The History of Bedford
From an article in the SDUK 'Penny Magazine' 1835
Bedford appears to have been the scene of a battle in 572 between the Saxon Cuthwulf and the Britons. It afterwards suffered greatly in the wars between the Saxons and the Danes, and was ultimately burned by latter in 1010.
Mention is made of a fortress or citadel built on the south side of the river by Edward the Elder ; but it would seem to have been destroyed by the Danes, or was found an inadequate defence, for Paine de Beauchamp, to whom the barony was given by William Rufus, thought it necessary to build, adjoining to the town, a very strong castle, which was surrounded by a vast entrenchment of earth, as well as a lofty and thick wall. "While this castle stood," says Camden, "there was no storm of civil war that did not burst upon it."
In 1137 it sustained a siege against King Stephen and his army ; but accounts vary exceedingly both as to who were the defenders and what was their fate. Camden, without entering into particulars, says that Stephen took the fortress, with great slaughter ; but Dugdale, who gives details, and quotes ancient authorities, says that the king obtained it by surrender, and granted honourable terms to the garrison.
In 1216, William de Beauchamp, being then possessed of the barony of Bedford, took part with the rebellious barons, and received them as friends into the castle, which they were advancing to besiege.
When, however, King John sent his favourite, Faukes de Brent, to summon the castle, it was surrendered to him within a few days, and the king gave it to him, with the barony, for his services.
Faukes, having repaired and greatly strengthened his castle, for which purpose he is said to have pulled down the collegiate church of St. Paul's, presumed so far upon its impregnable character as to set all law and authority at defiance.
His outrages and depredations on his less powerful neighbours were such, that in the year 1224, Martin Patershul, Thomas de Moulton, and Henry Braybrooke, the kings justices itinerant, then sitting at Dunstaple, felt it their duty to take cognizance of his proceedings, and fined him in the sum of three thousand pounds.
Faukes, being greatly provoked at this, sent his brother at the head of a party of soldiers to seize the judges and bring them prisoners to Bedford. They had timely notice of his intention, and two of them escaped ; but Braybrooke was taken and carried to the castle, where he was shamefully treated. The king, Henry III, being highly incensed at this and the other outrageous conduct of De Brent, determined to bring him to punishment.
He therefore marched to Bedford in person, attended by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, and the principal peers of the realm. On this occasion the Church was so provoked by Faukes's sacrilege, that the prelates and abbots granted a voluntary aid to the king, and for every hide of their lands, furnished two labourers to work the engines employed in the siege.
Camden quotes from the Chronicle of Dunstaple, a curious account of the siege, written by an eye-witness, from which it appears that the engines employed in that age for the destruction of man were little less ingenious and effective than those now in use. Faukes de Brent felt great confidence in the strength of the castle, and disputed the ground by inches ; but after a vigorous resistance of sixty days, no alternative remained but to surrender at discretion.
The success of the besiegers is attributed chiefly to the use of a lofty wooden castle, higher than the walls, which gave them an opportunity of observing all that passed within. Faukes himself was not in the castle when it surrendered ; he took sanctuary in a church at Coventry, and, through the mediation of the bishop of Coventry, obtained the kings pardon, on condition of abjuring the realm. His brother William, the acting governor of the castle, with twenty-four knights and eighty soldiers, were hanged ; but Culmo,another brother, received the king's pardon.
The king, acting on the determination to uproot this 'nursery of sedition, as Camden styles it, ordered the castle to be dismantled, and the ditches to be filled up. The barony was restored to William de Beauchamp, with permission to erect a mansion-house on the site of the castle, but with careful stipulations to prevent him from construing this into leave to build a fortress.
The king's intentions as to the demolition of the castle do not seem to have been executed to the letter ; for the ruinous castle of Bedford' is mentioned about 250 years later ; and Camden speaks of its ruins as still existing in his time, overhanging the river on the east side of the town. At present, not one stone of the fabric remains ; but a few years ago its site might be very distinctly traced at the back of the Swan Inn. It forms a parallelogram, divided by a lane ; and the site of the keep now makes an excellent bowling-green. The domain first became a dukedom when given to John, the third son of Henry IV.