Striguil or Chepstow Castle sits between the Rivers Usk and Wye. In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror pursued a policy of containment with three earldoms at Shrewsbury, Chester and Hereford. The man William chose for Hereford was William FitzOsbern who was known to have been at the Battle of Hastings. Like so many of William’s trusted companions and barons FitzOsbern was part of the king’s extended kinship network.
FitzOsbern became Earl of Hereford in 1067 but it was only in the aftermath of Edric the Wild’s rebellion which was crushed in 1069 that FitzOsbern began to encroach into Gwent. Prior to this his main residence was on the Isle of Wight – it was he who began building Carisbrooke Castle. In the marches he was responsible for fortifications at Monmouth and at Chepstow as well as other key locations including Hereford and in Shrewsbury itself. He died in 1071 whilst on campaign in Flanders.
Unfortunately for FitzOsbern’s legacy his eldest son wasn’t as loyal to William as he had been. In 1075 the new lord of Striguil was part of the plot to overthrow William. Inevitably the family estates were forfeit to the Crown when the uprising came to nothing.
In 1115 King Henry I granted Striguil to Walter de Clare the son of Richard of Tonbridge and his wife Rohese Giffard. Walter founded the Cistercian abbey at Tintern. Walter died without direct heirs so the lordship passed to his nephew Gilbert and from there to his son Richard de Clare better known as Strongbow. Strongbow had only one surviving child – a daughter Isabel de Clare so the lordship passed into the hands of her husband William Marshal. The Marshals did rather a lot of castle improvement – the keep even in a ruinous state screams wealth and status – as well as dominating the landscape around it. Quite remarkably the original castle doors are still in the castle – they date to no later than 1190 …just imagine Isabel de Clare and William Marshal passing through them with their entourages.
After all five of William Marshal’s sons inherited Chepstow in their turn the castle became the property of Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk by right of his mother Maud Marshal, the eldest of Isabel and William’s daughters. When he died in 1270 his nephew inherited the castle- easy to remember his name – it was another Roger Bigod. It was he who turned Chepstow into an even more magnificent residence. He died in 1306 without heirs and the castle returned to Crown hands – King Edward I died within the year and the property became part of King Edward II’s estates. Edward promptly gave the castle and the lordship to his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton but in 1324 Hugh Despenser got his hands on the lordship. Two years later he and Edward II paid a surprise visit when Edward fled his wife Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer – Despenser and Mortimer were Marcher lords with a history. The castle was prepared for a long siege but Edward chanced his hand with a voyage to Ireland. It didn’t go well and they were forced to land back in Wales – the rest is, as they say, history.
By the beginning of the fifteenth century the castle was in the hands of the Mowbray Earls of Norfolk. During the Wars of the Roses, The Kingmaker arrived at the castle gates and the garrison promptly handed over Richard Woodville Earl Rivers and his son John – they were swiftly removed to Kennilworth Castle and executed.
As with many castles in England and Wales the seventeenth century saw Chepstow face action once more. It was a royalist garrison. In 1648 Cromwell demanded its surrender and yes, Chepstow is a castle that Cromwell knocked about although within two years Parliament paid for some repairs to be carried out so that William Marshal’s former stronghold should become a prison.