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Bishop's Waltham

Bishop's Waltham Palace

    The palace ruin as we see it today is the result of damage inflicted during the Civil War in the mid 17th century. Yet it was, in its time, one of the grandest residences in medieval England, owned by the wealthy and powerful Bishops of Winchester.

Little is known about the site from the earlier Norman period. During the Civil War between Stephen and Matilda (1138-1153), the Winchester Annals of 1138 record a number of castles built in the county. One such castle was constructed by Bishop Henry of Blois at Waltham. The substantial bank and ditch surrounding the inner courtyard, along with evidence of stone buildings excavated under the existing hall and great chamber, may relate to this period.

It is not until the later 12th century, following Henry of Blois's return from exile in 1158, that we have evidence of an episcopal residence. During this time a hall, kitchen, tower, chapel and chambers were built. With the exception of the chapel, now destroyed, the other buildings have been dated to this period on architectural evidence. It is also possible Henry's successor, Richard of Ilchester, may be credited with some of the building. Certainly, by the 1180s, the residence was considered to be important enough to host a royal council.

The account rolls from the 13th century record continued building. The following century saw Bishop William of Wykeham transform the residence with a major new scheme. This process was continued by his successor Cardinal Beaufort who also rebuilt the chapel. The final alterations were carried out by Bishop Langton in the late 15th century. By now it had become one of the greatest stately homes in the country, hosting meetings between kings and princes from here and abroad, notably the personal negotiations between Emperor Charles V and King Henry VIII in 1522.

                                                                                                                                                                    Kay Ainsworth


Hare, J., 1996. Bishop's Waltham Palace
Pevsner, N., and Lloyd, D., 1967. The Buildings of England, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (London, Penguin), 105-7