbroke passed through marriage into the ownership of John of Gaunt. John's son, Henry, was born at Bolingbroke Castle in 1367 and consequentially was known as "Henry Bolingbroke". Blanche of Lancaster, John's wife and Henry's mother, died from plague at the castle in 1368. The rise of Henry Bolingbroke to overthrow the King and take the Crown is told in Shakespeare’s ‘’Richard II’’ – Henry Bolingbroke became king in 1399, founding the royal House of Lancaster.[3][2] His troubled reign is told in ‘’Henry IV Part I’’ and ‘’Henry IV Part II’’.

By the 15th and 16th century, the castle had fallen into disrepair although repairs were carried out during the Tudor period. In 1636 a survey found that all of the towers were effectively beyond repair.[1]

At the start of the First Civil War, Bolingbroke was again put to use as a military fortification garrisoned by Royalist forces. In 1643 it was badly damaged in a siege during the Battle of Winceby. The following year, the castle was recaptured from the Parliamentarians but due to defeats elsewhere was relinquished again. In 1652 the castle was slighted to prevent any further use. The towers and walls were torn down and dumped into the moat.[1]

The last major structure collapsed in 1815.

Present day

The castle, which is now a national monument, was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s. It was maintained by English Heritage up until 1995 when Heritage Lincolnshire took ownership. Much of the lower walls are still visible as are the ground floors of the towers.

In the summertime, the castle is home to numerous events including performances of William Shakespeare’s plays.[4]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Bolingbroke Castle)