Beeston Castle sits at the top of a three hundred foot cliff with spectacular views of the Cheshire Plain’s verdant checkerboard fields. On the border of Wales and England, the ridge was settled in prehistoric times long before Beeston because the low areas were marshy. Archeologists have found bronze age ax heads and spearheads there.
The castle is in ruins now. Today’s visitors are struck most by the setting, the drama of the approach to the keep and the beauty of the surrounding plain.
William the Conqueror created the Earldom of Chester to defend against the Welsh. Ranulf de Blundeville, the 6th Earl, spent most of his time on his estates in France until King John lost Normandy in 1204. Ranulf then turned his attention to Chester pacifying his principal Welsh opponent through a series of treaties and the marriage of his nephew and heir to the Welch prince’s daughter.
Ranulf went off to the Crusades returning in 1220. He began construction of Beeston to control the main route between Chester and the midlands to the south of England. Influenced by what he had seen in the Mideast, he used the most modern designs of the era.
Taking advantage of a prehistoric defensive ditch and rampart, he built two enclosures, an inner and outer bailey. Each bailey had a massive gatehouse and was surrounded by massive walls with towers protruding from them at regular intervals. The towers allowed effective crossfire along the walls between them.
The inner bailey was further protected by a ditch cut into the rock out to the edge of the cliff. It was constructed for defense not as a palace and did not have the usual great hall, keep and kitchens.
Ranulf only completed the inner bailey before his death in 1232. When his heir died in 1237, King Henry III took all the estates of the Earldom.
Edward I succeeded to the throne in 1272. The Welsh princes refused to meet with him or attend his coronation, and he
launched a war against them in 1276. But Edward made Chester his stronghold relegating Beeston to merely a supply point. Some feel, however, the architecture of Edward’s large castles at Caernarfon and Beaumaris were influenced by the design of Beeston.
Although no longer a principal castle, the fortifications were strengthened in the 14th century including the addition of a larger gatehouse, massive stone ramp and a drawbridge to the inner bailey. After that, however, it was left to decline and
sold to the Beeston family in 1662. The present gate and wall near the road used by English Heritage date to 1846.
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